Last night’s leaders’ debate … and the draft programme for government (updated)

Opinion seems divided about the format and scheduling of last night’s leaders’ debate – available to view online. Personally, I liked the way that the format allowed the five party (northern) leaders to be put on the spot by members of the audience, tackling four areas each. It was at least as illuminating as the bickering bunfight that followed when the leaders got the chance to talk across and over each other.

BBC leaders debate still from above

Update to bear in mind when reading the following paragraphs … Peter Robinson has clarified that it’s not specifically the DUP Programme for Government.

It is not the DUP’s PfG. When I said “we had drafted a PfG” it was the Executive “we” I was using.

One insight that slipped out in the fray was Peter Robinson’s admission that the DUP had a draft Programme for Government up their sleeve so that they could make sensible decisions in the short period between election results and running d’Hondt.

This will have been music to Tom Elliott’s ears, who has been touting his “Game Changer” and the need for a Programme of Government to be rapidly agreed before carving up the Executive ministries.

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, Liam Clarke explains:

The DUP did not elaborate on the First Minister’s statement in what was a fairly quick-fire debate, or say whether he had agreed it with Sinn Fein. However, the DUP is thought to have proposals for a joint commission between Executive parties to tackle difficult issues.

It should be no surprise to anyone that political parties confident of results plan ahead. They wouldn’t be worthy of being elected if they didn’t. And it would be good to put their manifestos to some use!

However, to have had the political maturity – never mind the time – to review the contents between political partners DUP and SF would be quite a sign of maturity.

Further update based on twitter conversation:

  • alaninbelfast – Does the “PfG” simply reflect the recent Budget? Or is it post-budget with additional plans for delivery? Have UUP/SDLP seen it?
  • DUPleader – It is not inconsistent with the budget. (There’s a politician’s answer for you.)
  • alaninbelfast – (Politicians answer = answers half the Q!) Have all the parties/ministers had sight, or just DUP & SF?
  • DUPleader – It’s been the work of OFMDFM Officials in consultation with departments. It has not been brought for Ministerial approval.

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  • Fearglic

    I watched the debate and enjoyed it. Ritchie seemed to squirm a lot. Alliance won out I think. I have always voted for the same party since I first got my vote. I have this time not given this party a single vote(I’m a postal voter) though my X for the referendum agreed with their line on AV.

  • SethS

    Agree that Ritchie came out worst, particularly with her response to double jobbing. Ford came across well to me, Elliot slightly out of his depth as usual, the other two neither good nor bad.

    Is it just me or does MR radiate cross librarian/schoolmaam? Not sure that’s the way to win votes.

  • wild turkey

    “Is it just me or does MR radiate cross librarian/schoolmaam?”

    Seth, ah, how many social workers do you know?

  • Lionel Hutz

    MRs performance was woeful but the SDLP remain the only party that I can countenance voting for. Anyway, I like Bradley and O’Hanlon. I suspect that saves the sdlp this elections. Most of their candidates are very likeable IMO. But MR has to go. I know so many SDLP voters who are at the point where they vote elsewhere if there is no change

  • Greenflag

    I don’t have a vote in NI but if I had it would go to the Alliance first with preferences to SF or the DUP for those on either side of the great divide who cannot stomach giving any preference to them uns . the Green Party are worth a vote . I’d resist voting for either the UUP or the SDLP on the basis that these two parties should long ago have tried to combine along with the AP in an ‘alternative ‘ coalition to the present crowd .

    As for the TUV – I hope that the voters of NI do the decent thing and put this party out of it’s misery and consign it to history where it belongs . And if they can do the same this time or the next time to the UUP I’ll shed no tears .

    Goodbye to all that then eh !

  • Rory Carr

    While not in the least surprised by Lionel Hutz’s revelation that, “I know so many SDLP voters who are at the point where they vote elsewhere if there is no change”, which potential for desertion can only but have been reinforced by Ritchie’s miserable performance in the Leasers’ Debate, I must of course disagree entirely with the proposition that “MR has to go”.

    I would much prefer that she stays and continue in her magnificent (if unintentional) campaign to make the SDLP an embarrassment such that, as in England where no sane adult would willingly confess to being a supporter of the LibDems, so in Ireland children in school playgrounds would taunt another with the chant, “Yer bum’s too big and yer Da’s an SDLP supporter !”

  • Comrade Stalin

    The debate last night was interesting. I fail to see how any SDLP or UUP supporters could have drawn any comfort from watching those two party leaders carp from the sidelines. Ritchie was really bad. Robinson landed a few clean punches on Elliott in response to Elliott’s rather clumsy attempts at taunting.

    But I’m not sure if it will have swung the election. TV debates went well for Nick Clegg but didn’t translate into seats. Soon, we’ll know how things went. Damn shame the count isn’t on Thursday night ..

  • Comrade Stalin


    Ritchie is only there because the party (from Durkan downwards) scrambled to undermine Alistair McDonnell. Quite why they would want to do so I have no idea, but if the SDLP lose seats in this election I can’t see how a further leadership election could be avoided.

  • Nunoftheabove

    “Elliott’s rather clumsy attempts at taunting” ….improved really quite a bit recently then you think ?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Well my dad, who is a life-long sdlp supporter said to me this morning that they will get his vote this time but if she doesn’t go, it’ll be the last time.


    Re McDonnell – I knew a few people when I was at QUB who canvassed for Alasdair at the time. Apparently he is hateful and a very divisive personality within the party. Whatever else about MR, I don’t think she would cause that division in the party

  • Nunoftheabove


    Indeed. McDonnell has a reputation and is, to say the very least of it, unpopular with a significant number within the SDLP. If the experience a friend of mine (who was an SDLP supporter and campaigner at the time) had with him is anything to judge by I can well understand why he’s unpopular. Not a fellow to cross. He’s always struck me as a fairly medioicre type, perhaps slightly above averagely pompous, snobbish and opportunist but politically run of the mill in the final analysis – the SDLP’s the place for him, no doubt about that.

    His “I’ve been a doctor for 30 years, me” bit has always reminded me of nothing so much as Bob McCartney’s “speaking as a longstanding barrister of some seniority…”. To me this illustrates either a remarkable lack of self-awareness and/or a laughable disdain for one’s audience. Unbecoming , either way.