Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

New party NI21 offers opposition outlet

Northern Ireland's newest political party is certainly different in one respect, its name. NI21 is not a title which immediately resonates of politics. Some wags suggest it is more like the name of a road in the Republic or a scientific term for some horrible virus. But then given all the current party titles, perhaps it is a name which will connect with the young and the previously disenchanted.

Like everyone else we will have to await some flesh on the bones of the new party before gauging whether it stands a good chance of survival or will become just another seven-day wonder. There is no doubt that John McCallister and Basil McCrea are very able politicians and will each bring a cadre of support to the new party, not necessarily from the same constituency.

They pitch the party as confident, pro-union and progressive. They also intimate that it will be non-sectarian and should be positioned somewhere alongside Alliance. In the new Northern Ireland that, in theory, should give it a fighting chance, especially since the number of people voting for existing parties continues to fall.

But will those who have given up on politics, or never engaged in the first place, be moved to join or support NI21?

This newspaper has argued consistently for pluralist politics in Northern Ireland, offering voters as many shades of opinion as possible to help dilute the traditional tribal politics and for that reason welcomes the emergence of a new party.

There is a lack of dynamism in Northern Ireland politics today, with the Executive hamstrung to an extent by the rules of power-sharing and the fact that there is little opposition to the DUP-Sinn Fein power bloc which is the effective ruling elite.

NI21, at the very least, should provide an outlet for those who feel the current set-up is flawed and that a viable opposition is needed.

Time will tell if any of the hopes for NI21 are fulfilled, but it promises to be a slick operation which may cause at least a frisson of excitement.

Even that would be welcome.

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