Always Worth Saying’s Question Time Review

Question Time 19th October 2023

The Panel:

Chris Heaton-Harris (Conservative)
Hilary Benn (Labour)
Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP)
Sorcha Eastwood (Alliance Party)
John Finucane (Sinn Fein)

Venue: Lisburn

Hilary Benn (not his real name, Hilary James Wedgwood-Benn) has been the Labour MP for Leeds Central since 1999. In these troubled times, Leeds is both home to a large Muslim population and the third-biggest Jewish community in Britain. Currently Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, throughout his political career Benn has held various roles in the Cabinet under former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Before his current appointment, Benn served as the Shadow Foreign Secretary from 2015 to 2016 and as the Chairman of the Brexit Select Committee from 2016 to 2021. He is well-known for his efforts to delay Brexit through the Benn Act, although this was nullified following the Conservative majority win in the 2019 general election.

In addition to his political roles, the 67-year-old has a background in policy research and local government – code words for never having had a job. After graduating in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Sussex, Hammersmith-born Hilary began a career in ‘policy’ with various trade unions before entering parliament.

In the interests of diversity and equality of opportunity, Hilary is the son of veteran Labour MP the late Tony Benn. Public schoolboy Tony (NHRN Anthony Neil Wedgwood-Benn) gave up his Viscount Stansgate title to remain in the House of Commons.

Despite losing the viscountcy, and despite Tony’s opposition to an unelected upper house, Hilary’s elder brother Stephen is currently the 3rd Viscount Stansgate and one of 92 hereditary members of the House of Lords.

Following Tony’s death in 2014, the newspapers investigated the Benn family’s finances. Man of the people Tony avoided leaving his estate to worthy left-wing causes and bequeathed it to his four children instead. Valued at over £5 million pounds, each revied north of £1 million.

Tony also avoided tax by placing his country estate, Stansgate House, in trust. Fourteen years previously, the comrades Benn also avoided tax by altering their mother’s will after she died. A legal manoeuvre known as a ‘deed of variation’, distributed her property to the children, rather than to her husband, in order to avoid inheritance tax when Tony died.

Proletarian Hilary also benefitted financially from a tax-avoiding trust fund set up from his maternal grandmother’s legacy. Furthermore, the ordinary lad inherited United Business Media shares from his paternal grandmother which, in combination with another stake gifted to him by his father, were valued at £234,000.

Prior to Sussex University, egalitarian Hilary was educated at £22,000 per annum Norwood Place prep school and £25,000 PA Westminster Under School, the preparatory feeder to Tony’s old school, £50,000 PA Westminster.

After prep school, Hilary attended Holland Park School in the posh Holland Park district of London. Oft described as the ‘Eton of the Left’, Holland Park is the alma mater of another Puffin’s favourite, Polly Toynbee.

Christopher Heaton-Harris serves as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He has been Conservative MP for Daventry since May 2010. Before his tenure as an MP, the 55-year-old was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 where he gained a reputation for his Euroscepticism and advocacy for smaller government.

He also served in Theresa May’s government as a whip from 2017 to 2018. In addition to his political career, he has a background in business having worked in the family firm, a wholesale fruit and vegetable company based in New Covent Garden.

His interest in sport has seen him become a qualified football referee currently officiating in the Northamptonshire Combination League.

After grammar school (Tiffin School, Kingston-upon-Thames), Mr Heaton-Harris attended the University of Wolverhampton (not its real name: Wolverhampton Polytechnic).

John Finucane is the Sinn Féin MP representing North Belfast. According to his declared parliamentary interests, John is also a £4,600 a month solicitor at Finucane Toner Ltd, a company in which he also declares a shareholding of over 15% of the company.

Along with the other Sinn Féin MPs, John doesn’t take up his parliamentary seat. This doesn’t stop him from claiming. Between 2021 and 2022 you were kind enough to pay John £229,576 in expenses, an inflation-busting 14% more than the previous year.

A member of a notorious IRA terrorist family, John is the son of Pat Finucane, the IRA staff lawyer shot and killed in his own home on the 12th of February 1989.

A fuller QT Review biography and summary of millionaire John’s and Sinn Fein’s money-making scams (that you pay for) via the legal and political processes can be found here and here.

Sorcha Eastwood is a member of the Alliance Party. She was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the 2022 election, winning the Lagan Valley seat near Lisburn.

Before her election, Eastwood had been a councillor on Lisburn and Castlereagh City Councils.

Her biographical claims to a background in business and HR are exaggerated. The 38-year-old dropped out of a law degree and became an apprentice at Tescos before returning to uni as a mature student and subsequently taking a series of non-jobs in political activism.

Jeffrey Donaldson has been serving as a Member of Parliament since 1997, representing the Lagan Valley constituency. He was first elected under the Ulster Unionist Party but later switched his allegiance to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Donaldson became leader of the DUP in 2021.

His political journey has included being part of the Ulster Unionists’ negotiating team for the Good Friday Agreement. Jeffrey’s decision to enter politics was largely influenced by personal loss during the Troubles, specifically the murder of his cousin.

That cousin was Samuel Donaldson, an RUC constable murdered in August 1970 by IRA terrorists using a bobby-trapped car. Twenty-three-year-old Samuel and his 26-year-old colleague, Robert Millar, were the first RUC officers to be killed by an IRA explosion in the Troubles.

Unarmed and on patrol near Crossmaglen, about half a mile from the border with the Republic, they were killed while investigating an abandoned stolen car. At the time, the Daily Mirror reported 20lb of gelignite was hidden under the front seat of the red Ford Cortina.

