There can be no system of government where who wins and who comes second matters less than in Northern Ireland. The first and deputy first ministers cannot even change the color of their departmental logos without obtaining the other’s permission. They are tied together in a loveless forced marriage.
he question of who gets the higher title was at the heart of the boring Stormont election campaign that is now drawing to a close. The DUP has done so carelessly, while Sinn Féin has been spreading the message more discreetly.
But behind this familiar fight lies the truth that both parties are now tired and unimaginative.
The latest campaign poll suggests the DUP is in trouble. That Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk research has Sinn Féin (26pc) six points ahead of the DUP (20pc), which has caught up just a percentage point during the campaign. However, both parties are shrinking before the last election. Alliance is down two points and is level with the UUP on 14pc while the SDLP (10pc) continues to be pressured.
But even if these numbers are close to what will happen Thursday, they don’t necessarily mean the DUP’s position is hopeless. The party can afford to lose more votes than Sinn Féin and still hold seats.
The last general election, at the height of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, was a DUP disaster and a Sinn Féin triumph. The Republicans came within one seat of Arlene Foster’s party at the time. Now there are several vulnerable Sinn Féin seats with few easy areas for growth, while the DUP has a cushion in many constituencies to lose before it threatens MLAs.
Friday’s poll also indicated that Jim Allister’s stubborn MOT maintains its support. Almost one in ten voters said they plan to vote for the party, even as the DUP continues to move against the Northern Ireland Protocol to win them back.
However, three quarters of TÜV voters say they will give their second preference to the DUP – meaning if TÜV candidates don’t come in then they will soak up votes, ultimately helping the DUP.
There is a chance that Sinn Féin will win the most votes but not the most seats. That would be a win of sorts – the party has never done so in a general election – but a disappointment for Michelle O’Neill considering the polls had had her party way ahead for more than a year.
And even if the DUP has a seat shortage, there’s a chance it can fix it retrospectively after the election. North Down MLA Alex Easton left the DUP last year in disgust at their public brawls.
If he has a large vote of his own, he may be elected at the expense of a DUP candidate. But he has left open the possibility of returning to the fold of the DUP if that can stop a Republican prime minister.
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 states that in the selection of the First and Deputy First Minister, the largest party is determined by “the number of seats in the Assembly held by members of the party on the day the Assembly closes after their election.” met for the first time”. The legislation says he could rejoin the DUP and bolster its numbers within eight days of the election.
All of this, however, detracts from the magnitude of the problems that the new assembly and executive will face – if they can ever be established. It doesn’t really matter who wins. Undoubtedly, a Republican victory would be an important symbolic moment in Northern Ireland’s history. Symbolism aside, the largest party gets the Stormont Ministries’ first choice.
But these problems are modest compared to the health care collapse that is causing deaths across the country. Despite the scale and severity of this crisis, this campaign has included clichéd statements by most parties that they support the Bengoa report on health care reform while hiding its controversial core: that many small hospitals will be closed or their services suspended. Medical experts have for decades told Stormont leaders the need to save lives, but when a service is to be removed from a small hospital they stand with placards to protest.
A senior political figure recently said that those politicians who understand what needs to be done but choose to do nothing to win re-election are worse than Covid deniers because they know what they are doing do is wrong.
Sinn Féin ran a boring but effective campaign. Its manifesto is the most tenuous of the major parties, and in releasing the document, the leadership did its best to avoid answering most questions. It’s ahead and hoping to win.
O’Neill Sinn Féin posters carry the message “Time for real change”. While the symbolism of a Sinn Féin First Minister would be undeniable, that would be the only thing that would change. The DUP would have the same veto power as Sinn Féin. The truth is that both of these parties are tired. They have now been at the helm of a chaotic Stormont system for nearly two decades. After scandals, standoffs, secret deals, and every failed devolution, they’re drained and out of ideas.
At least Sinn Féin has energy and talent to point to south of the border, but that only underscores the gulf with their wooden inability to articulate a new vision beyond a title to Northern Ireland voters.
Defending Sinn Féin’s move to join Stormont in 1998, Gerry Adams told the party’s ard fheis: “We have no interest in jobs for boys or girls. We are not space seekers. We’re not going to fiddle with the fat until we add half a pence to the pence. We are interested in freedom and achieving maximum change in every aspect of our lives.”
Symbolism has always played a major role in Irish politics. But here the substance is overtaken – and the substance is that these two parties have faced failure.
Whatever comes out best won’t end the agony of those waiting a decade for a hip replacement.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/dup-and-sinn-fein-are-the-weary-front-runners-in-election-race-but-are-all-out-of-ideas-41604268.html DUP and Sinn Féin are the tired frontrunners in the election campaign, but everyone is out of ideas