Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

What remains to be seen is how the two largest parties - Sinn Fein and DUP - will emerge from elections, will they sense damage?

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness pictured with Australian cyclist Michael Matthews
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness pictured with Australian cyclist Michael Matthews

With all the backbiting, arguments, veiled comments, rancour and general air of unpleasantness currently rife in Northern Ireland politics you'd think there was an election near at hand...

But, amidst the accusations and humbug, it was a stand-up example of bravura from First Minister, Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness in front of the Giro d'Italia starting podium when they managed to get back on message.

Both men rowed back interviewers questions about their recent very public spat towards the good news story of the cycling race and the jobs announcement for Newtownabbey.

However, is this papering over the cracks exposed by recent issues relating back to 'the past' or is it the election exacerbating the paranoia? Time, as they stay, will tell.

Throw in the Sinn Féin sense of hurt over the UK Prime Minister's alleged wooing of the DUP, revelations that 'on-the-runs' may have been involved in almost 300 murders and the recent racist attacks in east Belfast and you would think that the political process had the air of a carcass beginning to smell a little.

What remains to be seen is how the two currently largest parties will emerge from the elections. Will they sense damage? Will this require an even harder line towards their partners in government? Or, will they by necessity get down to the business they are elected to do?

With Peter Robinson expressing fears that the plethora of unionist parties vying for votes at European and local council elections will damage the electoral chances of others (ie the DUP), there is perhaps more concern within the unionist camp about the share of the vote.

It is, nonetheless, an election where the turn-out should be the most closely watched part of the poll. Has the bickering turned people 'off' from politics, leaving them to express themselves via the medium of call-in radio shows and Twitter feeds?

Healthcare, education, job and inward investment from the likes of the film industry are important.

But, as we also mark the passing of Oscar Knox, known across Northern Ireland as 'Wee Oscar', and the fight shown by this five-year-old with a deadly form of cancer has shown that there are more important things.

Uniting people across the sectarian divide, increasing awareness of children with such diseases and boosting blood donations are the legacy of young Oscar and his family will last long into the future.

Can any of the men and women on the doorsteps touting for votes, or sitting in the Chamber say that they will leave such a legacy? With that challenge and the perspective of their place on a small patch of land on the outer rim of western Europe, we can but hope that after the polls our politicians spend a little time on introspection before sallying forth into the fray once more.

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