Looking back at the DUP’s 2007 Manifesto

Stormont’s political structures don’t lend themselves to parties making too many promises in their election manifestos. And so reading through the DUP’s 2007 Assembly manifesto, could have been titled Playing it Safe rather than Getting it Right.

This morning the DUP will launch their latest campaign manifesto in the run up to May’s Assembly elections, but I wanted to take a look back to see how their performance matched their promises in 2007.

DUP 2007 Assembly Manifesto launch

Unionism needs a strong DUP. The safeguards we have negotiated depend on a strong DUP in the Assembly and the Executive. Votes for independents or fringe unionist candidates endanger a unionist majority on the Executive, regardless of the size of the unionist majority within the Assembly. With the UUP achieving little more than half our level of support in recent elections, only one unionist party is realistically capable of winning more seats than Sinn Fein to stop them being nominated for the post of First Minister.

There’s a paragraph from Ian R. K. Paisley’s introduction that they might just copy and paste into this year’s document! Ten pages later, the manifesto – which is heavy on repetition and generous with its white space – returns to this subject saying “at the last Assembly election [2003] the DUP was only 15,000 votes ahead of Sinn Fein”. (The margin increased in 2007, though reversed in the 2009 European and 2010 Westminster elections.)

I do wonder whether the DUP’s Seven Principles will continue to be trotted out, or whether their focus on the language of “terrorism”, “peaceful and democratic means”, “terrorist structures and weaponry” have had their day and need to be replaced with “economic stability”, “settled future” and “low taxes”.

Back in 2007, the DUP had some things to say about “rectifying fundamental flaws in the Belfast Agreement” and the previously “unaccountable Executive”.

All Ministers will be bound by decisions of the Executive allowing a more coherent administration. Ministers will no longer be able to act alone, in narrow party interests.

Not sure that’s a promise they were able to sustain.

They were unhappy with the limited accountability of North South co-operation.

“Because of the new arrangements the DUP has negotiated we will have a veto on all North South decisions. This is a huge advance and removes any danger to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland through nationalist Ministers reaching agreement with their Dublin counterparts.

In the last four years, have the DUP had to rely on this veto?

Page 25 of the 2007 manifesto dealt with possible misconceptions of various issues.

  • EU Nationals in Civil Service. HM Revenue and Customer have been driving these reforms on a UK-wide basis. It is not NI specific. ROI and other EU Nationals will not have access to all civil service posts in NI. [This seems to have vanished off the agenda.]
  • Academic Selection. Due to our negotiations at St Andrews, if there is no agreement on specific arrangements for post primary transfer, schools will be free to select on the basic of academic ability. This will ensure genuine efforts to secure agreement on realistic common arrangements for placing pupils. [Success?]
  • Creation of Seven Super Councils. In order to proceed with a Seven Council model there would need to be a majority vote. If necessary this could be cross community. [Didn’t come to that!]

At the same time as talking about securing academic selection, the 2007 manifesto also addressed the “need to improve the qualifications of those not so academically gifted”.

Children from areas of social deprivation perform less well. It is important to have more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds doing well … The DUP has been prominent in opposing cuts in services resulting from insufficient education and library board funding … Urgent action is require to deal with the problem of underachievement. Too many children especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds leave school without essential skills.

Their acknowledgement that “it is vital that action follows the recommendations which come forward” from task forces that look at lack of educational achievement doesn’t seem to have been followed up in the last four years.

With regard to the Independent Monitoring Commission, the DUP said in 2007 that “it is vital that this body continues with its work and the unionist community has confidence in the reliability of its reports.” In the meantime, they seem happy that the IMC delivered its final report a few weeks ago and has shut up shop.

Back in 2007, Executive reform and voluntary coalition were being talked about.

We continue to believe that a voluntary coalition is the best permanent solution for Northern Ireland to provide good government for our people. We also believe that it is important that the designation system is replaced by weighted majority voting.

Under new arrangements the Assembly has established a committee which is required to consider these matters and can make recommendations, It is our goal to work to end the present arrangements as quickly as possible and we do not envisage the present arrangements as anything other than short-term.

Make that short to medium term. Back in 2007 they referred back to their 2003 proposals to reduce the number of government department and cut the number of assembly members, adding:

Cutting bureaucracy will be a key priority for the DUP in Government.

But these too have gone on the long finger.

Good news on the economy. Their 2007 priority of “a cut in our corporation tax to entice foreign investors to set up in NI and existing companies to expand” has finally become more than a distinct possibility. However, the “massive investment” in rail and water infrastructure seems to have been less successful than roads, sewerage, energy and telecommunications.

Talk about cutting the cost of doing business included “a simplified tax and benefits system” and “an electricity market within British Isles context delivering competitive energy prices” and “lower fuel duty”. Could try harder might be the comment on the report.

Back in 2007, the manifesto said that “the Strategic Investment Board has made an important contribution to addressing Northern Ireland’s investment plans. This will have to continue”. Though the body is so strategic that OFMDFM were unable to appoint a new chief executive for over a year.

Overall, I wasn’t surprised by how few actual promises were contained in the manifesto. There’s lots of talk about previous achievements, views of how processes should run, but very few active pledges. On the other hand, the DUP appear to have been pretty consistent in keeping to the spirit of what they did say back in 2007. While there’s a bit of nit-picking above, they did hold to most of their commitments.

Update – Talking before the DUP’s Assembly campaign launch event this morning, Peter Robinson said that “over 90% of our manifest commitments have been accomplished”. Asked why the party continues to print a manifesto, Peter replied saying

I suppose the average citizen may not read the manifesto but it is a guide for the party itself indicating our goals and targets for the next four years and that’s what we’ve done. I have a well-worn copy of the manifesto because I keep it in front of me and I keep looking to see what else we have to do and what we have to accomplish. So it is setting out our stall, the press have it and it is available to your political opponents – and they’ll not be slow in telling you if you’ve come short.

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