In a 90 minute debate there was a very interesting dialogue between the representatives of the parties. It was on the whole, a respectful exchange of views.
Simon Hamilton and Robin Swann deserve credit for how they approached this debate. They handled an audience that was far from being on their side well and I think it beneficial having that Unionist voice on the panel to remind all of us that not everyone thinks the same way on key issues. A noteworthy aspect was how often Peter Robinson’s comments featured and Simon Hamilton acknowledging that past comments from DUP politicians about the Irish language were disrespectful.
We also had Fianna Fail TD, Lisa Chambers and Health Minister, Simon Harris bringing the perspective of the two largest parties in the South. What was striking was how quickly, Harris was able to tap into the issues and connect with the audience. On rights based issues such as abortion and marriage, he was able to link his work in the Dail to contemporary political debates in Northern Ireland which was a real skill and did help him connect.
In terms of solid performers, Mary Lou McDoanld did incredibly well articulating Sinn Fein’s policies and viewpoints. Mocking criticism of her border poll comments and Sinn Fein’s approach to Brexit she was able to cast aside criticism with relative ease and confidence.
For the SDLP, Colum Eastwood gave a strong performance. On issues such as reform of the Petition of Concern and Unionism’s attitude towards Brexit, he was able to bring something different to the debate.
For Alliance, Stephen Farry (standing in for Naomi Long) was particularly strong on Brexit and its wider impact on destabilising Northern Ireland.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs