There were mixed views from members of the UK Conservative Party in Northern Ireland today after hearing from the two candidates to become the next leader.

Foreign Minister Liz Truss and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak were quizzed by members during a hustings event at the Culloden Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast.

The Brexit protocol, the Stormont Assembly, the health service, abortion, foreign policy and support for the party in Northern Ireland were among the issues raised.

Polls have so far indicated that Ms Truss is leading the race ahead of Mr Sunak.

Today's sold-out event is the eighth out of a total of 12 hustings and is taking place at the Culloden Hotel in Belfast with around 200 members attending.

Ms Truss had earlier said she was determined to deliver and push through the Northern Ireland Protocol bill in parliament.

Ms Truss acknowledged that the bill, which has faced strong criticism from political opponents in Britain and from the EU, would take time to pass through parliament's upper chamber, where the government does not have a majority.

She added that resolving the row with the EU was crucial to restoring Northern Ireland's political power-sharing arrangements.

"This is exactly what I have been working on with the Northern Ireland Protocol bill because until we sort the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol out, we are not going to get Stormont back up and running," she said.

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Read more: Rishi Sunak vs Liz Truss: Key policy differences


Martin Craigs said he remained undecided after hearing their pitches.

He said he felt their content in terms of Northern Ireland had been "very weak".

"They're sitting on the fence, this isn't the audience they're playing to, the audience they're playing to are the 160,000 Conservative members, and there are very few of them in Northern Ireland, but they obviously have to go to all corners of the UK to be seen to be democratic," he told the PA news agency.

"I might actually not vote at all because I think the performance has been so poor."

Matthew Robinson, chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, welcomed the candidates' visit and paid tribute to the commitment they were showing to the region.

He said he had been holding back on deciding who to vote for, but based on what he heard at the hustings he would back Ms Truss.

"I think she outlined an unwavering commitment to what we do locally here as a political force," he said.

"I'm not just encouraged but excited about what we can achieve together during her hopeful premiership."

He said the purpose of hustings is to have a robust exchange of ideas, and it was an opportunity for the members to put their questions to the next prime minister.

"My decision is in a personal capacity, it is up to our own members to decide who they're going to support," he said.

"If you look at polling, obviously there is a suggestion that Liz Truss is faring well in this campaign, but it's up to our members who to back.

"I think there are two excellent candidates, I have made my decision now but it's up to members who they support."

Rishi Sunak during a campaign visit to Thales Defence System plant in Belfast

Yesterday evening, Ms Truss and Mr Sunak were both challenged by Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie to set out their positions on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said the post-Brexit arrangements "need to be dealt with once and for all because it continues to damage the Belfast Agreement and places a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom".

Voting is under way this month, with the winner set to be announced on 5 September.

Chair of the Northern Ireland Conservatives Matthew Robinson said today's is an "incredible opportunity" to have a say and to have the next party leader.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said that party members are excited to have the chance to meet the candidates and to discuss issues, such as the cost-of-living crisis, energy, the war in Ukraine, trade policy post-Brexit and tax cuts.

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He said the party is "fortunate" in having "two thoroughly qualified candidates" to choose from as the next leader.

Mr Robinson added that the Northern Ireland Protocol is a "key issue" for Tory members and there does not seem to be a huge difference between the two candidates on that issue.

He said that he will make his final decision on who to back after today’s hustings, but he is leaning towards Ms Truss because of her "real depth of experience".

"I think that could place her quite well in Downing Street," he said.

The power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland collapsed over six months ago with the DUP insisting that issues around the protocol must be resolved before they agree to nominate a new speaker or ministers.

Today's election hustings is the eighth out of a total of 12.

Additional reporting PA