Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Now the European elections are over, will the DUP keep its nerve?

The onset of new local councils represents an opportunity and test for political unionism to practise real power-sharing
The onset of new local councils represents an opportunity and test for political unionism to practise real power-sharing

The European and local elections in the north occurred against the backdrop of 22 months of impasse in the political process.

Unionism's agenda was set by extremists.

A sectarian race to the bottom between unionist politicians and paramilitaries defined the lead-up to these elections – as reflected in electoral deals made.

The election results within unionism are a product of these combined factors. The UUP attempted to outflank the DUP with its increased negativity; however, that didn't stop the TUV from running the UUP very close in Europe. Meanwhile, the DUP haemorrhaged support and lost council seats to both the PUP and TUV.

Significantly, these elections show that Alliance held its own in spite of the intimidation of that party. Now private talks have been revealed about unionist unity pacts to take back Westminster seats, like East Belfast, presently held by Alliance.

The PUP had two council seats beforehand; now it has four. This party's future prospects depend on whether it's really committed to developing constructive class politics.

One question arising is whether these results for unionism will add to the political impasse, or might they become a catalyst for immediate discussions on full implementation of the Haass compromise?

That will depend on whether the DUP, in particular, keeps its nerve. Likewise, the UUP leader has to decide if he will give positive leadership.

The onset of new local councils represents an opportunity and test for political unionism to practise real power-sharing.

The electorate's punishment of those parties which have supported austerity measures elsewhere also makes a compelling case for all parties to unite in opposition to welfare cuts.

If unionism, and especially the DUP, is prepared to move forward, progress can be made.

The opportunity will exist to do so in the coming period – but only if this summer's marching season (and Conservative/DUP horse-trading) are not used to block progress.

Declan Kearney is Sinn Fein's national chairman

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