Wired to the interior light, it detonated when the car door was opened. Both men were seriously injured, one lost both legs. Samuel, of Ballinran, Kilkeel (about 40 miles from tonight’s venue), died at 2 a.m. the next morning in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry. His fellow officer died later the same day.

In condemnation, Cardinal William Conway, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland described a ‘Low, mean, cowardly act.’

In all, during the Troubles, 319 RUC officers were killed and almost 9,000 injured in terrorist assassinations or attacks, mostly by the IRA. In 2000, the RUC was awarded the George Cross for bravery.

Compiling QT biographies of John Finucane and Jeffery Donaldson gives us much to ponder given these difficult times we live in. While researching, this reviewer looks on with envy at the moral certainty and crisp, factual journalism of the 1970s, compared to the fear-laden, cliched, partial, word-soup that mainstream media is currently bringing us from the Middle East.


Question one. Talk is the key to conflict resolution. How do we encourage peace talks in the Middle East?

Chris Heaton-Harris noted that’s what happening now. Both President Biden and Mr Sunack are in the region. He called Hamas terrorists and repeated the line that Israel has the right to defend herself. He envisioned talks, eventually. How far off, wondered chair Fiona Bruce. Chris isn’t an expert on the region and didn’t know.

Hilary Benn mentioned the October 7th slaughter and the deaths in Gaza. He talked of desperation and despair and mentioned that what had happened in Northern Ireland gave some hope. At one point it looked as though the Troubles would never end, but they did. He referenced the importance of political leadership – something lacking in the Holy Land now. He saw Israel as not having a peace partner to negotiate with and demanded Hamas put down their weapons.

A lady in the audience called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Hear, hear. Yasser Arafat was a terrorist too. True fact. She asked if Palestine had a right to defend itself. She listed some of the injustices that Palestinian people have suffered.

Speaking of terrorists, John Finucane was next. In a round about way he condemned the events of October 7th before adding that every single day since, the Israeli government has breached international law with occupation, blockades and the continuance of an ‘apartheid system’. John described Gaza as an open-air prison. A defenceless people are being pummeled by one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Pressed by Bruce
he refused to concede that Israel had a right to eliminate Hamas.

Jeffrey Donaldson challenged the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. He said Israel is a democracy and Gaza isn’t. Which justifies what exactly? As well as local politicians there has been a failure of the international community. With no dialogue, others step in. He blamed the Israeli killing of Palestinians on Hamas. The first step to negotiations was for Hamas to lay down their arms unilaterally.

Sorcha Eastwood made an important point. The situation is not about us in Northern Ireland. Quite. She suggested a humanitarian corridor into Gaza and a ceasefire. It isn’t mutually exclusive to challenge both Hamas and Israel. Under the obvious questions from La Bruce, Sorcha’s suggestions emerged as intentions rather than anything doable.

The next audience member to speak had been reading my prep. John Finuance sided with Hamas as John and his cronies are in the IRA. Challenged by Bruce, the audience member replied that everybody here knows it. They’ve all read my prep!

John responded that this was completely untrue and it was a cheap political point. He said he wouldn’t further challenge the audience member as he was entitled to his view.

Fiona wanted to move to the next question but first paused to plug next week’s programme and to encourage viewers to send in pictures for the front of the Question Time desk. The venue is Bradford. If not twinned with Gaza, it should be.

Which reminds us to this week’s photos. The uninitiated may have thought the middle picture, of a clock tower next to a curved roof, might be of the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, but regular readers will have recognised the weekly foreign railway station, the 12th arrondissement’s Gare de Lyon.

The second question wondered when devolved government would return to Northern Ireland. The answers got off to a bad start with Jeffrey Donaldson disputing Fiona Bruce’s claim that Stormont hadn’t sat since last February. The first minister had withdrawn but ministers continued to run their departments.

The reason the first minister withdrew was to bring the EU and the government in London together to alter the post-Brexit border agreement. But now there’s the Windsor Agreement countered La Bruce. Jeffrey responded that they are coming to a better agreement. Some areas need to be resolved. We are working on this every week.

Not a second longer without a government insisted Sorcha Eastwood. A party with 25% of the vote (presumably the DUP) shouldn’t be able to kibosh power sharing. That’s not democracy. The other 75% were well represented in the audience and Sorcha was loudly applauded.

A striker in the audience said he was losing money by being on strike whereas the MLAs are on strike and getting paid.

John Finucane blamed it all on the Brexit project that the DUP had championed.

The debate deteriorated with Jeffrey and Sorcha shouting at each other and John being told to take his seat at Westminster.

Jeffrey has his solution to the border problem – different customs rules for different country of destination goods.

‘Why don’t you sort it out, Chris,’ asked Bruce of the Northern Ireland Secretary.

The Good Friday Agreement gets in the way, he replied. Is a border agreement near, wondered the chair. ‘Final phases,’ Chris assured. Jeffrey didn’t disagree. La Bruce tried to explain this to the rest of us in terms of green and not-so-green customs lanes. It was rather parochial and heated but surely better than the kind of politics that predominated before the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking of green, the final question was about Lough Neagh. Again, for the uninitiated, Fiona explained Loch Neigh is a big lake about the size of the Isle of Wight. She showed us before and after photos, both of which looked the same. She assured us the loch looks even greener in real life than in ‘after’.

The lack of a working Stormont executive to tackle a multitude of hydrological problems seemed to be the root of the issue but Hilary blamed climate change and wanted the temperature of the world to be lowered to stop the algae growing. Easier than bringing peace to the Middle East.

Acknowledgements and further reading

Benn’s legacy of hypocrisy

The Royal Ulster Constabulary

John Finucane and the IRA’s human rights violations

© Always Worth Saying 2023

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file