Stephen Nolan BBC Radio Ulster 9 December 2019

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BBC Radio Ulster
The Nolan Show

The Nolan Show is conducting its series entitled the Nolan Manifesto Interviews on BBC Radio Ulster. Today Stephen is alone questioning the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) in absentia as the party did not send a delegate to participate in the series. Listen to Stephen as you read along to enjoy the full experience. Please Note: The following transcript is only the first twenty or so minutes of today’s programme.

Where’s the Audio? This programme is not available for download. To listen as you read click here.

(begins)Stephen: On the programme today the Nolan Manifesto Interviews continue. Today it’s the turn of the DUP . Do they deserve your vote? (Stephen solicits listener calls.)

Good Morning! And thanks for joining us today. Every single party who were asked to have their manifestos scrutinised by The Nolan Show have agreed a date with the BBC except one, the DUP. We’ve been talking to them for many weeks for an interview. They kept telling us they were looking at it and yet here we are – no DUP.

Stephen Nolan

We think it’s really important this morning to scrutinise their manifesto whether they are here or not. Now you, through your licence fee, pay people like me to ask these politicians questions, to hold them to account so that they can’t create laws and policies that affect you without them having to justify it. That’s why this is important. Usually political parties fight for an opportunity to be on the BBC to sell their manifesto to the public. This morning the DUP could have been reaching out to well over a hundred thousand of you in this time slot appealing to you for your vote. They’ve chosen not to do that. There are so many questions I have for the DUP on your behalf and do you know what? I’m going to ask them whether they’re here or not.

Let’s start with the ‘Big Picture’ stuff: Nigel Dodds says in the DUP Manifesto that in the last Westminster election you gave them the strongest ever team of DUP MPs and he wants you to trust him and his party again to, in his words, ‘protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’. I want to ask the DUP if they’re not deeply embarrassed that with all of the influence they had Boris Johnson intends to put, in their words, ‘a border down the Irish Sea’. Are you, the DUP, not embarrassed by that? And is it true, as other Unionists claim, that your decision to compromise on a regulatory border down the Irish Sea was seen as a green light by Boris Johnson’s government to treat Northern Ireland so differently from the the rest of the UK?

Was that a cock-up by you? Were you bluffed by the Prime Minister? Were you weak? Did the DUP allow its pursuit of Brexit to endanger the Union? So many questions and no one here to answer them. There are Loyalists and Unionists throughout the country now holding rallies as they think the union is under threat because of Boris Johnson’s deal. Nigel Dodds attended one of those rallies at the weekend.

Audio: Nigel Dodds speaking at rally.

Stephen: That’s Mr. Dodds at the weekend. But I wanted to ask the DUP if they now feel it was an error of judgement to have Boris Johnson as their guest of honour at their party conference just over a year ago? Listen to this!

Audio: Boris Johnson being introduced at the DUP annual party conference.

Stephen: Mr. Johnson did make the DUP a promise at this conference.

Audio: Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses DUP annual party conference and promises his Brexit withdrawal agreement will not damage the union with regulatory and customs arrangements for Northern Ireland.

Stephen: And then he broke that promise. Here’s another question for the DUP: Why are you even contemplating still supporting a Johnson-led government? Where did the DUP’s own promises go when they told you, all of you – the electorate – that they would use their leverage and influence in the best interests of Northern Ireland? When, as they boasted time and time again, they were the ones holding the balance of power. Where did that get them?

Let’s ask the DUP another question whether they’re here or not. The DUP is saying they will never support a Corbyn government. Now given what some Unionists are describing as the ‘Betrayal Act’ why has the DUP not ruled out working with Boris Johnson? They won’t work with Corbyn. Why will they work with a Prime Minister who, in their own words, is endangering the union with this deal? If Johnson’s deal threatens the very essence of the United Kingdom why is the DUP still prepared to work with him?

Radio Silence

Stephen: All you get is silence.

Nigel Dodds says in his manifesto that he seeks a mandate to send a message that there can be no borders in the Irish Sea. Your own hand-written signature is under that statement, Nigel.

How can you and how can your party say this when it was you who agreed to Boris Johnson’s original offer to the EU (European Union) which meant Northern Ireland diverging from the UK on some regulations – yes, it was only with a unionist veto – but this was something a former advisor to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, said: Give Boris Johnson more leeway in his negotiations with the EU.

Why didn’t you rule out any prospect of any border, consent or not? Did Boris Johnson see that as a chink of light and exploit it? Does the DUP regret this now? Was this a fundamental failure in negotiations by the DUP?

