Belfast Telegraph

Miss Ulster moved in Stormont row

A controversial beauty pageant due to be staged at the Northern Ireland Assembly has been forced to find a new home.

Plans to hold the Miss Ulster competition in Parliament Buildings at Stormont have been pulled in the wake of an outcry from some politicians.

Assembly members opposed to the event had criticised entry criteria that limited competitors to young women above a certain height and between a dress size 8 to 12.

Democratic Unionist economy minister Arlene Foster claimed it was sending out the wrong message to women and compared it to something akin to the Lovely Girls contest from popular sitcom Father Ted.

While the claims have been vehemently denied by event organiser Michelle McTernan, she said the storm that had been whipped up had left her with little option other than to seek an alternative venue.

It could not have proceeded in any case as an MLA sponsoring the event has withdrawn her backing.

The contest is now being held in the landmark Titanic Belfast venue on Saturday.

"It would be inappropriate to hold it in Stormont now," said Ms McTernan.

"It has been overshadowed by a political agenda."

The pageant had been held at Stormont once before, in 2011.

Public events at Stormont require at least three MLAs - with representation from both sides of the traditional divide - to sign up as its sponsors.

Saturday's ill-fated event was originally co-sponsored by Assembly members Basil McCrea and John McCallister, of political party NI21, and SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly.

Mrs Kelly said she withdrew her support after being made aware of the entry criteria.

The Upper Bann representative said she had initially backed the contest because it provided a platform for fashion students from Belfast Metropolitan College to show their creations.

"My reason for engagement was because of the participation of the students from Belfast Met," she said.

"We all live in the real world, there are people who do aspire and who do have career ambitions to be involved in the beauty industry, not only the participation of models but the behind-the-scenes people as well.

"But it was the restrictive nature of the entrance that caused concern for myself."

Ulster Unionist Jo Anne Dobson, who had agreed to be a judge alongside Mrs Kelly, has also withdrawn support. Both women were judges when the event was first held in Parliament Buildings two years ago.

Ms McTernan questioned the stance of the two politicians.

"It's disappointing that the event has been driven away from Stormont by the very MLAs who supported it - but then politics can be a very strange game here as we all know," she said.

The organiser, a former beauty pageant contestant herself, said the entry criteria were out of her hands as they had to conform to regulations drawn up by the Miss Universe competition. She said the same restrictions were applied to similar contests in Ireland and around the world.

Ms McTernan said the competition was about "choice" and insisted many women had chosen to enter.

"The shrill arguments from feminists tend to overlook the fact that many intelligent and ambitious young women freely take this decision because it is something they want to do, enjoy and indeed often see as a career path too," she said.

"I'm sure that despite their own 'will I, won't I?' position on Miss Ulster, our MLAs would also recognise these women's freedom to make that choice and live their lives as they want to. After all, that sort of freedom must be part of a modern forward-looking society."

She added: " To listen to some of the recent comments and contributions on Miss Ulster, one would think that the fashion and beauty industry was all about making people feel bad, when in fact the opposite is true."

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