Ulster leaders’ debate: Still stuck in reverse…

If I were to judge the generic effectiveness of TV debates as the potential fulcrum of future politics we might look no further than our own backyard squabble on UTV last night. For us, there were no surprises. The highlights were the set piece questions: Adams on the IRA and Robinson on the five pound strip of land. But these had nothing much to do with the election.

And both were necessarily truncated by side shifting and the commercial breaks. The rest, bar Margaret Ritchie reading from notes (her momentarily impressive patches came only when she neglected her notes to react to opponents), falls easily into forgetfulness.

Reg impressed as the only politician who was really on top of his brief, but Ivor is probably right when he says he failed to hit any serious home runs.

Robinson fielded his questions without losing his temper. But he looks and sounds what he clearly is: a tired and emotional man who has been through a personal mill of enormous proportions.

All through it, Gerry Adams’ folksy banter (signalling “I’m not really taking this seriously, you know”) registered his voice/messages above all the others. But it was on the opposite scale from Reg: high impact coupled with low seriousness. It’s an approach that utterly died on its feet in the Republic. But in the tribal context of Northern Ireland, he probably did what he needed to do (keep the blood of his supporters up).

He even got an uncountered ‘crack’ in about the SDLP supporting the Iraq Afghanistan war. Utter nonsense of course, but Margaret was too busy clutching her notes to take him to task for it.

There were several differences between this and the UK fight . One was deftly illustrated by UTV’s choice of intro music: “When two tribes go to war…” We are still caught in a regionalist tribal bash. Gerry plays that game better and more casually than any of the rest.  So he gets the only point going on impact. .

But also, whilst the three UK leaders never have the opportunity to go the full fifteen with each other anywhere never mind TV. Our lot have been through the mill for many nights of the last nearly 20 years. There is simply was no wow factor here because we think we’ve heard them all at it before.

So the verdict.  On tribal impact: Sinn Fein 1 UUP 0, DUP 0, SDLP – 1… On politics: UUP 2; DUP 1; Sinn Fein 0; SDLP 1.

But how was it for you?

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  • Diabolical. The four parties sit around the same table in coalition, yet no meaningful challenges on performances by the SDLP/UUP because at the end of the day they are all in it together. They are all tired. The outside challengers (squeezed into a few minutes later) might have at least sparked some interest, though even there Ford is now also at the trough.

    What it showed was the stagnation of our politics. The most disappointing (though not unexpected) aspect of the UUPCon is that this was meant to be about change, which must surely mean policy. Yet both on the election literature and on the performance last night there is absolutely nothing new. Not that the UUP should be singled out. All four main parties have little to offer the electorate except same old same old.

    Whatever the government in London, there will be cuts and the only thing that will bring this lot together is the opportunity for a collective whinging whine. No-one will say, OK this is where we are so how do we remake government in NI.

  • madraj55

    MF. I believe the BBC debate here is just two days short of the poll, so there won’t be truncated sequences to spoil the flow as you referred to. I didn’t see much of it but did catch the to and fro between Empey and Robinson over the land deal imbroglio. PR still appears rattled and doesn’t seem to mind people noticing it. perhaps he should take the dreaded ‘gardening leave’. and give us all a break.

  • slug

    *Adams. Very weak on the economics question. Appealed to broad generalities. Denial of being in the IRA like Liberace’s infamous denial of being gay.

    *Robinson. Tired and worn out. Voters were reminded why they are fed up with the DUP’s expenses and developers scandal. Accepted the budget cuts were needed so knows the reality unlike Adams

    *Ritchie. Nowhere near as bad as people are saying (I watched it again after seeing these comments). She is NEW while the others date to the 1970s. She is offering something different. Greater emphasis on a shared future – welcome.

    *Empey. Could have been more hard on the DUP. Missed the chance to emphasise the main point that other parties can make promises but only Conseratives and Unionists can form the next government. So not as strong as he could have been.

  • Oracle

    Mick you are far too kind to them all, when you consider that this is supposed to be an election battle then all four party leaders should be asked to resign by their own membership, I still can’t decide who the biggest loser was on the night, I’m not sure if it was Ritchie for the SDLP or Dougal for UTV because both were equally lightweight and just as equally dire, but the strange thing is that everyone knew before either were given their positions, that both would be absolutely bloody awful so questions must be asked both of the SDLP membership and UTV management!

    Robinson in an attempt to deflect attention from the “swish family Robinson” scandals hammered in to Empey about being in government with the party of moats and duck houses and slapped plenty of innuendo muck on the front door of Empeys party. So did old Reggie then eventually find the balls to seize his moment to obliterate Robinson on Television? No old Reggie was like and old veggie and sat there and said nothing, what a useless spineless drink of water, this man belongs in a home where he can be cared for!

