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.


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  • Jimmyz

    Define a terrorist

  • Chingford Man

    Funnily enough none of that is mentioned in Finucane’s Wikipedia entry. Obviously someone is still polishing that halo.

  • Thomas Girvan

    They were criminals and were not a part of a state orange terrorist regime
    Spence ended up doing 30 years in gaol.
    Don’t rewrite history.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Ulster is not British, and anyone who thinks that it is is obviously unable to understand basic facts.

    If Ulster was British then the front of a British passport would simply state ‘Britain’ in the same way that an Irish passport states ‘Ireland’, wouldn’t it?

    Instead of which a British passport quite clearly states that Northern Ireland is not part of Britain.

    As for ‘every part of it’ are you a complete moron?

    Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal?

    All of which are counties in Ulster, not one of which is in Britain.

    Robin seems to me to be someone who is an intelligent person, you on the other hand are quite obviously not

    If you wish to argue the case why don’t you attempt to argue the following points.

    1, Ulster is British. How? It’s currently part of the UK but isn’t part of Britain and never has been, check the front of your passport.

    2, Ulster is older than Great Britain, it consists of nine counties three of which are in the Republic of Ireland, how is ‘every bit of it’ British?

    Funnily enough, I do think that you care what I think of you otherwise I see no reason why you would ask the question.

    I think you are not very bright and lack the ability to view the situation with any degree of objectivity.

  • Chingford Man

    Wrong. I don’t care what you think but if you want to churn out long boring self-justifications as the world moves on, go ahead.

  • CB Belfast

    Ok, I have had a brief look at Twitter from that evening and I see absolutely no evidence of that. Would be interested to see some examples. All I saw was Alan Meban, another ‘rent-a-pundit’, making a few quips.

    Perhaps you have misinterpreted a general sense of political malaise, and a genuine shame in the fact that we are the backwoodsmen of the UK, for something else. There’s a difference between being embarrassed about talking about NI issues generally and squirming a bit when Nigel Dodds trots out his usual nonsense about gay marriage.

    Can you not just accept the fact that it was a stupid question given the context? It was misinformed, illogical and off-topic.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    1: Well, if you had a brief look then I suppose that solves it, I stand corrected.
    2: You pick on Meban you pick on the best of us so play nice!
    3: Accept my question was stupid, no problem with that whatsoever – the general question stands though… oh, except it doesn’t, because you had a brief look and thus proved conclusively that nobody anywhere saw or said anything.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

    Actions quite clearly such as those carried out by UVF/UDA/UFF/RHC/IRA/INLA and so on and so forth.

  • submariner

    Spence did not spend 30 years in prison.
    Don’t rewrite history.

  • CB Belfast

    I classified it as ‘brief’ because I wanted to be clear that my search was by no means comprehensive. I thought that was obvious…

    I would genuinely be interested to see some evidence of the ‘general trend across social media’ that you mentioned. I wasn’t saying I didn’t believe you.

  • Brian Walker

    I think some of you are beating the community up too much. For me the interesting point was that it showed the gap between politicians and a cross section of the public. Public pressure on Nigel Dodds was obvious over gay marriage and Brexit. He wavered on both. On a show of hands only four people could be found to support the continuing ban on gay marriage. and the audience split two to one in favour of staying in the EU

  • Nevin

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a new UK-Ireland treaty was slipped out without fanfare – or even a red hand of history.

  • Anglo-Irish

    You apparently suffer from a major comprehension problem.

    It has nothing to do with what I think, opinions are only opinions unless they can be supported by facts, at which point they are no longer simply opinions they are the truth.

    Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland.

    Six counties of the nine counties of Ulster are currently part of the UK .

    That does not make them a part of Britain which is a totally separate island to the east of Ireland.

    That fact is stated quite clearly on the front of a British passport and only the terminally obtuse would attempt to argue otherwise.

    You appear to be someone who answers to that description.

  • Chingford Man

    Nonsense. Question Time always has a noticeably left wing composition to its audience. When its programme came from Clacton, on the evening that Douglas Carswell won a landslide victory in his by-election to become the first elected UKIP MP, Dimbleby asked if there were any UKIP voters in the audience and just 2 hands went up.

    You will find lots of people railing against “Tory cuts”, praising the wonders of immigration, complaining about the latest fashionable progressive cause, or, as last week, squawking at Dodds about gay marriage.

    It’s rare that you find audience members that stand out from these purveyors of lefty BS.

    The programme is a disgrace. The sooner that old buffer Dimbleby is pensioned off and the scandalous audience selection process overhauled, the better.

  • Chingford Man

    As you can’t distinguish between the concept of Britain as (a) a geographical place, and (b) a sense of national identity, you had better find someone else to bore with your tedious Irish nationalism.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Ahh so you’ve gone from ‘Ulster is British, every part of it ‘ to accepting that it’s a sense of national identity you are talking about.

    This is progress indeed. You see I never questioned your sense of identity, I merely pointed out the fact that Ireland is not a part of Britain, which it isn’t.

    Therefore, whilst anyone born in NI can claim British citizenship as a birthright and can also choose to identify with British culture if they so wish, it doesn’t make them British.

