Captaining a sinking ship - Inside Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's shambolic visit to Northern Ireland

As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Northern Ireland for what the bookies and pollsters are predicting could be his farewell tour, the day couldn't have been any more of a shambles for CCHQ.

Having been informed by the Conservative Party that the visit would be taking place at a fourth-floor office block in the Titanic Quarter, reporters arrived to find no PM and no press conference.

After a flurry of frantic phone calls we were directed to a car park half a mile away from where we had been originally sent to and once again, there was no sign of the Prime Minister or his officials.

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Several more phone calls and a WhatsApp location pin later, we were met by the Secretary of State's SPAD who walked us through an industrial complex to the waterfront. There, to our surprise, the Prime Minister was having the time of his life, zipping up and down the water on an electric speedboat, under the watchful eyes of the national media.

Having found the correct location, you would have been forgiven for thinking that all would go to plan from here on in, but in true Thick Of It style, it was like a clown running through a minefield.

While the national media captured the Prime Minister's aquatic adventure, local reporters were prevented from filming the Prime Minister disembarking the boat and eventually frogmarched to the other side of the road by the Conservative Party's press team to a location where we could merely watch on through a fence.

The location local media were frogmarched to while the PM spoke to the national pool
The location local media were frogmarched to while the PM spoke to the national pool -Credit:James McCarthy/Belfast Live

Eventually, when the British media had wrapped up we were allowed to cross the road and get set up. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was handed a lifejacket and directed down the gangway and back onto the boat he had just come off so that local crews could get the shot they were prevented from filming only minutes beforehand.

After reporters had been directed to set up and prepare for a huddle with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, a member of the PM's team came barging up the gangway to inform everyone that it was only UTV and the BBC were permitted to be in that area and that everyone else had to leave until the broadcasters had conducted their one to one interviews in a move that sparked an outcry from all present.

Eventually, it was agreed that the press conference would take place first followed by the one-to-one interviews and at that point, the PM and the Secretary of State emerged from the speedboat once more to take questions.

When I asked the Prime Minster if given that we were in the Titanic Quarter, if he was captaining a sinking ship, it may have elicited a smirk from the Secretary of State, but in reality, the Prime Minister's answers were full of the usual bluff and bluster.

After a week in which Rishi Sunak stood like a drowned rat outside Downing Street as he announced the election in the pouring rain while D:REAM's Things Can Only Get Better blasted in the background in a nod to the 1997 New Labour victory and Sky News' Darren McCaffrey was forcibly removed from a Conservative Party event by security live on air, we could very well see a job opening soon in the Prime Minister's PR team.

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