November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

Thursday 30 September, Bournemouth

Thursday 23 September, London

Thursday 15 July, Belfast

Thursday 8 July, London

Thursday 1 July, Birmingham

Thursday 24 June, Leeds

Thursday 17 June, Manchester

Thursday 10 June, Birmingham

Thursday 3 June, Norwich

Thursday 27 May, Bath

Thursday 20 May, Belfast

Thursday 13 May, Birmingham

Thursday 29 April, London

Thursday 22 April, Glasgow

Thursday 15 April, Cardiff

Thursday 25 March, Sheffield

Thursday 18 March, London

Thursday 11 March, Manchester

Thursday 4 March, Maidstone

Thursday 25 February, London

Thursday 20 May, Belfast

On the panel:

  • John Taylor MP, deputy leader, Ulster Unionist Party
  • Robert McCartney MP, leader, UK Unionist Party
  • Mitchel McLaughlin, chairman, Sinn Féin
  • Brid Rodgers, Social Democratic and Labour Party
  • Bronagh Hinds, Director of the Ulster People's College

    Northern Ireland peace process

    Audience question: We have never had a greater chance for peace in our province. When are our politicians going to form an assembly with a working executive?

    John Taylor said: "The IRA have not decommissioned. That was for us a condition ... As we all know, Sinn Féin and the IRA are the one organisation and let's not pretend otherwise."

    Mitchel McLaughlin said: "We have given a pledge. We are going to take the gun out of Irish politics permanently ... Ignore the reality of how many weapons are in circulation. We're addressing them all. We don't want gestures, we don't want one side to hand them over. We want them all taken out of circulation. And how do we do that? We establish and we demonstrate the primacy of politics. We make politics work, because politics has failed so far."

    Bronagh Hinds said: "It was always going to be a difficult issue. It doesn't need to be an obstacle and it doesn't need to be a block. There needs to be a way of negotiating around it and we shouldn't forget how far we've come ¿ we have one more obstacle to overcome at this point in time.

    "It is not my view that decommissioning was a precondition for getting into an executive ... however I do believe that there needs to be a commitment to abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law and to work towards decommissioning."

    Brid Rodgers said: "People are interested in education, they're interested in opportunities for their children ... they want to put an end to what we've been through. They want politicians to have an influence over the things that matter to them, therefore they want to move on ... The public are ahead of some of the political leaders in this particular issue.

    "The more the unionists make an issue of decommissioning and demand it, the more difficult they make it for those from whom they are people they are demanding it, because it is then seen as giving in."

    Robert McCartney said: "The Prime Minister and Dr Mowlam have all said that Sinn Féin and the IRA are inextricably linked. The IRA is one of the most deadly terrorist organisations that the world has seen ... There has not been a single bullet or a single ounce of semtex [handed in].

    You said:

    IRA guns have been silent for 2 years now. Yet loyalist paramilitaries have continued their attacks. Why does the UUP constantly skirt this issue and point the finger at the IRA, instead of taking a look at what their supporters are doing? Decommissioning should not even be an issue or question until all parties have taken their seat in the assembly. It was a condition of the Good Friday Agreement - not a PREcondition, as the UUP seems to have conveniently forgotten. It is a red herring to avoid the simple fact that they are not willing to accept what the people voted for. They are the ones with a lack of commitment to peace.
    Lisa Eileen Becker, USA

    I am a student from Glasgow University, and am originally from Castlederg, Co. Tyrone. In my opinion, Sinn Fein-IRA must show some sign of decommissioning before entering the assembly. Mitchel McLaughlin said they want the guns out of Irish politics for good - then he should prove it and lay down the arms. It is inconceivable that the politicians will be able to agree on anything when the minority parties still carry guns to the table.
    Nadine Brown

    Mr McLaughlin's logic escapes me: Politics doesn't work because the guns have not been taken out of the equation. Mr McLaughlin claims that he is all in favour of guns being taken out of it, so that politics CAN work. Yet he refuses to give up Sinn Fein's guns. Clearly, he does not want politics to be effective. But I may be wrong ...
    Leo van der Deijl