    If you were born in NI then that applies to you.

    You are a citizen, no more, no less.

    The amusing thing here is that as I was born in England I could if I so wished describe myself as British, however, in common with virtually everyone else born on various parts of this island I don’t use the term.

    It is strange is it not that the only people apparently obsessed with using the term are a – soon to be – minority in a part of a country that has never been any part of Britain.

    I accused you of being obtuse in a previous post you don’t need to continue proving the point.

    When someone is boring us most people have the good sense to discontinue the discussion, this hasn’t apparently occurred to you though. : )

    You’re not boring me by the way, I’m finding you highly amusing.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    The whole world is against UKIP. Its a goddamn conspiracy is it what is is…

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    So now we’re going for both condescending AND bully-boy arguments. Niiiiiice.

  • Chingford Man

    Well since my comment that (creditably IMHO) punned “points” and “pints” got deleted, I guess people will have to take your word for it. If you (and the moderator) can’t accept a polite but robust reply without screeching “bully boy arguments”, then maybe this online debate melarkey isn’t for you.

    Returning to the topic, for the second time, feel free to answer my above points if you are so inclined.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I’ll stick to informed, polite debate thanks. Farewell

  • Jimmyz

    One man’s terrorist is another mans freedom fighter
    Can you answer me this
    1) Was Bobby sands a terrorist ?
    2) Is Gerry Adams a terrorist ?

  • Jollyraj

    Wasting your time, CM. Better men than me have tried to explain to Irish Anglo that British does not exclusively mean ‘from the larger island’, but he won’t be told.

  • Gaygael

    Actuall they balance the audience by screening for political views.
    But hey, it’s much better to build a narrative of conspiracy.

  • Chingford Man

    I’m sure you’re right. The quality of debate is dire. The Provo groupies and the lefties that largely populate this site must talk to themselves so often that they can’t take contrary argument. Shame. Slugger used to be much better.

  • Chingford Man

    Any screening process can be rigged. If we were to go through audience participation in terms of timings and contributions over a set period, it would be obvious that the expression of left wing views massively outnumbers the expression of right wing views.

    The week before last, QT screened its audience so well that a media spokesperson for the BMA got a front row seat and was allowed by Dumblebum to spout her trade union line on the junior doctors’ strike for 2 minutes unimpeded. How was somebody who was a party to the dispute permitted to pose as an ordinary member of the public?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    And of course it’s impossible that the majority of people have liberal and/or left wing views…

  • Chingford Man

    The pollsters can tell us what issues are of most concern to people. Immigration is one such issue, as the parties well know. When was the last time a QT audience reflected majority opinion on immigration?

    Most people detest social security scroungers. When does that come across on QT?

  • Jimmyz

    The title of this article should be “Did I just ask the most embarrassing and pointless ‘question’ ever on Question Time?…and do I get a prize?”
    IMHO The perception of N Ireland as a bunch of backward idiots was affirmed to the watching audience by the asking of this naive and doltish “question”.
    Were you knocking back copious amounts of grandpa’s old cough medicine before you went on air?
    PS An associated vote would be a nice touch.

  • Gaygael

    Yes the bbc rig every episode of question time with aleft wing audience!

  • John Collins

    He only spent about seventeen years in Prison, where as the Balcombe Street Siege boys spent 24 years in jail. Spence had a 77 year disabled Protestant woman bombed to death and led an organisation which killed five hundred people. He was their esteemed spokesman when he faced the cameras of the World to declare the UVF ceasefire, in a most high profile press conference. An ODC he was not. His respect among the Orange Order was exemplified when a march stopped outside Crumlin Road Jail, as a mark of respect to the sweet Gusty, while he was rightly incarcerated within

  • Ernst Blofeld

    The finucane brothers were hawks the doves in the republican terror gang who are all working for the British state needed them gone so the doves in the movement simply asked their handlers to get them done in..they weren’t just after the lawyer that night you know they were after them both…the top cop just on the television there saying the branch didn’t know about the shankill bombing he’s probably right..but what about the spooks (hiya guys) answer that Chief Wiggum…

  • Ernst Blofeld

    Republicans ordered the finucane BROTHERS to be taken out..the spooks(hiya guys ????) sorted it out for them..

  • babyface finlayson

    I think that is a taboo subject for shinners until after the election! Avoid at all costs.

  • Roger

    Numbers don’t like. If you’re interested in it, you could look it up. It’s not complicated. Catholics left in a far, far higher proportion. The Cold House strategy works. Thanks to it, there is a NI today.

  • Jollyraj

    Perhaps the fact that the IRA was terrorizing the populace and were determined to destroy the prospects for a good future for everybody in a multiple-decades-long orgy of violence(apparently in order to guarantee power and untold wealth for the elite few at the head of the Republican movement – or was that merely an unintended consequence?) had something to do with driving so many people to emigrate?

  • Roger

    Doubtless it did….But weren’t the IRA more likely to target Protestants? How come Catholics emigrated in such hugely disproportionate numbers?

  • Phil

    Anybody can apply for a place in the QT audience, mate, maybe these so called leftists aren’t so dopey if they’re the only ones who can work out how to fill in an online application.