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No knockout blows in leaders’ last TV tussle

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<b>Peter Robinson - 7/10</b><br />
The First Minister still shows an impressive command of policy but flagged a bit under the pressure of this debate. He managed to avoid losing his temper but raised his voice a few times. Increasingly unconvincing when he ruled out water charges or student fee rises.

<b>Peter Robinson - 7/10</b><br /> The First Minister still shows an impressive command of policy but flagged a bit under the pressure of this debate. He managed to avoid losing his temper but raised his voice a few times. Increasingly unconvincing when he ruled out water charges or student fee rises.

©William Cherry/Presseye

&lt;b&gt;Tom Elliott - 6/10&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br /&gt;
It's hard to divorce the UUP's dreadful start to the election campaign from the current debate - but if you could then Tom Elliott would have drawn with Peter Robinson on last night's performance alone. He seemed both confident and good humoured.

<b>Tom Elliott - 6/10</b><br /> It's hard to divorce the UUP's dreadful start to the election campaign from the current debate - but if you could then Tom Elliott would have drawn with Peter Robinson on last night's performance alone. He seemed both confident and good humoured.

©William Cherry/Presseye

&lt;b&gt;Martin McGuinness - 6/10&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br /&gt;
Came across as a little self congratulatory and complacent. However, he did impress with his determination to make the Assembly work. He also scored some points at the expense of Ritchie and Elliott, but possibly not as many as they notched up against him

<b>Martin McGuinness - 6/10</b><br /> Came across as a little self congratulatory and complacent. However, he did impress with his determination to make the Assembly work. He also scored some points at the expense of Ritchie and Elliott, but possibly not as many as they notched up against him

©William Cherry/Presseye

&lt;b&gt;David Ford - 8/10&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br /&gt;
David Ford was the only one who was completely honest on water charges. It is hard to know if it will stand him in good stead at the polls. He was also quite effective on the cost of division and sounded quite ministerial as he defended his record on prisons.

<b>David Ford - 8/10</b><br /> David Ford was the only one who was completely honest on water charges. It is hard to know if it will stand him in good stead at the polls. He was also quite effective on the cost of division and sounded quite ministerial as he defended his record on prisons.

©William Cherry/Presseye

&lt;b&gt;Margaret Ritchie - 7/10&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br /&gt;
The SDLP leader appeared to let nerves get the better of her at the start of the debate but eventually she found her feet and shone in the end. Ultimately, it was a good performance and if she can build on it she will be a useful figure at the dispatch box in Stormont.

<b>Margaret Ritchie - 7/10</b><br /> The SDLP leader appeared to let nerves get the better of her at the start of the debate but eventually she found her feet and shone in the end. Ultimately, it was a good performance and if she can build on it she will be a useful figure at the dispatch box in Stormont.

©William Cherry/Presseye

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<b>Peter Robinson - 7/10</b><br /> The First Minister still shows an impressive command of policy but flagged a bit under the pressure of this debate. He managed to avoid losing his temper but raised his voice a few times. Increasingly unconvincing when he ruled out water charges or student fee rises.

The DUP has prepared a draft programme for government for the new Assembly - but thought it wrong to publish it before the election, Peter Robinson revealed last night.

>>Click More Pictures to see how we rated each leader's performance in last night's debate

Mr Robinson’s remarks in a BBC election debate came in response to UUP leader Tom Elliott’s proposal that a programme should be agreed by parties before they select their ministries after Thursday’s poll.

The DUP did not elaborate on the First Minister’s statement in what was a fairly quick-fire debate, or say whether he had agreed it with Sinn Fein. However, the DUP is thought to have proposals for a joint commission between Executive parties to tackle difficult issues.

After fairly dull opening statements, each of the five party leaders took turns to field questions from an invited audience, backed up by journalist Mark Carruthers. A more free-flowing debate, moderated by Mr Carruthers, followed, although there were no real knockout punches.

The formula was more lively than the previous UTV leaders’ debate and saw clear battle lines drawn between Sinn Fein, the DUP and Alliance on one side and the SDLP and Ulster Unionists on the other.

Mr Ford suggested that the SDLP and UUP ministers should have resigned if they could not face backing the budget.

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Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP started hesitantly, but shone in the later cut and thrust of the show.

She needled Martin McGuinness — who appeared dull and plodding at times over his affectionate references to Peter Robinson — ‘Peteritis’ she called it — before lambasting Mr Ford as “Peter Robinson’s lapdog”.

However she had difficulty explaining why she was campaigning against double jobbing but was still, as a member of parliament, standing for election to Stormont.

Mr Elliott enraged Mr Robinson and Mr McGuiness with accusations that UUP and SDLP ministers were not shown Executive agendas until after meetings had started.

The first audience question was from Francis Breen, a student from Lurgan, who asked the DUP which of its policies would attract a young Catholic like himself.

Mr Robinson said that since “we have settled the issue of the constitution” the main issue in elections should be the economy.

He said the DUP was “in tune with what the vast majority of the conservative Roman Catholic community wants”.

Mr McGuinness struggled at times — for instance when he was asked how he could condemn dissident republican violence without condemning pre-ceasefire IRA violence.

The deputy First Minister answered by describing IRA violence as part of a “vicious cycle” which involved many combatants. He also pointed out that the dissidents were acting against the will of the people as expressed in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McGuinness also defended his controversial description of outgoing health minister Michael McGimpsey’s decision to halt the construction of a cancer unit at Altnagelvin as sectarian.

Some financial issues were not properly addressed. For example, no party was able to convincingly explain how they would freeze student tuition fees without reducing university budgets.

All referred to cutting waste and Mr Elliott also talked about savings which should be made in the health service — even though he and Michael McGimpsey, his party colleague, had previously suggested the health budget was at full stretch.


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