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DUP and Sinn Fein will be raising mood music in run-up to poll

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Northern Ireland is rapidly descending back into the politics of divide and conquer as parties gear up for the forthcoming general election, it has been warned

Northern Ireland is rapidly descending back into the politics of divide and conquer as parties gear up for the forthcoming general election, it has been warned

Northern Ireland is rapidly descending back into the politics of divide and conquer as parties gear up for the forthcoming general election, it has been warned

Look forward to an age of optimism as the two big parties prepare to set out their achievements in the run-up to the election.

Well, when I say an age of optimism, I really mean a few months. After the election in May there will be more cuts, more negotiations and a marching season looming.

In the meantime efforts are being made to raise the mood music among voters. Both parties are aware of the need to defend what they have achieved and make the most of it. The feedback has been that crucial sections of voters want to see evidence of effective government and to be given hope of a better future, not prophesies of doom and protests.

Monday will see the first move when, if everything goes according to plan, Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein will be elected Speaker - or presiding officer - at Stormont. It can only happen with DUP support because it requires unionist as well as nationalist majorities.

A week later Sinn Fein will return the serve by voting for a DUP nominee as Mr McLaughlin's deputy. The symbolism is heavy. If a DUP member is prepared to serve as a deputy to a Sinn Fein one then can that be a precedent for a unionist being prepared to serve under a Sinn Fein or SDLP First Minister in the future? That is what new relationships could mean, though there is no sign of the DUP losing its overall lead just yet. So there is time for that idea that power can change hands peacefully, which is the hallmark of a functioning democracy, to sink in before it is tested.

There will be a number of other events in the coming months to keep our spirits up. The legislation for the devolution of corporation tax will be going through Westminster. Although nothing will happen until 2017 and there will be strings, the passage of the Bill will be an occasion to predict economic growth. Legislation will also go through Stormont giving allowances and speaking time to parties which are eligible for ministries but do not take them up.

That will enable the DUP and Sinn Fein to put it up to parties like the UUP and SDLP, which are critical of aspects of the agreement. They now have the option of leaving the Executive and being given a full role at Stormont.

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The DUP has a reasonably good story to tell. A few months ago many commentators were predicting a coup against Peter Robinson and doom for the party before Christmas. That hasn't happened. It has, it will argue, shown that it is fit to govern and it will lay out a glittering picture of economic and social revival, with it at the helm.

Some suspect an exit strategy is being put in place by Peter Robinson. If he secures the devolution of corporation tax, gets Sinn Fein to bite the bullet on welfare reform and wins back East Belfast from Alliance in the Westminster election, that would be a very high note for its leader to leave public life on. It would be hard to find a better one.

Sinn Fein also has a good story. It can say how it dug its heels in when everyone said it was impossible and got all the Executive parties to successfully demand more money from the British Government.

Other parties would have settled for less from London, it can argue.

That is how democratic politics rubs along, or should do. It involves compromise, putting the best face on things and making the best use of available resources.


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