Northern Ireland Election 2017

Crocodiles, alligators and the Irish language

sinn fein Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Sinn Féin 'crocodiles' at DUP MLA Nelson McCausland's office in Belfast

Arlene Foster bagged a crocodile this week but it was another big beast that was really in her sights.

Her speech to DUP election candidates contained 16 references to Gerry Adams.

Sinn Féin's new northern leader Michelle O'Neill, who was hardly mentioned at all, "was installed by Gerry Adams and she will be instructed by Gerry Adams" said Mrs Foster.

Gerry Adams, she said, "is no longer in the shadows, he is front and centre of Sinn Féin's campaign."

Asked afterwards if she was trying to turn the Sinn Féin president into an assembly election bogeyman, the former first minister told a reporter: "It is very clear to me that this is all about Gerry Adams wanting a valedictory before he leaves the scene."

In contrast, she was almost warm about Martin McGuinness, saying: "I can't believe this is what he wants his legacy as deputy first minister to be."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sinn Féin is, so far, the only one of the major parties not to condemn Arlene Foster's remarks

And discussion around an Irish Language Act received just one mention because that was not what Arlene Foster wanted the story to be.

And it wouldn't have been, had Mrs Foster not been asked an almost throwaway question about it as the DUP launch in Lurgan wound down.

Opinions vary about why she answered as she did. Some believe she wanted to deflect attention away from Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

There's no doubt the DUP would like this election to be about anything but that.

'Never'

It is more likely that she allowed herself to be provoked because of the way the question was framed.

Noel McAdam of the Belfast Telegraph asked: "Could the DUP not, given its strength in recent years, have been more magnanimous, for example, in relation to an Irish Language Act?"

"Are you serious?" the DUP leader flashed back. "You think the DUP should implement an Irish Language Act as some sort of magnanimous step for Sinn Féin? We will never accede to an Irish Language Act."

And then she was off into the bit about how there was greater need for a Polish language act as more people in Northern Ireland spoke that language than Irish.

And then the coup de gras: "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more."

Forget Gerry Adams, this was the story and everyone in the room knew it. It just wasn't the story the DUP leader set out to tell.

Sinn Féin is, so far, the only one of the major parties not to condemn the remarks.

It probably doesn't feel it needs to: Party sources believe the remarks fit their narrative going into an election they say has been partly brought about by DUP arrogance and a lack of respect.

'See you later, alligator'

The DUP leader may, unwittingly, have done them a favour.

Asked about the remarks at a Sinn Féin event, Gerry Adams smiled and said: "See you later, alligator."

He could have been describing Sinn Féin's current view of the Stormont institutions.