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Getting to Grips With the Election

Mark Devenport | 17:03 UK time, Monday, 28 March 2011

Recently I awarded an Ulster Unionist politician a prize for most extended metaphor in a press release. Today I indulge in much the same myself - taking to Queen's University's climbing wall in an attempt to illustrate the DUP and Sinn Fein's scramble towards the Stormont summit. You can catch that report on BBC Newsline 6.30, and an accompanying article which should be published shortly on the main news website.

The politicians are already on the campaign trail. As motorists will already notice, a fair few posters went up over the weekend. Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams (who called the focus on who might be First Minister a unionist "sham fight") launched a poster today with the slogan 'Leadership across Ireland', consciously emphasising the party's recent success in the Dáil election. The DUP's Peter Robinson handed in his nomination papers in Newtownards, then drove up to Londonderry where he told cancer sufferers that the planned radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin Hospital will go ahead.

Yesterday, on Inside Politics, I presented the first in a series of special election programmes. The Alliance leader David Ford denied that his party had been unprincipled in taking the Justice department after spending the first half of the Assembly mandate portraying themselves as Stormont's only opposition. Mr Ford insisted that Alliance was making a real difference not just to Justice but to how the Executive conducts its business in general.

Mr Ford's tenure at Justice (assuming he is reappointed on the other side of the election) is scheduled to come to an end in May 2012, when the sunset clause negotiated at Hillsborough comes into effect. If there's no agreement on renewing the cross community appointment, or agreeing to put the department on the same footing as the others, then the Justice Ministry is set to be dissolved.

The Alliance leader can't see any better alternative than the current compromise. He acknowledged that "we have a history in Northern Ireland that we always manage to have a little bit of a crisis over this" but played down the prospects of a repeat of the Hillsborough talks as May 2012 looms.

Whatever happens to Justice, Mr Ford believes Alliance is on a trajectory when it could get one of the ministerial posts on the basis of its mandate, via the "D'Hondt lucky dip".

My other guest was UKIP's Henry Reilly who insisted his party, which is pledging to run eight candidates, isn't a single issue pressure group. UKIP hasn't yet published its Stormont manifesto, but when it does Councillor Reilly promises it will be radically different from its Westminster platform.

That document called for the abolition of the Stormont assembly and its replacement by a gathering of Northern Ireland's 18 MPs. The MPs would spend three weeks out of every month working on UK wide issues and the fourth on devolved matters. UKIP also backed an English parliament and rewriting the Barnett formula to address what it called the disadvantage caused to English residents.

Councillor Reilly told me that the party has now opted to "keep the MLAs but halve their expenses". He said UKIP is concerned about the disparity between Scotland and England, but claimed that far from losing out under their proposals Northern Ireland would in fact get more cash. So their Stormont manifesto should make an interesting read.

Inside Politics will be working its way through a range of parties standing in the election as the campaign continues.

P.S. The Campaign for an English Parliament points out that the UKIP idea of letting English MPs meet one week a month for English-only days does not amount to their idea for a full English Parliament.


  • Comment number 1.

    Oh lets get excited another election campaign to con the voters! Do you think all these "players" mentioned in your article are in politics to feather their own nest or to be shining lights in leading our society. I know what most of Northern Ireland think and this is continually proven by apathetic turn out numbers. Games Games and more . oh i suppose at least polical manipulation and interference can change certain goalposts such as has been achieved by the good old (boys) Presb. Mutual. Society 10000 extra votes there then.

  • Comment number 2.

    @kierantherock: Such a cynic. Albeit a cynic with a point.

    The problem with our wonderful Executive is that, under the current system, there's no way of voting anyone out. Sure, ministerial posts may be shuffled around a bit after the election thanks to the d'Hondt lottery, but ultimately it'll be the same people around the table, regardless of how people actually vote. Makes you wonder why we bother.

  • Comment number 3.

    "the DUP and Sinn Fein's scramble towards the Stormont summit"

    There's a bit of moisture on the north coast today and the DUP's Gregory Campbell is having a little bit of trouble on the East Londonderry wall.

    A party colleague, who is standing down from Coleraine Borough Council, has aired his views about double-jobbing in the Coleraine Chronicle.

    Cllr Deans had this to say about the MLA, MP and Derry City Councillor's multi-tasking: "I think it's disgraceful". These are not really the words you want to hear from a colleague at the start of a testing election campaign.

  • Comment number 4.

    What good will UKIP do NI? None, I bet. We have enough bother with our current parties, we don't need these guys in the middle of a situation they don't seem to know that much about...

  • Comment number 5.

    Anna Siren

    Bring them in surely; more vote splitters for unionism!!!

    May will be a quiet month on the Devenport Diaries me thinks!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    "Alliance was making a real difference .. to how the Executive conducts its business in general."

    It would be nice to think that any party could stem the DUP-SF 'carve-up' and could ensure that all Ministers would have copies of the agenda and supporting papers in advance of Executive meetings. Fair play to Alliance if it can bring a professional approach to governance.

    As for the world of politicians and businessmen perhaps David should have a close look at the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust; Sean Neeson, the former Alliance leader, has chaired the NIABT board. Not all MLA's have declared their association with this 'charity' in the Register of Interests.

    Ministers work in tandem with their departmental Permanent Secretaries. I'd also invite David to have a look at the Chief Executives Forum and ask himself whether or not there is sufficient separation between Government departments and Public Watchdogs. Any risk that such watchdogs could act as an adjunct of government needs to be minimised, in the public interest and for the protection of justice.

  • Comment number 7.

    UKIP would abolish Stormont but backs an English Parliament? I think that is most unlikely. UKIP wants Grand Committees for all nations comprising the UK, unless I'm mistaken.

    This of course they will get hammered in Scotland, and probably the same in Wales and N. Ireland.

    What I would like to see is a party promising more money for England, so that England gets more spent per capita than the rest of the UK. Why not?

    The longer this apartheid against the English goes on for the sake of the United Kingdom (which afterall is the main reason for all the mutual animosity between the peoples of these islands) the more loathsome the UK becomes to me.

    I voted UKIP in the general election, but I probably won't again unless it comes out explicitly for an English Parliament like the Scots presently have. Going back to failed Grand Committees doesn't cut the mustard.


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