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Northern Ireland parties finally get national TV debate

By David Young

Published 17/04/2015

Northern Ireland's political leaders finally had their say in a national TV live election debate - in the graveyard slot.

Chaired by Newsnight's Evan Davis, specially flown in to Belfast for the occasion, the 20-minute round-table brought the five main parties together - although only three fielded actual candidates.

Candidates Nigel Dodds, Mark Durkan, Mairtin O Muilleoir, and party leaders Mike Nesbitt and David Ford were questioned on gay rights, the Ashers bakery case, welfare reform and deficit reduction, as well as who they would back in the event of a hung parliament.

Mr O Muilleoir struggled to explain how Sinn Fein would be relevant in negotiations over the formation of a Westminster government, when it did not take seats in Parliament.

And Nigel Dodds of the DUP came under pressure about recent remarks by Ian Paisley, saying that the DUP's price for supporting a Westminster government was £1bn.

Davis suggested that this demonstrated a profoundly mercenary approach to politics. Mr Dodds denied that this was the case.

Earlier, Ed Miliband was judged the winner of last night's main TV debate in an instant poll conducted after he clashed with leaders of smaller parties who urged him to form a "progressive" coalition to run the country.

In a poll of 1,013 viewers conducted by Survation, the Labour Party leader came out on top, with 35% judging him the winner, against 31% for the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon, 27% for Ukip's Nigel Farage, 5% for the Greens' Natalie Bennett and 2% for Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.

Some 43% said Mr Miliband would make the best Prime Minister, against 26% for Mr Farage, 25% for Ms Sturgeon, and 3% each for Ms Bennett and Ms Wood.

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