Ex-SDLP leader’s dramatic exit from meeting with MPs

Dr Alasdair McDonnell walks out of a meeting of the NI Affairs Committee
Dr Alasdair McDonnell walks out of a meeting of the NI Affairs Committee

An MP has expressed bafflement about why the former SDLP leader dramatically walked out of a meeting – knocking over furniture in the process – as she was questioning a witness.

Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Kate Hoey was reacting to the exit of Dr Alasdair McDonnell from the latest gathering of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Monday afternoon.

The committee’s MPs had been taking evidence about the upcoming EU referendum from the Province’s politicians, and at the time she had been quizzing Colum Eastwood (who was Dr McDonnell’s successor as SDLP leader).

As Mr Eastwood was talking about former Nobel laureate John Hume, Ms Hoey interjected, prompting Dr McDonnell to announce suddenly: “I’m leaving, chair. You have to control that member.”

He rose to his feet, knocking his large wooden chair to the floor with a bang, and told the chairman: “That’s not acceptable. That’s the second time today.”

After the meeting, The News Letter asked Dr McDonnell (the MP for South Belfast) what he was objecting to.

He was reluctant to discuss the issue in too much detail, saying he would raise it with the committee chairman this morning.

But, when pressed, he added: “I feel Kate Hoey, consistently, is disrespectful towards witnesses. That’s all.”

He said it was “not relevant” who the witness was at the time.

He added: “When people come before our committee they’re doing us an honour and I believe they should be treated courteously.”

Also speaking afterwards, Kate Hoey (MP for Vauxhall) said: “I don’t know what got into him.”

As to Dr McDonnell’s charge of being “disrespectful,” she said: “I think you’d better ask the leader of the SDLP whether he thought I showed any disrespect to him.

“I don’t think I did. I’m not a naturally disrespectful person. Just because you ask a critical question doesn’t mean you’re being disrespectful.”

The committee usually meets in London, but convened in Belfast on Monday.

Ms Hoey added that, in terms of some of the meetings which happen in Westminster, “this was very mild”.