    I believe that the only way for this situation to be resolved is for both sides to perhaps agree on a gradual decommissioning over a certain period of time. Both sides say that they want the same thing, which is peace, but do they really want it? I believe that if you want something bad enough you will do almost anything to get it. I can understand where each side is coming from but not where they are going.
    Debbie Morris

    Sinn Fein appears to expect the Unionist community to place its trust in the Republican movement based simply on its leaders "word". Their evidence for their commitment to democracy is that they have stopped murdering innocent people and destroying people's homes and jobs. However at every juncture in negotiations where it has appeared that they may not get their way we have been told that "the ceasefire is under strain". It is little wonder that many in the Unionist community still question their bona fides. The parroting of this stance by those linked to the loyalist paramilitaries is no less reprehensible. Sinn Fein are correct in that prior decommissioning is not required by the letter of the Agreement before they can take their seat in the Executive. However it is clearly within the spirit of the agreement. We need to build trust between the two communities. No single act by the Republican movement would help develop trust more than a gesture from both Republicans and Loyalists on decommissioning.
    Neil Copeland

    I think that the people of Ireland have been through an awful lot over the past half century, not only the adults but children, like myself, who have had to be put through ridiculous times and troubles, all because of religion and what their families believe in. The only people that think that are not human, and if that includes members of parliament they should resign their seat. Also members of the Northern Ireland Assembly who are responsible for deaths, with blood on their hands, should be tried by neutral court, and should face the consequences. I would like to give the members of parliament and the assembly a good talking to.
    John Crawshaw, 14, Cornwall

    Peace will come, because there is no alternative. However, Sinn Fein have to stop posturing and fudging the decommissioning issue. They cannot argue for any democratic legitimacy for their war after the agreement vote on both sides of the border, and with the withdrawal of British Army troops and the RUC review, they have no "enemies" left to fight. What worries me, as an Ulsterman living outside the country, is what happens after 30 June if no agreement is reached.
    Geoff Kilpatrick, UK

    So 30 June is the absolute date set by Tony the Righteous. What if one of the parties doesn't agree? Will the bombing start? Tony's credibility is at stake here.
    Atul Kothare

    In reading the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), it does not state that decommissioning must occur prior to the assembly taking their seats and the new government starting. Therefore, Mr. Trimble and the unionists and loyalists are 'flying in the face of the GFA' and should stop trying to stall or bring down the GFA. As well, the IRA has been on ceasefire for over two years, while the unionists and loyalists, with the aid of the RUC, have continued their campaigns of harassment, abuse, murder and mayhem. The people of Northern Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement and expect their wishes to be followed.
    Barbara Green

    The current impasse distracts from the main goal of the agreement - that of a permanent peace. However, a possible (albeit naive) solution might be a parallel gesture: the executive convenes at the moment a 'handover' occurs. The fear is that once this little whirlpool of belligerence is reluctantly navigated, each captain will find numerous others to spin around and bicker over. The sad fact is that if these blunt vessels get sucked under, then we all go down. Sorry about the awful metaphor but it is late. Great programme and glad it didn't dwell too much on 'the situation'.
    Ray Devlin

    How's this for a way out for both parties? The Unionists drop their demand for IRA decommissioning and the IRA then voluntarily decommission. Both have then been generous and neither have lost face.

    I cannot see an answer. But I have never suffered as minority group or as a victim of violence. Irish people are too close to the problem and are too polarised to reach a settlement. The IRA will not decommission, but why should we realistically expect them to? A minority is not going to give up its powerbase. So where is an answer? Continuing to talk is positive, but who is going to make the breakthrough? I believe the government has done all it can, perhaps it's time for a further intermediary, possibly not American.

    From the audience applause levels on the various views expressed by the panel I would assume that the majority of the audience is NOT a representative selection of the views in Northern Ireland. It appears to me a Unionist biased audience. I am surprised by the BBC. I would have expected a much more balanced environment. Aren't we told, continually, that Question Time seeks a representative audience? I would have thought it would have tried harder in Belfast.
    Clare O'Brien

    I was displeased, to say the least, when I saw a Unionist politician sitting amongst the audience. Not only this, but the giving of air time to allow a specific political statement to be made, by someone who should have been on the panel and nowhere else. I would suggest the programme 'screen' its audiences more carefully, especially in the sensitive political environment of Northern Ireland.
    Michael Gaughan

    The agreement says that decommissioning, prisoner release, cross border committees, the Northern Ireland assembly, will occur in concert. Decommissioning is not occurring so this is not in accordance with the agreement. The parliament should continue without giving Sinn Fein any cabinet positions.
    Bill Magee, English ex pat, USA

    Speaking as a young person living in Northern Ireland, I can only say that I hope the parties get together and make this country a safe and peaceful place to live in, as the majority of people want peace.

