Ministers get in the mood at cosy political get-together

IF PROOF was ever needed politicians spoil all the fun, it came in a cavalcade to Dundalk Institute of Technology.

Students there were earnestly applying their expensively educated intellects to feverish preparations for a world record attempt at the most hugs in an hour — an event to be staged in their common room next Tuesday — when along came the suits to render their efforts obsolete.

For so much verbal hugging took place between the members of the North South Ministerial Council before, during and after their gathering that a boa constrictor would have pleaded for mercy.

The two sides, 11 ministers from the Government and 11 from the Northern Ireland executive, met among flowers, chocolates, dinner and soft music — a setting that lacked only dimmed lights and Barry White for mood-making.

Delegation members had chosen their wardrobe carefully as a good courting session demands, with Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan going for a Lady in Red evocation in a striking scarlet ensemble, while the North’s first minister Ian Paisley wore his heart on his sleeve — or at least on his tie which was bedecked with Union Jacks.

“I have to keep my nationality to the fore because some people would like to wipe me out,” he explained chuckling, then going for a Hallmark moment by divulging his granddaughter had given it to him.

While we hear Mr Paisley and his deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, dislike their nickname, “the chuckle brothers”, with an intensity they used to reserve for each other, they did nothing to shake off the tag by cosily sampling together the fare on offer from local producers.

Among the delights from Dundalk chocolatiers, Danucci, were a tongue-in-cheek range of confectionery celebrating famous Belfast landmarks — orange truffle for the Shankill Road and mint green for the Falls Road.

Marty and Ian chuckled happily together and then moved on to the stand from the Tiernan Family Farm, strolling away with big slabs of cheese — no doubt eyeing each other’s up to see which was the biggest.

The students didn’t help their own cause, laying on a dinner thick with descriptions to make the coldest heart melt into layers of caramelised sweetness.

But they can take some comfort from the fact the ministers won’t make it to the common room next week to steal their thunder in the record hug attempt.

No, they’re only meeting instead under the guise of the British-Irish Council in Dublin next Thursday — which just happens to be Valentine’s Day.

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