Editor's Viewpoint: Manifestos are more like letters to Santa
It is not often that the social policies of Northern Ireland's parties are deemed of much relevance when it comes round to elections. But this year, the manifestos have been skilfully constructed not so much to explain innovative ideas, but more to disguise issues the parties don't want to talk about.
The DUP, the arch Brexiteers in a province where the majority of people voted to remain in the EU, hardly mentioned the B word in its 50-page document, the largest of any of the parties. Sinn Fein, by contrast, had around 15 pages, but then it knows that no election here was ever decided on how to make the province carbon zero or whether the Apprenticeship Levy is a good thing or not.
The SDLP may argue on the doorsteps that it wants to maximise the remain vote on December 12, but that does not explain why it stood aside in North Belfast to give an abstentionist party the opportunity to beat the DUP. Even if Sinn Fein win, they will not add to any other remain MPs at Westminster.
However, overall the manifestos read more like letters to Santa Claus than policies which could be realised. There are little or no costings given for any of the suggestions - how much for keeping the welfare mitigation package in operation for another year, never mind the mind-boggling ideas of a bridge to Scotland or laying an electricity cable to Iceland?
Unlike other regions of the UK, Northern Ireland has no tax-raising powers to pay for the more exotic daydreams of the parties who have shied away from the only plausible method of raising money locally through water charges. Parties in the province prefer the time honoured method of asking Treasury to hand over extra funding rather than take an obviously unpopular decision.
The parties are nothing if not consistent. Kicking the can down the road is the preferred option if a difficult decision has to be taken. After all, it is almost three years since devolved government fell and in the meantime, the parties have seen public services crumble, notably health and education, but have felt no responsibility for going back to work to tackle, never mind solve, the crisis.
Politics here, especially since the advent of Brexit, have become increasingly toxic, but the manifestos have added a leavening of bafflement to the mix. Who do the parties think will pay for their policies? It is unlikely that the Treasury striving to fund Tory or Labour promises will have any sympathy for this region.
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