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Question Time in Belfast, but few answers

By Claire McNeilly

Should Sinn Fein have a major influence on policing and justice?

That was the question that caused the most argy-bargy during last night’s locally-broadcast Question Time, where a six-strong panel from Stormont faced a vociferous audience in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

Remarkably, though, there wasn’t a mumur about the parading issue —the major bone of contention that’s currently causing so much grief along the Garvaghy Road and elsewhere across the province.

Instead, it fell upon Sinn Fein Junior Minister Gerry Kelly to defend his mandate when TUV leader Jim Allister said he “wasn’t fit to be in (my) government”.

Mr Kelly’s assertion that the barrister and former DUP man was a “political dinosaur” was backed by newly elected SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie, who drew huge applause on the BBC1 programme when she said the public were “sick, sore and tired” of the politics promoted by Mr Allister.

They were joined on last night’s panel by Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward, former First Minister David Trimble and Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson. Chairman David Dimbleby was forced to referee on at least one occasion as the talks became quite heated on a range of subjects, at one point asking both Mr Allister and Mr Kelly to “refrain yourself if you will”.

But ultimately, there were more questions than answers in a low-key encounter.

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