Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

DUP manifesto: Plenty of policy ideas, but little on what they will cost

DUP leader Peter Robinson

The DUP is the first party from Northern Ireland to launch its General Election manifesto. Political Editor David Gordon gets behind the headlines on its contents

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So, what's the big idea from the DUP?

Economy is a central manifesto theme.

And the election slogan — “Let's keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward” — is aimed at projecting a positive message about the devolved Stormont set-up and DUP in government.

The party is also making a big virtue of keeping its options open in the event of a hung Parliament — an obvious difference from its Tory-UUP rivals.

Heavy or light on policies?

The DUP manifesto has a raft of measures covering some 70 pages, and 20 different policy categories. But there is nothing on costings or how the individual measures would be financed.

Some of the manifesto policies would be very expensive — like increasing the basic state pension UK-wide and giving companies a corporation tax cut.

That sounds ambitious?

General Elections in other countries often have at their heart a choice between tax cuts and more public spending. The DUP manifesto is proposing both. There are some money-saving proposals in there too, like reducing the number of Whitehall and Stormont departments and cutting back on quangos. But no sums are provided on how much these measures would recoup.

Other policy examples from the manifesto?

The long list includes: making Northern Ireland a “special economic zone” with “reduced regulation, lower taxes and other financial incentives”; creating child-parent centres for disadvantaged pre-school youngsters — a proposal based on practice in Chicago; opposing “existing privileges” for integrated and Irish language schools; increased spending in the NHS on prevention and early intervention; 20mph speed limits in certain built up areas; “certainty of funding” for community and voluntary groups; a rise in the winter fuel payment; scrapping plans for a national ID cards system; and cutting the BBC licence fee from £142.50 to £50.

Any noticeable absences?

There’s only one mention of Sinn Fein: “The DUP has ensured that there is no question of Sinn Fein politicians having any direct or indirect access to sensitive intelligence as MI5 lead the fight against dissident terrorists.”

That's a big change from last year's European Election campaign, when the DUP's main message was all about stopping republicans topping the poll. That didn't work.

There were, in fact, close to 30 mentions of Sinn Fein in the European manifesto.

The new General Election manifesto also differs from old-style DUP platforms. There is no section on “moral matters” and nothing at all on issues like keeping Sunday special. It does, however, pledge to oppose the extension of the 1967 British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

How did the launch itself go?

It was part-Press-conference, part-rally at the Ulster Hall. Candidates and party members made up the audience. Questions were taken from reporters, and there were a couple of times when the DUP faithful seemed to bristle. Peter Robinson was applauded to the echo when he said there was “no story, no benefit” in relation to his acquisition of a strip of land for £5 from the developer Fred Fraser.

Does the party look confident?

If the DUP is worried about the General Election, it's hiding it well.

The full DUP manifesto is available at the party’s website: www.dup.org.uk

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