    Robinson himself didn’t have to squirm or wriggle too much because not one of those so called party leaders did what their party membership or core voters wanted, nay craved for them to do, the political annihilation of Peter Robinson on television. Why was this? Simple because they don’t really give a regimental toss what the electorate want, they just want to be elected as painlessly as possible to continue saying nothing and doing even less except drawing the handsome salaries.

    Adams did what Adams does best, he talked bollix and lied, but he can’t be faulted it’s a winning combination for the S/F party base they can’t get enough of it, or is it because Gerry can’t give them anything else? It’s irrelevant because he doesn’t need to, why should he? The SDLP and the celluloid media repeatedly fail to ask any questions of him almost resigned to accepting “the bollix” and while this attitude prevails he’ll never be forced to face reality like he was in the south and northern voters can expect more of the same FOREVER.

    So if the voters wish to pour scorn on local politician behavior and misdemeanors then they’ll have to do it themselves at the ballot box because their own party leaders failed them yet again.

  • Henry94

    I think people get overly pessimistic about politics. Someone who went into a coma in 1990 and woke up now would be stunned by the progress. But none of it came during election campaigns.

    Elections are not subtle affairs and the need to get the base out means that there is little real engagement,

    For example if policing hadn’t been sorted out before the election do we think there would be any progress during the campaign. Of course not. Elections are to be enjoyed and the real work happens when the posters come down. It’s the same everywhere.

  • Oracle

    Dear Slug how can you possible state that “Ritchie was nowhere near as bad as people are saying” well perhaps you’re right because she was much worse than what people are saying! She was the classic “political nightmare on elm street” if you watched this a second time and couldn’t see that then I implore to watch it a third time, only with reading glasses and not those rose tinted ones you wore the last time!

    Are you Margret Ritchie in disguise?

  • slug

    No Oracle. I saw the comments before watching the performance. I genuinely was surprised at the difference between the comments and her actual performance.

  • I thought they all did pretty much as expected.

    Gerry Adams: All politicians lie but he has it down to an art form. Trouble is no one believes him on anything anymore…

    Peter Robinson: Did as well as could be expected. Looks tired, but is that a bad thing. After all he is supposed to be a busy man…

    Margaret Ritchie: Notes not a good move, a bit amateurish, but not as bad as some say.

    Reg Empey: Did better than I expected. A very competent performance. I doubt it was enough though.

  • Fretjumper

    Robinson – Sounds and looks like a dalek, policies from another planet also. Has the compassion factor of a brick
    Empey – Sounds and looks like K9, allied himself to a Conservative Party generally loathed by most in NI. Badly needs sonic screwdriver
    Ritchie – Dr’s assistant, running around alot and screaming, needs a hug
    Adams – Dr Who (wasn’t in the IRA allegedly), looks like he should have a guitar and be doin duets with Val Doonican.
    All in all an awful advertisement for NI politics. Not the X-Factor at all more the Why Factor!

  • “we think we’ve heard them all at it before.”

    Perhaps that’s why I’ve avoided leaders debates!!

  • Neil

    It’s very different here than in the UK. The vast majority of people know exactly who they’ll be voting for, and the mjority of the remainder know it’s down to two choices. This is why Unionists are presently preoccupied with attacking Unionists, and Nationalists are attacking Nationalists. It’s all funny really, the UCUNF are doing SF’s job (attacking the DUP) while the SDLP are doing the DUP’s job (attacking SF). Again have to say that Gerry came out top of the pile, but you can put that down to the fact that between Ritchie, Robinson and Reg, he’s easily the most normal and likeable person there.

    Ritchie is playing a blinder in terms of doing damage to Nationalism (IMO), and will pay for it in votes, but in terms of personality which comes across in the TV debates she’s not doing great. Robinson is a miserable and unpleasant man by all accounts, and he did himself no favours yesterday, that wee flash of anger again. Then there’s Reg – again only my opinion, but he never comes across well.

  • fin

    “He even got an uncountered ‘crack’ in about the SDLP supporting the Iraq war. Utter nonsense of course, but Margaret was too busy clutching her notes to take him to task for it.”

    Really Mick, only watched it once, but I believe it was the other war, it was 3 cracks and not one, Ritchie tried to take him to task and failed, and possibly utter nonsense to you but not to nationalists, particularily those in Derry and especially at the moment.

  • J Kelly

    Mick you must have been watching a different programme from me and many of the bloogers on your live blog last night I read through it all, how sad am i, and constantly they were highlighting Ritchie’s failings. You as a very astute blogger have yet to rise the blow that shook Margaret. Why was Thomas Burns in Afganistan paid for by the MOD. I asked last night will we get a daily blog on Thomas Burns watch.

