Election 2005: the issues that never showed…

The Election Commission’s post election seminar took place at Queens just under a fortnight ago. It brought together a number of players from NI’s political and civil society to look at what might be learned from the experience of this year’s double election. I was asked to present a highly personal view of the main issues and outcomes of the campaign, which was followed by a fascinating series of presentations from each of the five main parties’ directors of elections.

All good realistic stuff. Tim Lemon gave few hostages to fortune, but presaged his shortish speech with the honest remark that his party had been the only true and visible losers in the election. The internal review arising is thorough and ongoing. Sean Kearney of Sinn Fein noticeably kept well away from his party’s performance and concentrated largely on the negative effects of recent electoral reform on voter turnout.

In the breakout group on politics and the media jointly chaired by Ciaran O’Kelly and Liz Fawcett led a spirited discussion between politicians and several members of the media. Both complained that the other was not sufficiently interested in issues, with one radio producer suggesting they’d had to manufacture a series of pieces on issues in the absence of any substantial response from parties. Politicians responded complaining that when the do put issue based material out, it is consistently ignored.

Even where PA, for instance, made efforts to garner issue material from each of the parties this resulted in poor take up from the wider media. One DUP representative hinted too that when policy material is presented to the media they often miss important difference in detail. A representative of another political party told the group he had had to resort to photo opps to get any interest from any of the media outlets.

It may be that without any significant means by which the local parties can formulate policy and drive it through the government machine – there is no real pull in locally written policy documents. However with both sides claiming the other is not listening, it may be time for the local media and politicians to get together and attempt to fill the communication gap?

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