Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Watch: How can you face down opponents if you can't face me? BBC's Nolan 'empty chairs' DUP in manifesto interview


The BBC's Stephen Nolan empty-chaired the DUP on his morning Radio Ulster show.
The BBC's Stephen Nolan empty-chaired the DUP on his morning Radio Ulster show.
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The BBC's Stephen Nolan challenged the DUP asking how it could face down its political opponents and the Prime Minister on Brexit if it was not prepared to sit down for an interview with him.

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The broadcaster empty-chaired the party, devoting most of the "biggest show in the country" to the DUP and its manifesto - despite the party's no show.

Our Nolan Show #GE2019 Manifesto interviews continue, today - the DUP. They have refused to provide the Nolan Show with an interviewee

Posted by Stephen Nolan on Monday, December 9, 2019

He highlighted how the DUP had been dragging its feet over committing to an interview ahead of Thursday's General Election. He said party officials only said they were "looking at it".

"And here we are, no DUP," he told his legion of listeners saying it was through the licence fee he was able to hold politicians to account so they could justify their actions.

"That's why this is important," he said.

"Usually political parties fight for an opportunity to be on the BBC to sell their manifestos.

"Every single party who were asked to have their manifesto scrutinised by the Nolan show, have agreed a date, except one.

"We think it is important to scrutinise their manifesto whether they are here or not."

He said he "deeply regretted" the party would not appear on his show to answer his questions.

On Facebook the show broadcast live an image of an empty chair with the DUP manifesto sitting on it.

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Arlene Foster

In recent weeks broadcasters have taken the decision to 'empty chair' politicians over their refusal to appear on shows during election campaigning. Sky News presenter Kay Burley's interrogation of an empty chair pulled in more viewers than any interview the absent Conservative chairman James Cleverly would have achieved had he appeared.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced criticism for his refusal to be interviewed by the BBC's Andrew Neil.

In all, Stephen Nolan dedicated an entire hour to the DUP manifesto with contributions from BBC political and business editors and callers to the programme.

He said the DUP could have reached out to his over 100,000 listeners but "they've chosen not to do that".

"There are so many questions I have for the DUP on your behalf and do you know what? I am going to ask them."

He asked if the party was "embarrassed" about how Prime Minister Boris Johnson had treated them, if its pursuit of Brexit had damaged the Union and why they were not ruling out working with the Conservative leader in the future given his treatment of the party which lauded him as a "friend of unionism".

Pointing to recent polling which suggests the majority of unionists are now pro-remain he said he would have asked the party on it.

The presenter spoke for almost 25 minutes on what he wanted to ask the party, breaking up his monologue with prolonged silences.

He asked about social issues such as health and how the party could convince the next generation of unionism why it was "best in class" on those matters beyond the traditional green and orange stances taken.

On the money secured by the party for health Mr Nolan said he wanted to ask how how it prioritised the matter and if it was further down the order than "preventing an Irish language act" in reference to the ongoing political impasse which has seen Northern Ireland go without local government for almost three years.

Mr Nolan said it would have been interesting to hear the party's thoughts on that political deadlock and - given the ongoing healthcare workers' industrial action - its thoughts on the millions spent on MLA salaries.

He also asked if the party regretted breaking pay parity between Northern Ireland and GB health staff which helped bring about the current industrial action crippling healthcare.

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Stephen Nolan

On the party's outreach to "as wide a base as possible" he asked if that included gay people and if the DUP was prepared to apologise for comments made by some of its members in the past on homosexuality and if similar comments could be made again.

"Because politicians are being held to account in this election, they are answering questions about their past words," he continued.

"You say in your manifesto you want to protect animals better - might you be minded to protect gay people better - and should they vote for you this time around?"

Callers to the show congratulated Mr Nolan on proceeding with his show in the absence of the party.

He confirmed Sinn Fein would be appearing on his show on Tuesday morning.

"The details of any manifesto is important - every other political party has consented to me scrutinising the detail within their promises - except the DUP," said Mr Nolan.

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Sammy Wilson

The DUP has denied holding a boycott over the show although Sammy Wilson admitted it came to a "collective decision" to not appear on the show "as the best way of hurting him".

"I would just say to the DUP, if there is no Nolan show boycott, why are you not here?" asked Mr Nolan.

"If it is even possible for people to think you can't face up to me - how have you got what it takes to face down Boris Johnson or Mary Lou McDonald when your voters need you to?"

He added: "There are loads of articulate, seasoned politicians who could have come in this morning that could have answered these questions - possibly quite well, possibly attracting you to vote for them - instead my questions on your behalf are met with silence.

"I hope I have been able to bring you some of the questions I would have asked the DUP and I deeply regret that I could not convince them to answer them."

The DUP did not respond to a request for comment.

A BBC spokeswoman added: "In the run up to the election, the Nolan show has been examining manifestos and bringing listeners its trademark political interviews with representatives from the main political parties. The DUP was invited on to the programme but did not provide a representative. Stephen will continue to scrutinise manifestos and drill down into the issues that matter to the public, as his listeners expect, in the run up to polling day on Thursday.”

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