Is The Local Cynicism of ‘Question Time’ Fair?

On Thursday night David Dimbleby and the Question Time Carnival rolled into Titanic Belfast… and it seems the natives expected the worst and received it.

To begin with, I’m a big fan of Question Time – I think it’s a great format to engage people nationwide in issues that many people are already talking about, and with the political machinery that exists within *most* parties, they give us, the voters, a good indication of party lines without having to go into the longer, ‘heavier’ forms of media.

In over 1200 episodes of Question Time, it has been broadcast from Northern Ireland just 22 times – less than 1.8%, so as a fan (and a nerd), I got a bit excited when I got a ticket for the audience and was as excited as a kid on christmas eve. When it came to the day of the show, both before and afterwards, I was genuinely surprised to see some of the cynicism directed at the show (or more specifically, the content rather than the show itself). It seems that many of us expect the worst of our wee nation and sit proudly grinning as they consider themselves proved right.

Some of the criticism I’ve been seeing on social media (both from locals and elsewhere, just by following through #BBCQT on twitter and in discussions with others), seems harsh and to a certain extent, self-fulfilling.

That we are insular and focussed too much on “us over here,” – on the show there was a mix of topics discussed, Alexander Litvenenko, Gay Marriage in NI, British EU referendum, US Elections, if Northern Ireland is likely to see a chance to it’s governmental style to such that a functional opposition could exist… to me, a decent range of topics.

When Question Time visits Scotland or Wales, or even the regions of the UK, questions are often asked which are locally relevant. The panel in Belfast had Theresa Villiers (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), Lord Peter Hain (Former SoS for Northern Ireland), Nigel Dodds (DUP), Declan Kearney (Sinn Fein) and Grainne Maguire (Comedian & Writer). The panel for visits from the show to Scotland or Wales is generally populated mostly (or completely) by people from that country, with the odd exceptions… It’s not all nationally (or internationally) relevant topics by nationally (or internationally) relevant guests, therein lies it’s power.

When I was called to contribute under the topic of the Alexander Litvenenko report, I (roughly speaking) made the following comment,

Is it not hypocritical that the British Government can criticise Russia for the killing of Alexander Litvenenko considering the long history of British Government involvement in state sponsored killing, or collusion in killings here in Northern Ireland during the troubles?

To me, it’s a valid point (obviously or I wouldn’t have wanted to ask it), but there were those who seemed to see this as perhaps indicative of the “us, us, us, us,” attitude, including Slugger’s own Alan Meban.


I understand Alan’s point however I disagree strongly, we are Northern Ireland, part of the UK (sorry to those I offend by saying that…) and Question Time is part of our national television – it covers our issues in the same way it covers Middlesbrough’s, Aberdeen’s, Rotherham’s and indeed London’s.

To the view that the show in general paints Northern Ireland in a bad light, could it not equally be said that it paints Northern Ireland in a real light? Question Time is a successful show because it is relevant to what people are discussing – I doubt there are many in Norfolk, Brighton, Plymouth or Herts discussing whether or not NI has an official opposition or how the Petition of Concern works… but we’re part of the same nation, I have as much right to know about Brighton issues as they do of ours, we have as much right to air our issues as they do of theirs.

If we are to be ashamed of how others perceive “us,” then so be it, it is what it is and we are what we are, but nothing is gained by disparaging ourselves so glibly, indeed many local politicians (and candidates for this years Assembly elections) were somewhat critical of what UK viewers may think of us… I’m too-often a negative person, but the perception ‘across the water’ of Northern Ireland and Northern Irish people is, to my view, at an all time high and ever increasing… as Peter Hain said, “Not too long ago, having Declan Kearney and Nigel Dodds sitting on the same televised panel and debating gay marriage would be impossible,” – if the worst thing people see of us is bigoted legislation and still being concerned with crimes of the past, at least they aren’t seeing constant reports of us killing each other – and for that we should be incredibly grateful.

We, as a people, are great at mocking ourselves, at being adept at setting ourselves up to be the butt of the joke – but maybe it’s ok for us to stand in front of a larger audience and say, “Here’s our views, here’s our grievances, here’s what’s actually going on here, take us as you find us because this is Northern Ireland and this is what our craic really is.” We have such an inferiority complex and it’s time to start shifting it.


Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.