The final TV debate of the European election campaign last night saw Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson under fire from Jim Allister, Diane Dodds and Jim Nicholson over her terrorist past, abortion policy and farm subsidies during the broadcast late on Tuesday night.
In a far longer debate than Monday night’s UTV programme which was marred by constant breaks, the six main candidates each had time to speak at length during last night’s BBC Spotlight debate.
During sharp exchanges between the panel, TUV leader Jim Allister — who arguably came out of the debate best — highlighted to Mrs Anderson that “you’re the only convicted bomber at this table” and called her a “victim-maker”.
Mrs Anderson said that “our peace process shines like a beacon light” and added that “conflict is a terrible thing”.
Debating abortion, Mrs Dodds highlighted Mrs Anderson’s support for the Estrela Report, which had sought to make abortion more accessible. But Mrs Anderson claimed that while she supported parts of the report, if it had come to a vote she would not have supported the aspects on abortion.
Mr Allister said that in his time in Brussels he had seen that Sinn Fein is “openly, overtly pro-abortion” in the European Parliament but that for electoral reasons the party adopted a different approach at Stormont.
Ms Anderson claimed that was a “misinterpretation” and stressed that her party was opposed to the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. Anna Lo said that she was pro-choice, while Mr Nicholson said that he thought there were “too many men who give their view on this”, adding that he would hate to be in a position where he had to choose between a woman’s life and an abortion.
During a brief debate on the Maze peace centre, Mr Allister said that Mrs Dodds had not raised it once prior to the party’s U-turn on the issue. But Mrs Dodds pointed out that her party was not “a one-man band” and that she did not have to comment on everything. Mr Nicholson said that he agreed with Mr Allister and that both of them had been “locked out” of discussions about the Maze.
Mr Nicholson also accused Sinn Fein of having “politicised agriculture”, something which Mrs Anderson said was not the case.
And the UUP veteran warned about the implications of rushing out of the EU for subsidies such as those for farmers. He said: “I have seen a lot of governments come and go and I’ve never seen one yet that wants to send us more money.”