Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

House of Commons debates Northern Ireland only once in a while — it’s just a pity hardly anyone is there to listen...

Full: During Prime Minister's questions
Empty: During the Northern Ireland debate

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has received a barrage of criticism for her decision to swap Westminster for the Australian jungle.

But on Wednesday the Commons, at times, could have been a new reality TV show — I’m an MP... get me out of here!

The DUP’s opposition day slot meant six hours of Ulster-themed debate on the famous green benches.

They had been packed for Prime Minister's Questions, during which David Cameron promised the G8 meeting in Fermanagh would be “the harbinger of things to come”.

But not for the first time when it came to discussing Northern Ireland, most Parliamentarians found they had somewhere else to be.

It was better than last time, when the number of MPs willing to listen to a showcase of the best bits of Northern Ireland barely reached double figures. But, still, there were rarely more than 20 out of the 650 MPs in place at the same time.

Two of those present included the newly-appointed duo at the Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and minister Mike Penning.

They listened intently as the debate on the security situation got under way on a cordial note. But when things boiled over with a spat between the DUP and SDLP, they might have wished they had stayed in the Department for Transport.

In the second part of the debate the NIO was replaced by the Ministry of Defence to discuss the military covenant and how it is implemented in Northern Ireland. Veterans Minister Mark Francois lightened the mood when he recalled the day he was called a “communist” by supporters of the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson.

Around 7pm they gave way to an adjournment debate on the phone numbers used by the Department of Work and Pensions. A worthy subject, no doubt — and judging from the attendance, only marginally less interesting than the security of Northern Ireland.

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