    She was reading constantly, and for momentarily impressive comments, come on. Her last minute input when she talked about how she has promoted junior spokespeople, all about the party. Nothing about people. To give her a victory over Adams for politics is imo indulging in your wishful thinking in behalf of the SDLP again.

    Quote of the night Lazy Abstentionists…no votes or input at all on the budget debate. She was stumped the only thing that saved her was the commercial break.

    I said on slugger months ago that if the SDLP elected Margaret Rithchie it would be bad for the party externally and good internally. I was only half right she is terrible externally but no one will tell me that the knives are not being sharpened as we speak.

  • Oracle

    J Kelly

    You and a few other S/F stalwarts have raised the issue of Thomas Burns in Afghanistan as the guest of the MOD.

    However you don’t actuallt refer as to what you want to know? is it just a yes or no answer your looking? or do you have a concrete line of questioning to follow, if so can you elaborate further for the rest of us perhaps we could help you with the point your trying to make

  • slug

    What is the issue there – I do’t see the problem.

  • fin

    Oracle, the point is the same point that GA tried to make but was prevented from doing, Derry is a SDLP heartland, for several years it has had Saville going on, while the SDLP were making the right noises to the locals about holding the MoD to account they were also taking freebie trips from the MoD abroad, simples

  • madraj55

    ‘the only thing that saved her was the commercial break’.

    You would think there would be somebody at TUV [sorry, UTV], would would have had the sense to run the debate without adverts just for this one off event, because the format last night didn’t allow the exchanges to get into their stride beforte yet another ad break.

  • Oracle


    Firstly “freebies abroad” imply a paid for holiday, now I don’t know about you but apart from Poleglass residents Afghanistan wouldn’t be most peoples idea of a holiday now would it.

    Secondly Sid Walsh delivered an IRA statement to all republicans via television on behalf of P.O’Niell….. well that very statement was written by an MI6 officer.

    Do the words pot kettle black spring to mind?

  • J Kelly

    The issues why was an Irish public representative in Afganistan on a trip pid for by the British Army, what type of operations was he viewing, did the sdlp leadership know of this trip..do i need to go on

  • slug

    I don’t think there was anything dodgy about it at all

  • Co. Down man

    Slug you must of been watching something else, Ricthie was a car crash never mind the facial expressions, she was completely inept. Her decision over Nationalist pacts, Fianna Fáil and her and Mc Kinney’s God awful preformances are just more hoels in the SDLP ship, she will sink them. Adams wiped the floor with her.

  • Mark McGregor


    It is noted in the Register of Member’s Interest. I don’t think SF have anything beyond that and are fishing for the detail.

  • Mack

    Off topic – but does anyone know if this is real, or someone taking the piss?


  • Henry94

    He’d want to be careful about calling himself an MP when he isn’t. Some people take a very dim view of that kind of thing.

  • slug

    Duh. What do you think.

  • J Kelly

    I don’t know if there was anything dodgy but I am sure you must find it interesting and all I would like to know is why he was there. Did the SDLP know and agree to the trip. I await the answer with interest.

  • medillen


    It is easy for you to throw out this unprovable nonsense, in an attempt to kick up some dust. The facts around Thomas Burns visit to the killing fields of Afganisatan are easily checked.

  • What are you talking about? Gerry spent the whole night, and indeed the whole campaign so far, attacking the SDLP.

  • fin

    Does the word whataboutry mean anything to you, however, lets deal with that first, if MI6 did write the statement how does it differ from what PO’Neill would have written it? it highlights the failings of unionism and both goverments and gives a reminder of the pogroms, as well as paying tribute to the volunteers, if MI6 did write it, its the closest the Irish people have had to an apology

    back to the thread, you asked what the point was, I’ve told you what the point was, if you want further reading google SDLP, SAville, MoD and then try to equate the freebie holiday with what they say for local consumption.

    incidently its Seanna not Sid, Orifice

  • What I find interesting is Gerry Adams meeting George Bush in Hillsborough not a month after the war in Iraq was declared, while Mitchel McLaughlin was booed on the outside for having the nerve to attend the anti-war protest. Or Martin McGuinness’s political alliance with the right-wing Republican Congressman James Walsh who said that Iraq was a “model” for the future. The nerve of Sinn Féin trying to reach the moral highground on war.

  • Mack

    Well, I’d presume not. But then the entire candidacy might have been a joke..

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    slug……youre missing the point that Gerry Adams denial isnt a denial at all. IRA members are under orders to deny membership.
    Therefore his denial means
    1 he wasnt in IRA
    2 he was in IRA.
    Im inclined to believe one of those options more than the other.
    Actually the more laughable denial was that he had never even been asked to join.

