BBC’s Any Questions comes from Derry but why none from our MP?

Panel (l-r) Ian Paisley jnr (DUP), Simon Heffer journalist,'  Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Fein), Pat O'Doherty principal at'  Lumen Christi College and Jim Gamble of CEOP. Picture by Foyle photogrpahy
Panel (l-r) Ian Paisley jnr (DUP), Simon Heffer journalist,' Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Fein), Pat O'Doherty principal at' Lumen Christi College and Jim Gamble of CEOP. Picture by Foyle photogrpahy

I’d always wanted to be on BBC Radio Four, it’s not often the likes of Jonathan Dimbleby are in town so off I went to Lumen Christi to see what it was all about.

You’re allowed to submit a question on the night, if it’s good enough, you’ll get to ask it.

I gave mine a lot of thought and duly popped it in the question box.

“Fill from the front,” we were advised as we made our way into the Assembly Hall. No pressure there, it’s radio anyway.

We then waited as the BBC executives “warmed up” the audience.

Next the panel were brought on stage and Jonathan Dimbleby explained how they’d be doing a few tests to check the balance was right in the room.

On the panel was Michelle Gildernew Sinn Fein MLA Fermanagh South Tyrone, Ian Paisley DUP MP for North Antrim, former policeman and expert on online crime Jim Gamble and Daily Mail journalist Simon Heffer.

I heard a few people comment that Derry’s only M.P. Mark Durkan, nor anyone from his party were represented on the panel, but more about that later.

Question one - If you could take a trip to Mars, would you go and who would you take with you? No, wait a minute, that’s just the warm up.

Then we wait for the pips of the news and the ‘on air’ lamps light up on stage.

We’ve all been told to turn off our phones but of course just seconds into the broadcast a weird mobile tune can be heard in the auditorium.

Question one: “In light of the Stormont debate about the introduction of a conscience clause into human rights and equality legislation does private faith have too much influence on public policy in NI?

Ian Paisley is first to answer: “No I don’t believe it does, I believe it is up to individuals to demonstrate what makes them up as an individuals, if it is faith they should feel free to express these views, allow them to influence their decisions, not allow them to dictate to others but be allowed to say, this is me, this is what I stand for. Unfortunately today what we are seeing are people being told they can have a faith but they must keep it private and tell no one about it.

“We should not hide it under a bushel we should let our conscience shine and let people see and understand what we are all about.”

Raising the Asher’s bakery case, Jonathan Dimbleby asked Ian Paisley what he thought about the position of a gay couple in England who were refused the right to stay in a boarding house.

Ian Paisley said: “The danger we are in is if you have strongly held Christian views and you express those views, you are accused of being homophobic, when in fact there is now a move within this society which is Christianphobic. My view is let the market force determine it, if someone wants to offer a service and they deny someone a service the market will determine whether that business will be a success.”

Michelle Gildernew said: “Sinn Fein oppose all forms of discrimination against any community whether on grounds of gender, race, religious or political views.

“We will block the conscience clause. We believe that this clause is discriminating against the LGBT community

“Many of us have beliefs one way or another, as an elected rep, my job is represent all my constituents. I am there to work on behalf of all of them and my religious beliefs should not interfere in my ability to represent the people in my constituency.”

Further questions included whether Sinn Fein and the DUP should be allowed to take part in forthcoming televised elections and grammar education.

When asked why the local MP was not invited to take part in Friday night’s debate the BBC said: “Any Questions? features a panel of four guests representing a range of views to ensure a balanced and interesting discussion for its national audience, and last Friday’s edition is no different.”

In the end the BBC didn’t pick my question. It was a good one too. Now we’ll never know...

The full podcast of the programme can be listened to online.