    I am a student from Limavady studying in London and I am ashamed of all the politicians in Northern Ireland. How does anybody expect to reach a peaceful solution unless everybody gets into a parliament-type assembly?
    Don Reilly

    Why are these so called political leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland still messing about with people's lives? I think they should have their heads banged together to make sure they sign the agreement now.
    Sonia Miller

    Why does M. McLaughlin think 17.6% of the Irish electorate deserve special consideration? Such a vote would be derided elsewhere. Why shouldn't his opinions be allowed 17.6% of airtime and little else?
    M. Green (an English Roman Catholic)

    I live just outside Belfast. I am a Protestant living with a Catholic and the situation worries me deeply. I am disappointed there has not been any decommissioning and feel that prisoner release should never have taken place without it. I really cannot see any legal implications in halting prisoner release until decommissioning has taken place.
    Colin Bonnes

    All rational people desire to live in peace. For democrats there are, however, certain conditions under which the cost of peace is too high. Democrats cannot accept peace if the price is submitting to arbitrary authority imposed by force. A peace obtained by allowing armed terrorists to govern is not worth the price.
    Alan Murphy

    There must be sensible debate with sensible people based on reliable trust. Not a Catch 22 situation where no compromise today means blowing people up and forcing parties, government and the public into concessions tomorrow. Northern Ireland has proved its normality to many, many people. We've gained far too much to throw it all away on a whim. The honesty and realism is in the hands of those that mean the best. Why hold on to the weapons if you really mean the best?
    Paul Irvine

    There will never be peace, real peace, in Northern Ireland or any place in this world, until we - as human beings - accept ourselves first, for who we are. Then, and only then, will we be able to see and accept others in the world around us for who they are - essentially the same. Love is the key, not politics.
    David Dawson, England

    How can decommissioning of arms even be an issue in a country in which guns are basically outlawed? Surely something which is already illegal is a non-negotiable issue? It's like a drugs dealer saying "OK, we want to see an end to drug addiction and drug-related crime, etc., but we'll hang on to our heroin supplies". Completely ridiculous.
    Chris Hopley

    Audience question: If the 30 June deadline is not met, what should be plan B?

    Brid Rodgers said: "We shouldn't think negatively ... the alternative of letting this wonderful opportunity to change our society and to move into a new dispensation, the thought that we would let that slip is just unthinkable."

    Bronagh Hinds said: "I think the deadline is going to be met because I believe that the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Sinn Féin and all the other parties in this agreement have a will to make it work."

    John Taylor said: "... you are totally committed to peaceful and democratic methods, that you do not need colleagues who want to maintain hundreds of tonnes of firearms with the threat that they'll be used if they don't get their way."

    Mitchel McLaughlin said: "The executive could and should have already been set up ... The experience that we've had over last 30 years - I have gladly put it behind me. That's my commitment."

    Robert McCartney say: "Everyone else knows, that the highest offices in Sinn Féin are shared by the highest office bearers in the IRA ... You can only have a compromise between two sets of people that are wedded to the same basis of peaceful, democratic means."

    You said:

    Assuming that agreement on decommissioning cannot be reached, then I think that the obvious solution, to avoid the collapse of the assembly, would be to set up a cross-community executive, composed of UUP and SDLP members.

    In order to move forward, would the parties involved agree to having an independent third party decide on the legitimacy of the claim that decommissioning is a precondition of the agreement? After all, if I disagreed with the terms of a contract, a court is the place to resolve these differences and where each party is obliged to abide by the decision. A suitable venue would be the European Court.
    Conor McMenamin

    Teacher convicted of assault for smacking his daughter

    Audience question: Where does parental control end and child abuse begin?