All of these questions and you’re not here to answer them to people contemplating voting for you.

Here’s another question: Is the DUP’s pursuit of Brexit actually endangering the union?

LucidTalk on Twitter

A LucidTalk poll released just last week suggests a majority of Unionists are now pro-Remain. Once again, I’d love to ask questions around that but the DUP can’t find anybody to answer this morning. They’ve left us with silence.

Radio Silence

Stephen: Let’s turn now to what Arlene Foster says in the DUP Manifesto: Under her own hand-written signature she talks about ‘next generation Unionism’. I wonder does that generation include gay people in Northern Ireland? No doubt the DUP’s listening this morning. Are you prepared to apologise for some of the words your party has used in the past towards the gay community? Because politicians are being held to account during this election – they are answering questions about their past words. The Prime Minister, for example, is being held to task for words he used about single mothers many, many years ago. He’s being challenged about articles he wrote when he was a journalist. Jeremy Corbyn – he’s being challenged about his refusal, for example, in 2015 to specifically condemn IRA violence when I asked him if he would. But let’s look at the DUP. Your manifesto talks about reaching out to as wide a base as possible. To do that – do you owe an apology to the gay community for your words of the past?

Radio Silence

Stephen: Would any current member of your party ever again be allowed to say that homosexuality is nauseating? That these sorts of relationships are immoral, offensive and obnoxious? That a hurricane was punishment from God because of a Gay Pride parade? Would they ever again be allowed to say that gay people were, quote, ‘perverts’? That the filthy practice of sodomy has resulted in the great continent of Africa being riddled with AIDS?

Is there any apology needed for those words of the past?

You say in your manifesto you want to protect animals better – might you be minded to protect gay people better? And should they vote for you this time round?

Radio Silence

Stephen: Let’s stay on that section of your manifesto that talks about next generation Unionism: Might the next generation of Unionism be less interested in the colour of a flag? Yeah, Orange and Green – it does attract votes in Northern Ireland – but is the DUP worried that the next generation this time will vote less on Orange and Green but prioritise health and education and the economy? Can the DUP convince this next generation that they are the best in class with these policy areas?

Now, the detail of any manifesto is important. Every other political party in Northern Ireland has consented to me scrutinising the detail within their promises – except the DUP. Let’s look at some of the detail: Figures and amounts matter – we saw how important that was with RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive). The DUP say in their manifesto that they secured two hundred million for health transformation which will help, for example, with waiting lists. But what I wanted to really ask the DUP on behalf of all of you this morning: How high up their priority list does health actually come? Is it more important than blocking an Irish Language Act?

Radio Silence

Stephen: If allowing Sinn Féin to have an Irish Language Act brought about a devolved government again so that local ministers could tackle waiting lists why is that not a price worth paying?

Radio Silence

Stephen: The DUP is the biggest party in this country. Do they take any responsibility for over three hundred thousand people now waiting to see a consultant? That’s up twenty-three and a half thousand on the previous year. Those are real people in Northern Ireland. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Unionist or Nationalist – it doesn’t matter what the are – over three hundred thousand people now waiting on that list. Northern Ireland’s figures are the worst in the whole of the UK. Does the DUP take any responsibility for that?

A hundred and thirty-three thousand patients are waiting more than a year for hospital treatment yet in England and Wales, with a population more than thirty times larger than that of Northern Ireland, the figure is less than six thousand. Think about that – six thousand – with a far bigger population – against a hundred and thirty-three thousand patients! Are you in any way responsible for this in the DUP? Yes, you can say you’ve been out of government for years – but maybe if you could get back into government or you had got back into government you could have been helping some of the patients on that waiting list. Are you responsible for any of this?

Radio Silence

Stephen: And then, of course, there was the DUP’s decision to break pay parity for our hard-working NHS (National Health Service) staff. Here’s the reality: It was a DUP Health Minister who did this in 2014. I want to spell out to you what that means:

Up until then NHS employees were paid equally across the UK. Under the DUP’s ministerial watch that was broken. So my question to you, the DUP, this morning: Why did you think it was acceptable to pay our nurses, our hospital cleaners, our porters less than those in England? Do you regret that? How is the DUP standing on picket lines supporting workers asking for pay parity when it was the DUP who decided to pay them differently in the first place? Should health workers pay you back in the DUP for breaking that parity by refusing to vote for you? What would you say to them this morning? It leads me to the following question: Why should NHS staff trust the DUP over pay? Can they reach out and convince them to do so?

