'We're not Stormont Barbies' - Miss Ulster contestants hit back in row over beauty pageant
Several young women at the centre of the Miss Ulster controversy have defended the beauty pageant – saying it is an opportunity that will open doors for them.
Their comments come after the organiser decided to withdraw the event from Parliament Buildings, Stormont, after two MLAs – Dolores Kelly and Jo-Anne Dobson – withdrew from the judging.
The SDLP and UUP politicians claimed they were unaware of the pageant's dress size, height and age requirements, despite being on the judging panel in 2011.
Fourteen finalists – all at least 5ft 7ins, aged 18 to 24, and dress size eight to 12 – will now take part in the competition final on Saturday at Titanic Belfast instead.
NI21 leader Basil McCrea yesterday declined to comment on his role "sponsoring" the event at Stormont, which the DUP likened to a "Father Ted 'Lovely Girls' competition".
The Belfast Telegraph made several attempts to contact Mr McCrea to ask how he feels supporting the event fits in with the values of his political party.
We left voicemails for both him and his assistant to no response.
This newspaper also emailed a series of questions to NI21, and following several phone calls a spokesman confirmed he would not be commenting.
Contestant Raisa Deehan (21), a medicine student from Dungiven, told the Belfast Telegraph that Miss Ulster was a "positive event" and the finalists were not "stereotypical 'blonde-haired airheads'".
Hairdresser Emma Crawford (22), from Comber, said people had overreacted to the rules, and 19-year-old Holywood marketing student Fiona Anderson said while it was "unfortunate there are size restrictions", she saw the competition as an "opportunity to be an ambassador".
Miss Ulster organiser Michelle McTernan said event backer American Holidays and the rest of the Miss Ulster team were thrilled to have Titanic Belfast as a new venue and she hoped the controversy would end so they could get back to showcasing local designers and retailers, as well as providing opportunities for the finalists.
She hit back at the criticism of the last few days saying positive opportunities created by Miss Ulster had been lost in an "unwarranted furore that has now focused on the politicians".
She added: "MLAs Jo-Anne Dobson and Dolores Kelly, who judged the last Miss Ulster and who ironically took part in a similar Radio Ulster debate defending the right to stage the competition at Stormont Parliament Buildings, have pulled out of their commitment to judge this year."
Ms McTernan believes Stormont MLAs should concentrate on doing something about "the £80m still languishing in the poverty fund" and said that "the shrill arguments from feminists" tend to overlook young women freely enter the competition.
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."
Emma Crawford: 'It's not about being an anorexic size zero'
Emma (22), from Comber, runs a hairdressing boutique in Dundonald.
"There has been a huge overreaction about 'Barbies at Stormont'.
"There are a lot more stresses in Belfast to be worried about than a beauty pageant to help girls.
"The criteria asking for size eight to 12 is not asking much compared to big runway shows. The modelling industry in Paris and London is about size zero. Miss Ulster is not about being a skinny anorexic size zero. All the girls are healthy. Eight to 12 is standard size. A size 22 Miss Ulster would be a bad role model. The cut-off is 12, but if you want to do modelling there are other competitions."
Fiona Anderson: 'It will open doors'
Fiona is 19 years old and is a marketing student from Holywood
"I've had a great time so far and I think it will open a lot of doors.
"I understand all competitions have to have restrictions but I don't feel this competition should be targeted.
"It's unfortunate there are size restrictions but I understand that has to do with Miss Universe rules.
"Miss Ulster is a brilliant opportunity to promote us abroad.
"I'm a normal, healthy girl, I'm a confident person.
"There is no bikini round, a lot of it is interview-based and the main attraction for me was the opportunity to be an ambassador for Ulster."
Raisa Deehan: 'It's a very positive event'
Raisa (21) is a medical student from Dungiven
"I think it is a very positive event. I do think it would be very positive if the rules were relaxed so more girls could take part, but it's disappointing to hear what's been happening.
"Previously I won Miss Mid Ulster and I was finalist in Miss Northern Ireland. I see competitions as a great opportunity to be an ambassador for my area and to boost my confidence.
"I don't think they are old-fashioned and we're not stereotypical 'blonde-haired airheads'. I'm from a small town so I hope taking part encourages other girls to take a leaf out of my book.
"It's all about being a good ambassador for Ulster."