South Belfast: Hustings

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Rodney McCune (UUP), Claire Bailey (Green), Duncan Morrow (Alliance) Claire Hanna (SDLP), Ruth Patterson (Ind Unionist) and Christopher Stalford (DUP)

After introducing the panel, William Crawley asks the first question. DOES THIS CONSTITUENCY NEED MORE MIGRANTS
Rodney McCune talked about Balance , the duty to Asylum Seekers, free movement within EU and the folks from outside Europe who we may need because of skills.
CLaire Hanna said Migrants into Norn Iron were a net benefit and the other side of migration was people leaving Norn Iron. Duncan Morrow said we should be more forward looking and condemned the Commons vote which banned 3,000 unaccompanied child migrants.
Christopher Stalford paid tribute to the positive contribution of migrants but said that people are badly homed. There needs to be better integration and condemned Hate Crime.
Ruth Patterson echoed this. As a nurse she valued the contribution of migrant workers but mentioned “economic” migrants.

CORPORATION TAX?
Christopher Stalford …is for cutting it and expanding the private sector. He noted for all the bluster Sinn Féin was happy to be a party in a Centre-Right coalition. Possibly the best line of the night.
CLaire Baileyis opposed to reduction.
CLaire Hanna suggested we could have missed the zeitgest. Entrepeaneurs want skills and infrastructure.
Duncan Morrow said we need innovation, skills and infrastructure…and we cant leave EU
Rodney McCune warned any reduction in Corporation Tax would be wiped out by Brexit.
Christopher Stalford noted that when Britain joined EU, the then Common Market accounted for around 30% of worlds economy. Now it is 17%. The Brexit Debate is marked by the fact that none of the leading Remain or Leave advocates (George Osborne and Boris Johnson have been convincing.
Ruth Patterso advocated leaving.
Duncan Morrow stressed NI is a net beneficiary from EU but challenged by William Cawley to put a figure on it. Claire Hanna rescued him
Rodney McCune said that the weakest argument for leaving EU is economic.

WATER CHARGES?
Ruth Patterson is against it on the grounds that GOD provides the rain.
Claire Hanna noted we already pay charges and was against further charges. We need to be innovative and mutualisation was maybe an answer.
Claire Bailey was somewhat evasive. It could be an income generator but she was in favour of generous “free”
Duncan Morrow, representing Alliance who advocate water charges was perhaps not grilled enough. He was evasive
Mr McCune was against …no more charges
Christopher Stalford spoke of the effect on pensioners….many in South Belfast are asset rich.
Much of the rest of the session covered social issues such as Gay Blood Ban, Same Sex Marriage and Abortion Law Reform.
To some extent, the Gay Rights argument is already won. Progressives such as Claire Hanna, Claire Bailey, Duncan Morrow and Rodney McCune (Im not sure if Ruth specifically addressed the issue) had no difficulty in condemning the ban on gay blood.
Christopher Stalford claimed the ban was Science-based and would have no difficulty if the Science said it was safe. The audience were not happy.
As for Same Sex Marriage…no problem for SDLP (its in the Manifesto) and Claire Hanna has a good record in Assembly. Likewise Morrow, Bailey, McCune and (I think Patterson).
Again Christopher Stalford drew the ire of the youngish, progressive audience.
Abortion is of course the most emotive of the subjects.
To some extent this is Claire Bailey’s unique selling point but she was surprisingly low key, merely mentioning the “tens of thousands” who have gone to England for abortions and that this discriminated against poorer women.
Ruth Patterson favoured extension of the 1967 Abortion legislation. It was the pragmatic approach. Safer option than unsupervised access to pills on the Internet.
Claire Hanna (SDLP is pro-life) admitted to being conflicted about the least worst option. She hinted at a Referendum being a good idea.
Duncan Morrow said we needed a 2016 Act rather than a 1967 Act. It sounded like a prepared soundbite rather than a policy.
Rodney McCune, a lawyer warned that legislation would be difficult.
Christopher Stalford thought that there was no appetite for extending the 1967 Act. It was not just DUP …SDLP are pro-life as well as many in the UUP and Alliance. There have been 8 million abortions in Britain since the introduction of the 1967 Act.
To some extent, the audience, hostile to Christophers position facilitated the other panelists. It is a difficult issue for everyone….except it seemed the majority of the audiennce. Childishly there was a point made that “how can you represent South Belfast and hold these opinions?” and it was easily brushed aside…Christopher Stalford is seeking a mandate for his views and several people hold them.

