Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Door could shut on a bright new day

Any idealists dreaming of a new progressive Northern Ireland would probably have been in the depths of despair on reading the political runes yesterday.

First they would have seen the DUP and UUP leaders, Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt, sharing an ice-cream with their unity candidate in the Mid Ulster election, Nigel Lutton.

Then later they would have learned that the two men who resigned from the UUP over the decision to back Mr Lutton will not now make any decision on their future political alliances for some time, maybe even months.

This newspaper has repeatedly argued that the way forward for the province is pluralist politics, giving the electorate the widest possible choice of candidates and parties and therefore creating a genuine debate on policies.

Instead Mid Ulster has now been turned into a sectarian headcount, with the in-built Green majority guaranteeing the seat to Sinn Fein.

Northern Ireland doesn't need such meaningless elections. If we want to discuss the province's constitutional position then there is an agreed mechanism for that, a border poll. And anyway, it is evident from all recent opinion surveys that the border is a dead issue for most people.

The defection of Basil McCrea and John McCallister from the UUP gave brief hope that a more progressive type of unionism might emerge with the two men possibly creating alliances which would serve as a real opposition at Stormont and encouraging more like-minded people to join them, and even vote for them come election time.

Instead they seem to be in a quandary, unsure of what political direction to take and even making contact with the Tories, a party notable only for its lack of impact in local politics.

There is a danger now that momentum will be lost and the two high-profile former UUP members will just become more forgotten, and disillusioned, defectors. But maybe the slowly, slowly approach will work and new, positive voices will emerge in local politics.

Like the idealists, we can dream.

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