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It’s time for a new approach to Northern Ireland politics

By David Gordon

The Belfast Telegraph today launches a major debate on moving Northern Ireland politics away from tribal headcounts.

The week-long debate will challenge the assumption that politics and politicians here will never be able to break free of the old stalemates.

Contributors from across the spectrum will give their views on whether it is possible to shift the focus onto bread and butter issues.

Editor Mike Gilson said: “One of the Belfast Telegraph's chief roles is to encourage debate on how to make Northern Ireland a better place for everyone.

“That must include moving towards less divisive politics, where the common good comes first and the middle ground is built up. We have taken a strong editorial stance against tribal election pacts and we will fight against next year's Assembly poll being dominated by disputes over who should or shouldn't be First Minister.

“Northern Ireland can do better than that in its politics. In the current economic climate, it needs to do better than that.”

He also said: “It's a good time to have a debate on moving politics forward.

“The debate about power-sharing and devolution has been settled.

“And the debate about Union versus unity is for a border poll to decide — it does not have to always dominate when there is so much else to do.”

Helping to launch the discussion today is an article by Queen’s University Politics Professor Rick Wilford.

He argues that “a large swathe of the electorate” in the province wants a new politics, stating: |“As they contemplate next year’s contest, one thing all parties |must bear in mind is that since |the first Assembly election in |1998, turnout has consistently fallen.

“Moreover, it fell again at the General Election to 57.6%, significantly below the national turnout of 65.1%.

“This is a sign not of contentment, but of disillusion.”

He also refers to “the looming assault on the public sector upon which Northern Ireland is so heavily reliant” and comments: “In what will become increasingly straitened circumstances, ourselves alone will just not do: but there’s the rub.

“The General Election witnessed a depressing reversion to sectarian type given the attempts to engineer both unionist and nationalist electoral pacts.”

Articles over the coming days will include contributions from commentators from unionist and nationalist backgrounds, as well as prominent supporters of “middle ground” politics.

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