Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Time to get real on election issues

First Minister Peter Robinson appeared to have an irony bypass at the launch of his party's Assembly election campaign yesterday. While emphasising that the DUP will fight the election on the sort of issues which dominate politics in other parts of the UK - the economy, jobs and education - he also resurrected the idea of forming a single unionist party to ensure that Martin McGuinness could not become First Minister after the poll.

In these tough economic times Northern Ireland has to get away from its traditional Orange versus Green politics. Mr Robinson is entirely correct in identifying the real issues, to which can be added tougher jail sentences, fair rates, a solution to the water rates conundrum and a better health service.

These are the issues that matter on a daily basis to all voters irrespective of national allegiance or long-term political ambitions. And these are the issues which all parties should be fighting the election on.

This newspaper has consistently argued that plurality of representation is the best way forward for this society. Despite the travails of what is now regarded as the middle-ground parties - the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and even Alliance - their political state of health is important. It is only when the electorate is given as wide a choice of candidates as possible that democracy really works. That is how it works in other UK regions and how it should work here.

Speculation about forming pan-unionist or pan-nationalist blocs to defeat the other side is a distraction from the extreme economic problems facing this province, problems which are likely to get worse as public expenditure cuts bite deeper and deeper. The real enemy facing people here is not the other side - whoever that is - but the squeeze on services and quality of life. That is what the election should, and must, be fought on.

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