Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Should UK and Irish political parties organise in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is too insular, looks inward, and doesn’t connect with the ‘real world’, whatever that is! You hear these comments frequently, and some people say this could be changed by having the choice at NI elections to vote for UK national parties and/or mainsteam Irish political parties.

The argument is that this could be a healthy jolt to the local political scene, liven it up, and perhaps create more interest in local politics. Some sort of jolt is needed if the trend of lower turnouts at our local elections is too be reversed!

To be fair, the NI Conservatives are setting their stall out locally. At the national UK Conservative conference, I attended the NI Conservatives excellent fringe event, which David Cameron addressed. He offered what seemed to be enthusiastic support and commitment to the NI Conservatives as they try and bring national UK politics to Northern Ireland, and he gave the impression that he really wanted to make it work this time.

The last time this was tried of course, was the ill-fated joint project with the Ulster Unionists – called the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (UCUNF), which Cameron said sounded like something from outer space. Cameron followed this up with his speech to the NI Investment conference, and unlike some previous prime ministers, his support and commitment to Northern Ireland seems to be genuine.

The NI Labour party have been pushing their UK parent party to organise and contest elections in NI for many years, but this has been resisted by the national labour leadership. Miliband and his team seem to prefer their already established relationship with the SDLP.

However full credit to the small local NI Labour team who keep pushing their case with the national UK party – maybe it will succeed at some stage. Of course the Lib-Dems already have a loose relationship with the Alliance party, but it’s noticeable that Naomi Long doesn’t take the Lib-Dem whip at Westminster.

Fianna Fail have made some attempts to organise in Northern Ireland, with a branch at QUB, but none of the Irish political parties seem interested in contesting elections here. Dublin’s relationship with London is probably more important in the scheme of things, and maybe the Irish political parties have concluded that the joint UK-Ireland sponsored peace process could be disturbed if they were to contest elections in Northern Ireland.

So it seems that for the foreseeable future the only option to be involved and directly influence national UK politics, will be with the NI Conservatives. They say they’re offering wider political horizons, and want us to look beyond the confines of Northern Ireland and out into the wider world – well at least to Great Britain to start with!

Of course, as far as the NI Conservatives are concerned it’s always difficult to start a political party from the ground up, and from a position of no elected representatives. But at least the NI Conservatives are having a go, and it remains to be seen if they can make the breakthrough that could change the local political scene.

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