    Brid Rodgers said: "I would be very much opposed to parents at any stage using violence against their children ... It is bullying, because a child is helpless in that sort of situation."

    Robert McCartney said: "If the whole relationship is a warm and loving one, it can stand, I believe, the odd reprimand, even if it is a cuff"

    Mitchel McLaughlin said: "... a very thin line indeed. Quite obviously from the information that has emerged from that case, the parent totally lost control."

    John Taylor said: "This was clearly child abuse ... [but] the odd spank doesn't do any harm."

    Bronagh Hinds said: "If we're talking about getting violence out of society at every level, children learn best in the home. When you smack a child it's very often out of frustration of the parent."

    You said:

    As a child myself I do not see smacking as a form of bullying or abuse. Parents who do smack their children are easy targets for people who are "politically correct" in their thinking. They're missing the point, while they make a big fuss over smacking there are many, maybe even thousands of children that are REALLY being abused. We are letting them down by making such a fuss over something that is not even comparable to what they're going through.

    If an adult feels that they can only control a situation by beating a child then must take a look at themselves in modern society. Surely any adult responsible person would imagine that they can cope with an under 10? It may not cover t he issue completely, however I cannot feel that as an adult I could justify beating a child because I was embarrassed or less able to deal with a situation than a child. Adults are there to enable children to be children, and care for them. Not beat them when they don't behave like adults.

    Reported splits in Yugoslav army

    Audience question: Is Nato spin doctoring to hide its own internal divisions?

    Robert McCartney said: "This particular government has an expertise with spinning ... The whole exercise in Kosovo has been very poorly dealt with."

    Mitchel McLaughlin said: "I certainly don't believe anything the Nato spokespersons are saying. I think that their actions are illegal and I think they've been telling us lies from the very the beginning and I think that the whole question of the policy has been ill conceived."

    Bronagh Hinds said: "Everyone spins it [war] to their advantage."

    John Taylor said: "Nato only intervened when there was no other alternative ... I think the Prime Minister's on the right lines."

    Brid Rodgers said: "I'm against war ... War and the military option solves nothing."

    You said:

    The peaceful people of the world shall never forgive Nato for its heinous actions. The American and English leaders, their generals and their troops have shown their hatred for the Serbian people and are guilty of crimes against humanity.
    Roger Bailey

    Did I hear John Taylor MP agree to using military means to reach a political agreement?

    Why is it all right for the West to bomb and kill at will? Why does the Western press always subvert truth about the murderous campaign in Serbia? Look at the latest BBC reports of the murders in the Belgrade hospital carried out by Nato. It reports the event then starts deflecting blame and discussing side issues. We dropped the bombs. We killed the people. We've killed far more Serbs than the Serbs have killed Albanians. We've destroyed a country with an animalistic ferocity that defies all decency. How then can we claim to be upholding "moral" values? And don't give me the old codswallop about protecting refugees. We started the war by supporting the KLA invasion of Serbia.
    Roger Bailey

    I'm 16 and I am from the Cornwallis School and my point is that I think the war in Kosovo is all wrong. I mean can they actually hit a target, because now, look at it, that is two cruise missiles that have gone wild. One has gone into the Chinese embassy and another into a hospital and it just seems that every time a missile goes wild and kills innocent people, it gives the Serbs another excuse to kill more ethnic Albanians.
    Dan Botten

    Religion in schools in Northern Ireland

    Audience question: Would an integrated education system lay the foundations for a future non-sectarian community in Northern Ireland?

    Brid Rodgers said: "There clearly is some demand for integrated education in some areas of Northern Ireland and I would support parents and parental choice where they want to have it. I don't think that integrated education will solve our problems, it could help."

    John Taylor said: "If you take a town, there's a Catholic school and a state school. You find the Catholic families all go to live around the Catholic school and the Protestant and Jewish families live around the state school. And then when a factory comes, if it goes near the Catholic school all the employees are Catholic, or if it goes near the state school all the employees are Protestant. You get segregation right through society as a result of the divided education system in Northern Ireland."

    Bronagh Hinds said: "We're a deeply divided society and I don't think we should put the onus on integrated schools to carry the burden for the future, however I think it's disingenuous to refer to schools as Roman Catholic schools and state schools."

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