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Billy Weir

Leaders’ debate – the TV review: We were only one small step away from ‘and your da sells Avon’

Billy Weir


The BBC debate last night (William Cherry/Presseye)

The BBC debate last night (William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

The BBC debate last night (William Cherry/Presseye)

SO there we all were, just after nine on a Tuesday evening and all eagerly awaiting the next episode in the squabbling and bickering adventures of five people with seemingly no common interests thrown together for our entertainment.

And over on Channel Four, Derry Girls was also on if you fancied something more constructive and with greater hope of a happy ending.

Yes, it was the second of this year’s leaders’ debates, this time on BBC NI and after 60 minutes of bickering and bluster, you can’t imagine the voters will be hammering at the doors to get into the polling booths on Thursday.

Presenter for the evening was Jim Fitzpatrick, in front of a scattered post-Covid audience and in a brilliant azure studio that felt a little like a Smurfs’ boudoir, but by the end there was only one participant who was feeling really blue.

Spare a thought for the wee Lagan Valley fella who right from the off was given a right verbal kicking from all and sundry and more especially his fellow leaders – Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein), Doug Beattie (Ulster Unionist), Naomi Long (Alliance) and Colum Eastwood (SDLP).

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The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was in to bat first, fielding a question from the audience on whether they would all turn up on the first day of a post-election Assembly and, if the plug was pulled again, would they have the brass neck to lift their wages (I am paraphrasing slightly).

And then, like the book J.K. Rowling forgot to write, we set off on the adventures of Jeffrey and the Invisible Protocol, although he wasn’t without his fans as after his first non-answer he got a tiny smattering of applause, either that or someone had lobbed a beach ball to a passing seal troupe.

“While Michelle says she’ll be here on day one, she wasn’t here until day 1044 last time,” he said with conviction, only for the schoolground antics to step up a gear with the retort from the SF supremo of ‘you were in Westminster hanging around with Tories.’

We were only a small step now from ‘and your da sells Avon’ with Eastwood weighing in with ‘Jeffrey is waiting for Boris Johnson to ride over the hill and save him’ while off-camera Beattie could have been crossing and uncrossing his legs to try and put Jeffrey off.

And so it went on, questions on a border poll, the cost of living and the state of the NHS, but no matter how he tried to steer things, Jim found himself heading up Protocol Place in the wrong direction.

All we know is that there is a giant sofa up at Stormont with £300m down the back of it and if our five chums and their cohorts ever get their digits out, then we could maybe start spending it and making a difference.

A bit fanciful, I know, but if I could paraphrase renowned philosopher and Foyle representative Michelle Mallon, being an MLA isn’t about who you are or where you come from, but it is, a state of mind.

It’s just a shame that it’s in the state it is. Now, about this protocol…

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