There are loads of articulate, seasoned politicians who could have come in here this morning and answered these questions – possibly quite well – possibly attracting you to vote for them – instead my questions on your behalf are met with silence.

Radio Silence

Stephen: I have so many questions for the DUP. They say in their manifesto: Let’s make the Assembly better. They say any new Assembly will have to undergo far-reaching reform to deliver more and deliver better – would that include a change in the rules so that no Speaker could continue to get paid while off work for over a thousand days? Think about that. There’s not enough money to give our nurses a pay rise but the outgoing Assembly Speaker, the DUP MLA Robin Newton, has earned tens of thousands of pounds with no job to go to. Millions have also been spent on MLA salaries. Does that sound right to you, DUP?

Radio Silence

Stephen: There are many figures published in this manifesto where you talk about some of your promises around family budgets. Can the DUP, with any authority, talk to any citizen in this country about a family budget when we’ve all seen how you handled our money with RHI? Have you learned the lessons from RHI yet?

Let me remind people how Arlene Foster replied to Sir Patrick Coghlin’s RHI Inquiry when she was asked if she had read the legislation which she brought before the Assembly in her name.

Audio: Arlene Foster being questioned at the RHI Inquiry.

Stephen: Does the DUP give a promise to voters that they will never do this again? Propose legislation that they haven’t fully read. Can people trust you?

Radio Silence

Stephen: I have questions on behalf of our rural community who may be contemplating voting for the DUP. The party manifesto says the following:

The primary custodians of our rural areas are the farming community. Their commitment and strength of connection to their farms and businesses are vital to sustaining rural communities producing high quality food and improving our environment.

During the last Parliament, through our Confidence and Supply Agreement, the DUP write, we secured commitments to the same level of direct support and cash as currently received through the common agricultural policy. That direct support for farmers – when will that money run out? How can a farmer invest long term? Was Brexit worth this? Should those farmers vote for you?

Radio Silence

Stephen: I have questions for the DUP about welfare reform. Many DUP voters will be worried about their benefits being cut because of welfare reform. Now you, the DUP, were one of the parties who voted in support of allowing Westminster to intervene and legislate for welfare reform in Northern Ireland. Was that the right decision?

If any of your voters are going to suffer and have their benefits cut if the mitigations stop early next year should they vote for you? The DUP say in their manifesto they were the first advocates of a mitigation package for welfare. It is mitigation against cuts the DUP helped bring about, some people would argue, by allowing Westminster to intervene in the first place. Is the DUP embarrassed now about this?

Radio Silence

Stephen: I’m not sure that silence on The Nolan Show helps any citizen in this country if they’re looking for further answers. To be fair to the DUP they have given answers to other BBC Northern Ireland broadcasters and I would encourage you, as a citizen of this country, to find those interviews and answers on the BBC Northern Ireland News website, on BBC Newslines pages and the DUP are scheduled to appear on Talkback tomorrow and on Spotlight on Tuesday night.

Photo: The Nolan Show

But let me ask the DUP one final question this morning about their refusal to speak with me. They’ve told this programme recently that there is no Nolan Show boycott. Yeah, there’ve been a handful of answers since RHI but very, very few. Listen to what Sammy Wilson told Talkback in June of this year.

Audio: Sammy Wilson, appearing on BBC Talkback, mentions the DUP’s decision not to appear on The Nolan Show and says that not appearing on Stephen’s show is ‘the best way of hurting him’.

Stephen: I would just say to the DUP: If you’re now saying there’s no Nolan Show boycott then why aren’t you here this morning? If it’s even possible for some people to think that you cannot face-up to me how have you got what it takes to face down Boris Johnson or Mary Lou McDonald when your voters really need you to?

I hope I’ve been able to bring you some of the questions this morning that I would have asked the DUP and I deeply regret that I couldn’t convince them to answer them on this programme.

(Stephen solicits listener call-ins and advises listeners to visit the BBC’s Northern Ireland News website and its Election 2019 page and to search online for the DUP’s Manifesto.)

(Transcript ends time stamp ~21:58)

Note: The Nolan Show continues with Stephen hosting BBC Northern Ireland Political Editor, Mark Devenport, and BBC Northern Ireland Economics and Business Editor, John Campbell, who provide analysis of the DUP past performance and future strategies in Northern Ireland in relation to their manifesto. Keep listening!