On Wednesday, 6 April, the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, along with CARE (Christians Action Research Education), hosted a hustings for young people at HUB Belfast. Every party was invited to field a representative. Those who took part were: Robbie Butler (UUP), Edwin Poots (DUP), Kellie Turtle (Greens), Andrew McMurray (Alliance), Peadar Tóibín (Aontu), and Ron McDowell (TUV).

The hustings covered four key areas, featuring an audience poll for each topic and ending with an open Q&A from the floor.


We asked the crowd to vote via the app, on the question: As a student, how satisfied are you that you are getting value for money in your university education?”


To much surprise, most voted satisfied”. However, much of the panel discussion focussed on other important key issues such as the transfer test, integrated education and school ethos. Robbie Butler made the point that it was important to reform how grades are awarded in a way that can help those who are gifted with technical abilities which an overly academic system might not reward.


The students voted for the three top key issues which they felt needed most emphasis when tackling environmental care:

  1. Protecting our natural landscape and wildlife.
  2. Achieving net zero carbon emissions.
  3. Investing in renewable energy.

Kellie Turtle reminded the audience that it was important to understand that all these issues were interlinked and needed to be approached in a holistic manner. Edwin Poots mentioned how the war in Ukraine will affect the amount of food produced there now and in the years ahead which could have an impact on many poorer countries. Andrew McMurry, who also works as an outdoor activities instructor, noted the importance of wild spaces and made the point that this is a crucial moment for the world to accelerate the transition to renewable energies.

Health care

A consensus was drawn on the panel that more needed to be done in regards to fixing the system, combatting waiting lists and improving efficiency. It was agreed that mental health statistics in Northern Ireland were alarming and remain stubbornly high. Mental health services need further investment, each panel member noted, with Ron McDowell sharing movingly about the impact of suicide on his family and wider constituency.

Human dignity

The poll question asked for this round was: Are you satisfied with the NI Assembly’s response to the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis?” Edwin Poots and Kellie Turtle made it clear that more could be done, and highlighted that services for refugees and asylum seekers are already being stretched and these issues should be addressed comprehensively along with the existing demands on housing and education.

The last segment of the night consisted of a Q&A, and a variety of questions were asked. One questioner asked, when it comes to faith, what was the candidate’s guiding star in politics? Other questions were more specific, wanting to know if the political parties would re-enter the executive and what would they do if Sinn Féin was the largest political party. The issue of abortion was raised among the panel themselves, and while quite appropriately strong emotion and language was employed, the discourse remained respectful.

The tone of engagement on the night was upbeat and at times passionate – a healthy reminder of the importance of rigorous and robust debate – a key hallmark of a functioning democracy.

We’d like to thank all the candidates and parties for their generosity of time and spirit in being involved and to all who came along to engage. The night ended with a prayer for all those running and we encourage you to continue to pray for all those running for public office in these days.