Election Diary: First televised debate is off as campaign halted by atrocity

The political leaders on the last UTV leaders debate in February
The political leaders on the last UTV leaders debate in February

Electoral weariness among many politicians, the media and the public has contributed to a far slower start to the election campaign in Northern Ireland than across the water.

Unlike Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, whose manifestos were all out by the end of last week, only one manifesto has been launched in Northern Ireland – Sinn Fein’s on Monday.

Now the Manchester terrorist attack has curtailed what was already going to be a shorter campaign in Northern Ireland.

The first major set piece of that campaign was due to have been the UTV leaders’ debate tonight.

However, that was yesterday called off in the wake of the atrocity.

One party source said that their leader would not have taken part if it had gone ahead.

UTV said that “following consultation with the larger parties [the five parties due to take part in the debate] this morning, we have decided to postpone the recording of the UTV General Election Debate”.

It is not yet clear when the debate will now be held.

The BBC leaders’ debate, which will be broadcast live and hosted by veteran journalist Noel Thompson, is scheduled for June 6 – two days before polling day.

Tomorrow’s launch of UUP manifesto is off

It is not clear how long the break in campaigning will last.

However, it will at least impact into tomorrow.

The Ulster Unionist Party had been due to launch its manifesto in Templepatrick – the home village of Danny Kinahan, the UUP candidate hoping to retain South Antrim for the party – tomorrow morning.

However, at lunch time yesterday the party said that it was postponing the event due to the attack in Manchester.

UUP leader Robin Swann said that the UUP was suspending campaigning “as a mark of respect and in a stance of solidarity with the people of Manchester.”

He described the atrocity as “an attempt to destroy our way of life”.

SDLP and NI Tories postpone events

The SDLP had been due to launch its manifesto yesterday morning in Belfast but called off the event.

Leader Colum Eastwood said that he was suspending campaigning.

Describing the bombing as a “heartbreaking act of barbarism”, Mr Eastwood said: “Today is a day for unity of purpose, not party political difference.”

The Northern Ireland Conservatives had been due to launch their manifesto this morning but also postponed the event in light of the terrorist attack in Manchester.

BBC cancels Belfast Question Time

The BBC’s flagship televised debate programme Question Time had been due to come from Belfast this week.

However, it is understood that the Manchester bomb led to a decision yesterday to move the Thursday night programme to a location in England.

It will be shown in Northern Ireland at 10.45 as in the rest of the UK, rather than its usual later slot on BBCNI.