"Brick bandits" and mini manifestoes
I spent this morning at Belfast's Waterfront Hall with a confident looking DUP. The party is attempting the hard sell on peace and power sharing that the UUP was unable to embark on a decade ago (although as UUP types have pointed out to me having the DUP outside the tent in those days made that job rather more difficult).
Peter Robinson swiped away my question about the possibility of a Sinn Fein Justice Minister after the current cross community compromise expires, and relegated any discussion about Martin McGuinness as First Minister to a footnote at the event.
Although Mr Robinson said it was vital the DUP remain biggest party in order to ensure unionists get first pick of departments, his manifesto doesn't dwell on the possibility of Sinn Fein usurping the top job. Instead it promises no increase in tuition fees, greater efficiency in the health service and the preservation and promotion of grammar schools.
As ever with manifestoes you have to watch the precise wording - if, for example. in 4 or 5 years time 20,000 new jobs have not materialised then the DUP can say they only promised to "support the creation" of these posts. I too promise to "support the creation" of new employment - I shall cheer it on but don't blame me if it doesn't happen.
The party also produced a postcard sized mini manifesto which boils down their committments to seven top priorities. This is particularly handy for busy people like, say, BBC Political Editors, who don't have the time to read through all the fine print.
Interestingly, though, there is room on the postcard for specific pledges which aren't in the full manifesto. For example, the postcard promises that "the DUP will block additional water charges" but the full manifesto only talks about working "to keep household bills at a minimum". I am assured by a senior DUP source there's no sleight of hand here, and the postcard pledge has the full weight of a manifesto committment.
The DUP also pledged a crackdown on "brick bandits". Since I cannot imagine they have anything against the New Jersey house band of the same name, I assume this means action against those who steal building materials from Housing Executive sites.
I didn't make it to the Baby Grand for the Sinn Fein launch as our very own "tweeting freak" Martina Purdy was looking after it. But I have just opened up the manifesto file on the USB stick provided to reporters. Just like the DUP, Sinn Fein rule out student fee hikes or extra water charges. They want to harmonise tax rates north and south and reinstate 50/50 recruitment to the police.
Sinn Fein wants an "all Ireland job creation" plan, but unlike the DUP don't put any number on how many new jobs might be feasible. As reported previously, they want to take £25 million annually off each of the four main banks to create a "Sustainable Economic Development Bond" and to push ahead with changes to legislation to enable a similar strategy to be employed in relation to Belfast port.
The Sinn Fein manifesto's mention of a referendum on Irish unity encouraged me to revisit the Good Friday Agreement to check what it said on the matter. The Agreement says the Secretary of State can call a border poll "if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland." Once a poll is held, another cannot be organised for at least seven years. So once they've finished criticising him for - in their view - not keeping to pledges on capital spending, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness will have to do their best to persuade Owen Paterson of the need for a referendum.
When I mentioned a line in the DUP manifesto suggesting a "FixOurStreetNI" website I was instantly festooned by tweets from SDLP activists insisting they had the copyright on this idea. Despite the global economic downturn I seem to have huge problems persuading anyone to come around and give me a quote for work on my house. Perhaps I should create my own personal "FixMyHome"website, although I am not entirely convinced by some of the offers of help I have received as I suspect they would lead to Devenport Towers getting plastered with partisan posters, not the kind of neutral off-white I had in mind.