There was however one sour note. I am reluctant to mention it but I think in the interest of disclosure it has to be mentioned.
A man in the audience identified himself as an Alliance voter for forty years and openly stated that a member of the SDLP (not Claire) was “sectarian”. To be fair William Crawley said that the individual was not present and could not defend himself against the accusation.
The audience member persisted in trying to make this point and a rather unseemly incident occurred.
I mention it for two reasons….a “holier than thou” attitude among SOME Alliance voters and members that voting Alliance is the only true test of non-sectarianism or anti-sectarianism.
And the second reason that I mention it is that it genuinely shocked the panel . And more so, it was Christopher Stalford who was initiated the defence of the SDLP person…noting that he was a decent person and good public representative. In eleven years in Council, most of the work is done by co-operation.Duncan Morrow also emphasised that having a “constitutional preference” is NOT sectarian
All in all, it was a good night spoiled by one incident.

Judging the panelists (except Claire Hanna of course)
Rodney McCune UUP 6/10….competent rather than brilliant.
Claire Bailey Green 5/10….strangely subdued as she was in front of an audience, where if a poll was taken, she would win.
Duncan Morrow Alliance 5/10….possibly harsh. But at times he appeared new at being a politician but he compensated with sincerity. There is a safe Alliance seat in South Belfast and I hope he takes it.
Ruth Patterson (Ind Unionist) 6/10…surprisingly liberal sentiments expressed at times. As she said herself in reply to a light-hearted final question , her greatest mistake was that the general public have the wrong image of her.
Christopher Stalford (DUP) 8/10….needless to say that I dont agree with a lot of what he said. But he defended his own position well and without fear (even some humour) in a room that was hostile. There is a safe DUP seat in South Belfast. He has done the groundwork…four elections, three wins, eleven years on council. He deserves the DUP seat.

WIlliam Cawley handled the unpleasant situation well. The questions…he initiated some but the audience initiated most. He did certainly give too much microphone time to some individuals. But curious that in South Belfast…home of the City Hospital, Musgrave Park Hospital and Knockbracken Health Service complex, he did not ask a question on Health.

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3 Responses to South Belfast: Hustings

  1. Brian says:

    Thanks very much, interesting write up. Was there not a Sinn Féin person?

    Stalford is quite an interesting person. I was interested that his background is very “ordinary” growing up in a block of flats. He is quite a serious person and some might think very conservative and “square” for a relatively young man but he seems to be in politics for the right reasons and not just a self-publicist, having worked on the ground a lot. Its always interesting to see how politician copes with being in a hostile crowd.

    Its interesting that someone asked “how can you represent South Belfast and hold these opinions?”. It shows that some people do not realise that there is quite a range of views in South Belfast and Chris Stalford has been living and representing people in that constituency a long time.

    • He has always been extremely decent to me. Frankly the panelists were more decent than the audience…young people who were greedy, narcissistic, shouty.

    • To add….Máirtín O’Muilleoir and two other candidates were invited. He did not show up. I dont know if he contacted organisers.
      In a sense, he did not need to be there. He is the only SF runner in constituency and should make the quota.
      While Alliance, DUP and SDLP are assured of one seat each…all are running two candidates so they have something to play for.
      Rodney McCune and Ruth Patterson…neither assured of a seat. So they needed to be there.

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