Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2015: Curse of trophy politics looms large as parties try to motivate tribal voters

Liam Clarke
Liam Clarke

By Liam Clarke

This has been the week when the DUP dropped its support for integrated education and Sinn Fein backed the creation of a new Irish-medium secondary school in a time of austerity with an initial intake of around 15 pupils.

It is also the month in which the DUP issued a statement claiming credit for securing millions of pounds in rate relief and grants for the Orange Order to enable it to turn its halls into community hubs. What all these things have in common is that they have become part of Northern Ireland's wasteful system of trophy politics.

It's with us all the time - but it can get worse at election time.

As the polls get closer, parties are particularly keen to show what they have wrung out of the system against the odds, sometimes even against reason.

The more the "other side" complains about an issue, the better - at least from the point of view of those trying to motivate tribal voters.

The fact that opponents are annoyed is seen by the bigoted or the insecure as a sign that things are going well.

Wasteful spending on pet projects is often excused on the grounds of equality.

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If the Irish language gets something, particularly if it is hard to justify, then a unionist will inevitably pop up to demand the same to show "parity of esteem" for Ulster-Scots.

What our politicians are meant to be doing is building a united society with a single education system, shared facilities and politics that aren't based on fear and rivalry.

More cost-effective ways to promote minority languages might be through TV channels, educational facilities and grants for people to go to Irish language or Ulster-Scots summer schools.

There is also a case for pubs and clubs to be encouraged to run Irish only nights or Ulster-Scots evenings.

A lot of money could be spent on tokenism between now and the general election, and we simply haven't got it. The British and Irish governments need to hold our politicians' feet to the fire on the question of a shared future - after all, they signed a formal undertaking on that.

The voters need to give our politicians the message that taxes are paid for the benefit of the whole community, not just to allow parties to score points off each other with vanity projects.​

Read more:

Northern Ireland politics returning to 'divide and conquer' ahead of 2015 election

Vote finally due on flying of Union flag at Stormont  

Unionist bid to scrap John O'Dowd's Irish-medium school fails 

Cameron queries absence of local parties from TV debates 

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