Comments come back to embarrass politicians

Arlene Foster
Image caption Arlene Foster argued that she had not used the terms poachers

In politics, as in life, it's easy to be abrasive about someone far away, but rather more difficult to be rude to someone sitting right beside you.

So if you are planning to launch a broadside, it's often convenient to pick a distant target.

On Friday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness complained about the prime minister's absence from a British-Irish summit safe in the knowledge that Theresa May wasn't about to walk in the door.

Similarly, back in October, First Minister Arlene Foster used her speech to the DUP conference to concentrate her fire on the Irish government, knowing Taoiseach Enda Kenny was unlikely to appear at the back of the hall.

She said political instability in Dublin was driving Mr Kenny's response to Brexit, adding that while the Irish government "seek to take the views of people of Northern Ireland on the issue of Brexit at home, their representatives are sent out around the world to talk down our economy and to attempt to poach our investors".

Fast Forward to mid-November, when the first minister met the taoiseach in Government Buildings in Dublin, all seemed forgiven and forgotten.

Any perception that the two leaders' encounter might be frosty was blamed entirely on the media, not the DUP leader's speech.

When Mrs Foster stood alongside Mr Kenny, she was asked if she had repeated her complaints directly to the taoiseach.

The first minister responded: "Well actually I didn't use the term poaching, but the media have attributed the term poaching to me.

"I'm not surprised because that's what they do on occasions."

Puzzled reporters checked back on their transcripts and video tapes, and on Friday at a British-Irish summit in Wales, the "P" word came up again.

Challenged about her apparent volte face, Mrs Foster denied any embarrassment, emphasising that her actual quote was "not poaching, but attempt to poach". Nitpicking, or being precise? You decide.

Image caption Enda Kenny also accused a journalist of not recording his comments properly

Of course the first minister isn't the only leader who has quibbled over what the media reports them as saying.

Friday's Irish Times quoted the taoiseach as telling party colleagues that Brexit could result in an "uncomplicated route" to a United Ireland.

It was not a report Mr Kenny found helpful ahead of a summit with Mrs Foster and UK government representatives.

So Irish officials were at pains to emphasise that the taoiseach had been talking about a hypothetical situation in the future in which Northern Ireland might wish to join the Republic within the EU.

The example of East Germany reuniting with West Germany - which the taoiseach has referred to previously - was provided as the context.

So when the reporter concerned raised the matter, Mr Kenny replied rather curtly: "I'm glad that you are here and I hope you take it down correctly this time," before clarifying that he has no intention of calling for a border poll any time soon.

The media are convenient whipping boys for politicians, but not quite so convenient when their comments are captured on video.

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