Angry clashes dominate televised election debate in North

Sinn Fein leader at Stormont, Michelle O'Neill and the Democratic Unionist Nigel Dodds repeatedly clashed in a heated televised election debate this evening.

Mr Dodds called Ms O'Neill a "disgrace" for "eulogising IRA terrorism", while she hit back by accusing the DUP of accepting endorsement from the loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA.

The tone of the UTV general election debate between Northern Ireland's five main parties on Monday night drew criticism from UUP leader Robin Swann who sounded concern about the slim prospects of the return of powersharing at Stormont due to the "antagonistic" state of relations between the two largest parties.

Alliance leader Naomi Long and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also criticised the political "squabbling" during a discussion about the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London.

When asked for their views on how to tackle international terrorism following the attacks Mr Swann turned the attention on Sinn Fein.

He said: "While I welcome Sinn Fein's ability to condemn these bombs I wish they'd do the same for the previous bombs."

Ms O'Neill hit back saying it was very unfortunate Mr Swann was using "something so atrocious to score political points".

She then added: "It's rich when unionism talk about links back to the IRA when the DUP accept endorsement from the UDA."

Ms O'Neill was referring to the endorsement of Mr Dodds and fellow DUP candidate Emma Little Pengelly in a UDA-linked Loyalist magazine.

In response Mr Dodds said: "For the leader of the republican movement, who goes around eulogising IRA murderers, to lecture other people is an absolute disgrace."

This was a reference to Ms O'Neill's attendance at a commemoration for eight IRA terrorists killed by the SAS at Loughgall.

Mrs Long criticised the parties for their "tasteless mudslinging", while Mr Eastwood said they should be "embarrassed"

"(The question) is not about here. It is about what has happened over the last number of weeks to innocent children, innocent people going about their daily lives," said Mr Eastwood.

He added: "Look at what the people of Manchester did. They unified. That is the response that is required."

The parties have just three weeks after the General Election to form an executive.

When asked about the prospect of the return of powersharing Ms O'Neill accused the DUP of "wanting to hold us back".

She added: "I'm a progressive leader. I want to drive society forward. I want to heal wounds of the past."

Before she could finish she was interrupted several times by Mr Dodds saying: "Stop eulogising terrorists."

Mr Swann said he was "really worried" by "the antagonism being created between the two major parties at this time".

"We have three weeks after this election and I think the demonstration we have seen here tonight epitomises our problem," he added.

Mrs Long warned of "very, very deep divides between the parties".

She added that the public "don't care about squabbles" between parties, they care about their GP surgeries and their children getting into schools.


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