Belfast Telegraph

Face it: We're Westminster outsiders and no-one's interested in huffing and puffing of our parties

By Don Anderson

I saw a cartoon recently. Two dogs standing amid a vista of war carnage and rubble, the only living creatures left around. One is saying to the other, 'It all started over who had the most peace-loving and forgiving god.' It was about Islamic fundamentalism, but it could equally have been about Northern Ireland. It's how we are seen.

If the parties pause their internecine struggles in Northern Ireland, it is only to snarl and spit at political parties elsewhere. The latest battleground in that respect is upon the issue of electoral broadcasts on television in the May general election campaign. David Cameron was probably making a sophisticated political joke when he said he would not involve himself in television debate if the minuscule Green Party was also not involved. He is long enough in the political game to have suspected that every party as small as the Greens, and those somewhat larger in Westminster representation, like the DUP and Sinn Fein, would begin claiming discrimination.

Their claim will raise little interest at Westminster because the Labour Party does not organise here and the Conservatives make do with a shadowy association with the Ulster Unionist Party. The DUP and Sinn Fein are the fourth and sixth largest parties at Westminster. In the row about electoral broadcasts in the UK, we don't matter very much.

The brutal truth is that Northern Irish people have little democratic capital in London. Beyond England, Scotland and Wales have provided national leaders, but not us. Our politicians don't even have a chance of being in the official opposition. So when it comes to speculation about who might hold the balance of power after the May election, the pundits have been looking more at Scotland and the SNP, the Lib Dems and even Ukip before looking across the Irish Sea.

Both the BBC and Ofcom have reams of paper setting out the rules and practices for Party Electoral Broadcasts as required under the Communications Act. The workings of that Act will determine whether NI parties get their snouts into the national electoral broadcasting trough. Huffing and puffing by people considered outsiders by Westminster will not blow that house down.

The political establishment think about us much as those two dogs in the cartoon.

  • Don Anderson is a political journalist

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