Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's voters deserve a voice

Editor's Viewpoint

The DUP's complaints about Peter Robinson not being invited to take part in the party leaders' debate screened on ITV last night seemed, beforehand, to be a bit of a sham fight, a ritual protest that had to be made. But almost as soon as the debate began many Northern Ireland viewers must have felt a real sense of being slighted.

The DUP is Northern Ireland's largest party at Westminster, having eight MPs in the last Parliament, and hoping to gain another one this time around. Compare that to the last Parliament's party strengths of four of last night's participants - the SNP had six MPs, Plaid Cymru three, Ukip two and the Greens a solitary one

Northern Ireland politicians - and a fair number of the public - are often accused of being paranoid, but this shambles of a debate could certainly feed into that feeling of coming from a place apart. We are a part of the United Kingdom yet our politicians were treated as if they were boisterous schoolboys to be shunted out of sight while the grown-ups discussed important matters of state.

Do we not care about the state of the NHS or how the next government will balance the books or any of the other topics discussed during the debate?

Those issues are as relevant to us as to the people of Wales or Scotland, which also have their devolved administrations. But unlike Northern Ireland, those countries' representatives were able to voice to a national audience the matters which are most pressing to their constituents. We alone in the UK were left without a voice.

The decision not to invite the DUP to the leaders' debate defies logic. The party's strength, Northern Ireland's position within the UK and the high priority given by successive Westminster governments to bedding down the peace process all made compelling reasons for an invitation to the debate.

It matters not that much of the debate was a rehearsal of well-established positions and ritual condemnation of opponents' policies. On a point of principle Northern Ireland should have been represented at the podium.

Of course, Mr Robinson can use this slight to his advantage, encouraging his supporters to come out in increased strength to give their answer to the broadcasters. And it may also harden his resolve when the bargaining begins if another hung Parliament emerges in May.

Belfast Telegraph


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