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Election briefing: From radical ideas and lengthy manifestos to doubling the effort in South Antrim

Andrew Madden


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Alliance Party leader Naomi Long at the launch of the Alliance Party Assembly 2022 election manifesto at CIYMS in Belfast (Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long at the launch of the Alliance Party Assembly 2022 election manifesto at CIYMS in Belfast (Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

PA

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long at the launch of the Alliance Party Assembly 2022 election manifesto at CIYMS in Belfast (Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

There are some manifesto election pledges that are progressive, others are adventurous and occasionally some are just plain radical.

Given Northern Ireland’s habit of lagging behind other nations when it comes to novel political ideas and its penchant for hanging on to ‘old-fashioned’ views, most parties are careful not to go too far when setting out their election stall.

Too much too soon?

Nevertheless, we got a taste of the radical on Wednesday morning when the Green Party’s Mal O’Hara was grilled on his party's Assembly manifesto on the BBC’s Nolan Show.

One of the party’s proposals is not so much that they want to treat drug addiction as a health issue, but they would actually go further and advocate for the decriminalisation of all illegal drugs. This would include everything from cannabis to heroin.

Mr O’Hara referenced the so-called ‘Portugal model’ on several occasions, when back in 2000 the country decriminalised the public and private use and acquisition of all drugs.

Since then, the results of the policy have been largely positive, with drug-related deaths in Portugal remaining below the EU average since 2001; the proportion of prisoners sentenced for drugs offences dropping from 40% to 15%; and the rate of drug use consistently below the EU average.

In Northern Ireland, the abuse of hard drugs is rising and drug-related deaths have doubled in the past decade. However, given our fairly conservative population and parochial attitudes, such a move to decriminalise drugs right now may be a case of ‘too much too soon’ for many, regardless of the fact that it would save lives. I guess the proof in the pudding will be in the eating post-election.

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Doubling the effort in South Antrim

Things are ramping up in South Antrim when it comes to the TUV’s election efforts. This week, the party has been distributing not one, but two election flyers to homes in the constituency. One from the candidate Mel Lucas and another from the party leader, Jim Allister.

Mr Lucas’ flyer is complete with an acrostic — a poem or composition in which the first letter of each line forms a word or message. It spells out “TRUST TUV” with phrases such as “The Union with GB comes first” and “Unyielding opposition to Sinn Féin”. Points for creativity.

One side of Mr Allister’s flyer is a polemic against the Northern Ireland Protocol, as if the TUV’s ballot paper designation ‘TUV — No Sea Border’ wasn't clear enough. The other side of the flyer features a personal pledge from Mr Allister.

“TUV is clear: we will never empower Sinn Féin. Make TUV the biggest unionist party and there will NOT be a Sinn Féin first minister. We would unapologetically block Michelle O’Neill,” the pledge reads.

“Will other unionist parties equally commit to blocking a Sinn Féin first minister and will they stand their ground? We’ve seen enough talk in elections followed by rolling over afterwards! TUV is not of that ilk.”

At least you could never accuse the TUV of being unclear or not giving it 100% effort.

Manifesto or encyclopaedia?

If the length of a party’s manifesto translated into votes, the Alliance Party would romp home in May’s elections.


Sinn Féin’s manifesto comes in at 20 pages, the SDLP’s, Greens’ and the UUP’s are all 40, while the TUV’s totals 42 pages.

So how long is Alliance’s manifesto? A whopping 92 pages. Now, I’m all for being over every jot and tittle and providing prospective voters with a comprehensive list of a party’s pledges and policies, but I doubt many will be up for slogging through 92 pages.


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