Last week the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy organised a hustings event in the Great Hall at Queen’s University Belfast. The Scoop team turned out in force to question each of the Belfast South candidates about their constituency plans if elected as MP for the area.
The incumbent MP, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, wasn’t at the event. However, SDLP MLA, Fearghal McKinney was on hand to remind people about the ‘Doctor Who’ wasn’t there…(no more puns I promise…)
Having received some criticism for not attending many hustings events, I asked Mr McKinney why the Doctor was not in attendance, and whether he believes his (McDonnell’s) absence will have an impact on polling day. Mr McKinney replied, “This has been in my diary for a month…We operate as a team in the SDLP, and I’m more than willing to come here and reflect exactly what he would be saying to you himself….I think that Alasdair is fantastic on the doorsteps and that’s where he is on a lot of these nights, because it’s about conversations out there.”
I went on to ask Mr McKinney what the incumbent would do for the constituency if re-elected as an MP at Westminster. He said at present the SDLP believes in a need for proper negotiations with the government so there is recognition “that Northern Ireland is unsustainable going forward in terms of cutting the public grant [as we’ve] relied far too much on the public grant to the tune of 66% of our gross domestic product. We need to change that.”
Mr McKinney went on to say “The SDLP has a shopping list for the Labour government that we hope will come in, and it’s saying you must commit, must commit to us now sealing the peace in Northern Ireland by a proper investment plan.”
Although less likely to vote in the Belfast South constituency, students remain a key component of the area. But what does Mr McKinney believe the three most important issues for students actually are?
“My guess is a future. They are studying because they want to better themselves and they want to deliver for their communities.”
“I’m assuming finance is high up there in terms of the pressure students are under in terms of the loans which they have to endure now. I think something massive should be done in relation to that.”
“I think a third for students has got to be about seeing that finally that Northern Ireland not only has a peaceful backdrop, but a prosperous future in it’s widest sense. That this is a place that you can come and live and bring your children up in.”
I finished by asking Mr McKinney whether he believes young people have that vision of peace in NI. He replied, “They shortly will.”
To listen to Tori’s interview with Mr McKinney in full click on the following link.
We would also like to highlight that we did try to contact Dr Alasdair McDonnell for an interview at a time which was convenient for him. However we did not receive a response.
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