  • Pasty

    Peter Robinson said that he fears what will happen if the Conservatives get in as he realises the deeper cuts from the Tory’s will really hurt here in the North. He and all others know there will be cuts whoever forms the UK Government but IT Will be worse for all as the Tory’s have promised DEEPER spending cuts.

    Having put that across last night then Peter should be asked to explain why he is willing to put services to the people in both communities in the North in jeopardy with the UCUNF single candidate in FST.

    The Unionist people in FST need to consider what they are doing with there vote as the Rural Communities are likely to be the worst affected by the DEEP cuts that the UCUNF candidate might ensure. That single candidate could be the one that brings in a tory Government and all the rural cuts that come with it.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    There were actually two battles not one.
    Votes arent gained and lost accross the Demographic Divisions…….only within them.

    In that sense the Debate MIGHT affect the balance within the Tribes.
    If thats the case Adams did better than Ritchie
    and Empey did better than Robinson.
    I am now pretty convinced that Ritchie WONT be leader of SDLP before the Assembly Elections. Nice lady and all that but over-promoted and theres some REAL professionals in SDLP and the cell phones must have been melting from over-use……Attwood, McDonnell, McGlone, Durkan (who will surely come back to lead after Ritchie is dumped……..carers leave, diplomatic illness maybe to save her face.) Shes a disaster.

    Frankly the UTV spectacle was amateurish, Dougall was poor and the presentation, music, adverts took away from the “gravitas”.
    In a sense Cameron/Brown/Clegg have been copying USA.
    And this Norn Iron debate was a poor copy.
    Its like we “needed” to get into the act.
    I blame Jim Carville and the Clinton Campaign for this crap.Our local journos wanting to think this was “Primary Colours” or something.
    I suppose our local journos and spin meisters were pestering their editors and Party Office managers to buy them all a blackberry.
    Perhaps the most telling thing I came accross this morning was one of our local bloggers (apologies that I cant remember who it was) interviewing Ritchie in a corridor afterwards.
    Was a media event ………not a political event.
    one that served journalists and political anoraks….like me……more than it actually served the VOTERS.

    But of course the politicians and the media prefer elections conducted without the interference of ………..ordinary people.

  • John O’Connell

    It seems that Gerry Adams can deny being in the IRA with its murder on his watch of Jean McConville, Bloody Friday and so on, with the deaths of countless innocent people, and Thomas Burns becomes a figure of ridicule for allegedly going to Afganistan. No wonder Gerry had that stupid smile on his face.

  • Procrasnow

    What qualified as a main party, where was jim allister?

    None of the parties that were in attendance have any MP’s at present.

    he party with the most in the last parliament from here was the DUP, who collectively and individually according to TheyWorkForYou.com when it came to voting in parliament were well Well Below Average among MP’s. No average, No, not below average No, but well below average.

    Makes you wonder why they are there at all, part time sub standard representation

  • Oracle


    “The statement was the result of months of intensive private talks – led by Hain and Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell – following Adams’s appeal in April for the IRA to adopt peaceful and democratic means. Its aim was a summer statement leading to final weapons decommissioning, breaking the dangerous stalemate in Northern Irish politics”

    Jonathon Powell drew up the final draft and it was passed to Sinn Fein who gave it untouched to Sid to read out in front of the assembled media invites.

    So that really makes a nonsense out of your “unprovable nonsense” quip, you really shouldn’t let your fingers near a keyboard before you think ideas through because they will come back to bite you.
    Now would you like a link to the above?


    You just demolished your own argument by accepting it was fine for Jonathon Powell to write the winding up speech for the Provisional IRA admitting their defeat and wrong doing but that it was as close to an apology as they were ever likely to get…

    Oh and he’s known as Sid also you may like to know that the Oracle was the all seeing eye were as an Orifice is an opening, a vent or hole one is not related or known as the other unlike Sid/Seanna

  • Jim Allister isn’t even a councillor!

  • medillen

    Oh well if Jonathan Powell said it then it must be true, get a grip. Oracle

  • snowstorm

    The whole production was piss poor, from the format, the ad breaks, the choice of music, all very poor. Not one vote will have been changed as a result of the debate.

    No point in Mick trying to air brush how awful Margaret Ritchie was – the fact that her usual group of social media supporters have gone to ground is testament to that.

    She needs to improve before 4th May, or that debate may cost votes.

  • medillen

    Absolutely agree on the denial (bias) factor on Micks’ analysis.

  • madraj55

    You’ve hit it directly. I don’t know why Jim Dougal is now counted now as UTV’s strongest debate referee. He hasn’t been in the game now for years. Nesbitt would have been the chairman if he had started getting delusions of grandeur. After Cameron last night, MN must be reconsidering his options. A fly on the wall would have an interesting listen in on a chat between Nesbitt and
    McKinney now.

  • Mick Fealty

    You are right. My bad. Will amend above.