With so many powers devolved to Northern Ireland we will only become a factor at Westminster in the event of a hung parliament. And even then Northern Ireland political parties shouldn’t get too carried away with their importance. In such circumstances the Lib/Dems are morel likely to have the real clout way ahead of any local party here. Peter Robinson summed up the positions of local parties apart from his own when it comes to Westminster.
• The Ulster Unionists are in bed with the Tories (or some of them).
• The SDLP are fellow travellers of Labour.
• Sinn Fein abstains.
• Should there be a miracle (ie Robinson losing his own seat to Naomi Long), the Alliance Party will line up with the Lib/Dems.
•- Jim Allister would probably align with the Conservatives.
The DUP are wisely hanging loose. Peter Robinson, if elected, will have leverage.
Economist John Simpson and former Alliance man Seamus Close have made the most intelligent observations to date about this election, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. I draw attention to some of their points below.
With most of the powers now devolved the big issue for local MPs will be influencing, if they can, what happens when it comes to voting on financial matters, taxation etc at Westminster.
For the first time for decades the Ulster Unionist Party is facing into an election without a single MP. That party has got into bed with the Conservatives and that marriage has been ‘pre nupped’ for the greater part by Jonathan Caine but caught between a rock and a hard place the wheel has come off Cameron’s wagon in Fermanagh/ South Tyrone.
The DUP stared the Ulster Unionists down and now there is no Conservative candidate with a unity candidate having emerged under the banner of the DUP and the UUP and not sponsored by the conservative party. The deal promoted by the Conservatives was a candidate in all eighteen constituencies. One wonders to what this high-minded and lofty Conservative aspiration amounts now?
A party source said in recent weeks:
“The Conservative party’s fear is that we will be dragged down into the gutter of tribalism instead of Northern Ireland politics being elevated onto the national stage.”
Having seen Adrian Watson off the pitch in South Antrim on a matter of social concern Reg Empey surprised many and agreed to be the candidate himself. Should the UUP leader fail to get elected will the band play Good Night Irene for him? And what if the Ulster Unionist alliance ends up where it started with no MPs?
But in general terms the biggest enemy of this election may be apathy. It is taking place in Northern Ireland against a very fractured background.
The SDLP is not yet comfortable in its skin. It has a new unproven leader in Margaret Ritchie. She hasn’t had sufficient time to flex her muscles and to make her mark as a leader.
Sinn Fein has already got its ballot paper armies on the streets. This is an election machine worth seeing. Any idea that Gerry Adams is going to suffer because he won’t say he was in the IRA is not sustainable.
Adams skillfully put his personal dilemma arising from his brother Liam’s child abuse allegation to bed on the Nolan Show when he was afforded maximum time to give a full exposition of the role he played in that case.
Even so, there are some imponderables in the Sinn Fein camp. What is going to happen in Fermanagh South Tyrone now that there is a Unionist unity candidate? (I will revisit the finer details down there at another time when the dust settles on the final list of runners across Northern Ireland.)
Getting a handle on the DUP is more complex. This is Peter Robinson’s first Westminster election as party leader. The European Election was hardly an auspicious start under Mr Robinson’s tutelage and he has admitted as much.
The backdrop against which the DUP is fighting this election is none too easy. The expenses scandal lingers like a bad smell. There is also Mr Robinson’s domestic crisis and the attending difficulties visited upon him.
He remains in the eye of the storm over the £5 land strip. Why did he bother at all to get involved with Fred Fraser over that piece of land if he had an independent free standing access to his garden?
If Peter Robinson has a perfectly logical and cogent argument for doing what he did then people should hear it. He will be asked more questions on this matter. He chose to go public on the BBC and missed his opportunity serving only to compound his difficulty.
Lashing out and calling almost everyone but the Pope a liar was far from prudent.
In the circles in which I move and this includes the world of the DUP, the majority of people wished Mr Robinson had not been so ‘incendiary’ in his defence. Will that constituency simply say “The media are agin us. Here’s to you Peter – You are our man?” It may well be the case.
But Peter Robinson has to win his own seat. He has to have a win in Strangford and above all Ian Paisley Junior, not taking North Antrim, would unlock the door to hell as far as the DUP leader would be concerned. This election will be a big test of Mr Robinson’s durability and leadership.
Jim Allister notched up 66.000 votes in the European Election. A recapturing of that vote across Northern Ireland could have far reaching implications. Mr Robinson has been cumulatively hurt due to many events since becoming leader.
Those fourteen dissenting voices on Policing and Justice have not gone away. They symbolise the end of an era: the Paisley-led and socially homogeneous DUP.
This is going to be one hell of an election with most of the attention, not to mention pressure falling squarely upon Peter Robinson.