How they fared in the UTV leaders' debate

The leader's debate panel of Naomi Long, Nigel Dodds, Robin Swann, Michelle O'Neill and Colum Eastwood. Picture by Mal McCann

Political Correspondent John Manley assesses how the party leaders fared after going head to head during the UTV debate.

  • Naomi Long – Despite briefly succumbing to the heat from the studio lights Naomi Long was her usual combative self, interrupting fellow panelists when she felt necessary and asserting herself when others tried to butt-in. The Alliance leader was adamant that Brexit wasn't a done deal and that a border poll would only prove divisive. She was quick to point out how the discussion on the recent terror attacks in Britain quickly descended into the "normal mud-slinging". Rating – 6/10


  •  Nigel Dodds – Standing in for a party leader whose absence has yet to be satisfactorily explained, the DUP deputy was typically sure-footed. He accused Michelle O'Neill of "eulogising terrorists", while castigating Naomi Long for not being a unionist. His best trick was producing last year's joint letter from Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster to the British prime minister to demonstrate how there was no mention of special EU status. Rating – 7/10

DUP's Nigel Dodds. Leaders debate on UTV Picture Mal McCann.

  • Robin Swann – The North Antrim MLA will be reasonably happy with his first leaders' debate since succeeding Mike Nesbitt last month. While lacking the assuredness and screen presence of his predecessor, Mr Swann was nonetheless confident and cool, however, it was unclear much of the time which other parties he was targetting. He called for an open and transparent Stormont executive and insisted his party was, like Theresa May, pro-Brexit. Rating – 5/10


DUP's NIgel Dodds, Alliance's Naomi Long and UUP's Robin Swann. Leaders debate on UTV Picture Mal McCann.

  •  Michelle O'Neill – The Sinn Féin northern leader's presentation skills are definitely improving though she still has a way to go before she can match the debating abilities of Conor Murphy or Mary-Lou McDonald. Forced like every Westminster election to defend her party's abstentionist policy, Ms O'Neill was adamant that Sinn Féin would never take their seats on the green benches. She said the north was Brexit's "collateral damage" and, uniquely, did manage to mention the RHI scandal. Rating – 6/10

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill. Leaders debate on UTV Picture Mal McCann.

  • Colum Eastwood – The Foyle MLA is arguably the best performing SDLP leader for some time though his performances mask a party facing a potential thrashing at the polls on Thursday. Mr Eastwood did his best to ensure this won't be the case but he was slightly ambiguous during the border poll debate though critical of Sinn Féin for not taking their seats with the line "they want your vote but they won't vote for you". Rating – 6/10

SDLP's Colum Eastwood. Leaders debate on UTV Picture Mal McCann.

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