DUP and Sinn Féin manifesto launches

Two contrasting manifesto launches this morning. With light flooding in through the Waterfront windows, the DUP launched their ring-bound (landscape) manifesto. The DUP filmed the launch and have uploaded it to Youtube.

Peter Robinson declared:

We delivered on well over 90% of the commitments in our 2007 Assembly manifesto.

Interviewed at the end of March, Peter Robinson explained that while “the average citizen will not read the manifesto but it is a guide for the party itself. It’s the party indicating here are our goals and targets for the next four year 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 we have to accomplish.”

This time’s the manifesto contains 500 pledges on just about every topic relevant to the Assembly and local government. The DUP leader will need a to tick 450 boxes to match 90% again!

Once again, it was a confident, bullish and at times humorous DUP event.

Under the current system of government, clearly we will require the support of other parties for some of the objectives we are outlining. How? I would like to have DUP ministers in every department and what could Northern Ireland not achieve in those circumstances?

Twenty thousand new jobs over four years. Increase exports by 50% over a decade. Drop corporation tax down as far as 10%. Reverse the brain drain. Rule out hikes in student fees beyond the current annual inflationary adjustments. The Department of Health would expand with year-on-year real term increases in health spending.

There was a hint of political realism along with a focus on children in the speech:

We would have liked to be in a position to promise affordable childcare Monday to Friday province-wide, but we cannot guarantee it will definitely be delivered within this four year term, so we commit to building towards that goal, making greater use of the schools’ estate.

We will continue to champion early intervention, which not only delivers better outcomes for individuals but substantial long term savings for the public purse. However this requires upfront investment and with limited finances, we must consider innovative means of securing such funding. One option we are keen to explore is that of Social Impact Bonds, which could open up greater opportunities for charities and voluntary sector organisations.

Some of the pledges in the Education Underachievement section mirror recommendations in Dawn Purvis’ recent report.

Older people were not left out with the promise of a dignity charter for Older People along with a “focus to reflect better the positive contribution older people make to Northern Ireland society through their skills and experience”. I half wondered whether that was a message for Ian Paisley Junior to take back home to his father!

The DUP’s proposals for Assembly and Executive reform were summarised as

In the long-term, the best means of governing Northern Ireland is by a voluntary coalition Executive with weighted majority voting of around 65% in the Assembly, and an end to community designation. We want fewer Government Departments and an absolute maximum number of 80 MLAs for subsequent Assembly terms.

while the manifesto booklet suggests that “OFMdFM would be reconstituted as an Executive Office” alongside seven suggested departments: Economy and Business; Education (including higher); Health and Social Services; Regional Development; Justice; Communities and Social Welfare; Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development.

The manifesto document proposes a short term measure to introduce “a non-binding motion of no confidence in a minister” that would get around the current inability of the Assembly to remove a DUP or SF minister.

Picking some pledges at random from the hundreds included in the 32 page booklet:

  • Foster cloud computing services and new application design, and attract new data centres.
  • Seek to introduce a requirement for an upfront deposit or similar demonstration of commitment from claimants, to reduce spurious industrial tribunal cases.
  • Use hosting the MTV Europe Music Awards to promote the new Northern Ireland and Belfast as a City of Music.
  • Seek to reduce crippling Air Passenger Duty rates introduced by the UK Government while risk diverting passengers away from the Province to the Irish Republic. [UUP had something similar in their manifesto]
  • Develop full weeks of high quality Province-wide activities to complement 12th July and St Patrick’s Day holidays.
  • Review the future role of the Policing Board in light of the transfer of policing and justice functions to the NI Assembly.
  • Continue after the election period to build broader consensus around amending the definition of a victim to exclude perpetrators of terrorist acts.
  • Separate the dual responsibilities of Northern Ireland Screen, with the international component coming under Invest NI and educational elements being the responsibility of DCAL.
  • Appoint a Social Mobility Czar.

Interviewed the manifesto launch, DUP’s director of elections Simon Hamilton described the snazzy booklet as “probably one of the most detailed and most comprehensive manifestos that any party will do in this election or indeed any party in any election in Northern Ireland’s history will have put forward”.

Less than an hour later, Sinn Féin launched their manifesto in the hot, windowless Baby Grand theatre. The party rejected paper copies in favour of handing out 11MB worth of PDFs on branded 2GB USB sticks. Unfortunately the manufacture and loading of the electronic giveaways probably outweighed just printing off the 24 page manifesto!

Sinn Fein Gerry Adams shadow at 2011 manifesto launchTo make up for the lack of paper to pour over and scribble on, after opening remarks by party president and Louth TD Gerry Adams, the audience was treated to a 14 minute narration of bullet-pointed manifesto slides over a bed of folk music. Even some of the candidates looked bemused by the end.

The manifesto celebrates Sinn Féin success in getting 5 MPs returned to Westminster (Gerry Adams’ foreword strangely refers to “June 2010” rather than “May”) and the more recent success with 14 TDs elected to Leinster House.

Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party. We are the only all-Ireland party.

Though the Greens and the Socialist Party would argue that on various technicalities!

Half the size of their 2007 manifesto, by page 8 of today’s document, the retrospective analysis is over and the manifesto moves onto fresh promises. Around Irish Unity, Sinn Féin seek the establishment of “an all-Ireland Constitutional Forum … to discuss and bring forward a Draft Constitution that would be put to the people in a referendum” as well as “representation for the existing 18 Northern MPs in the Daíl”.

Economic pledges include one to “deliver increased economic and fiscal powers away from London and into the locally accountable Executive and Assembly” as well as another to “harmonise all-Ireland taxation and regulation policies”. The four main banks would contribute to the recovery from the economic crisis by donating £25 million per annum for four years.

  • Various European funding channels would be tapped to “enable the Housing Executive to borrow £250 million per year from, amongst others, the European Investment Bank to fund social housing” and “drawing down an additional 100 million [currency unspecified] from the EU ‘Seventh Framework Programme’ over the next two years to fund Research and Development and promote innovation”.
  • The Credit Union movement would be asked “to create a £100 million Social Fund targeted at growing indigenous business with social outcomes based on objective need”.
  • Sinn Féin would implement RPA and establish ESA. Assembly committee chairs and vice-chairs would no longer receive additional remuneration.
  • Increased quality sporting provision for all minority grounds, not least those with learning disabilities. Increasing the number of adults who participate in sport and physical activity as part of the preventative health agenda.
  • Increased library provision, particularly in rural areas.
  • An independent, international truth-recovery process convened under the auspices of a credible, international third-party like the United Nations, which is victim centres and which involves all participants to the conflict.
  • Block the introduction of separate household water charges.
  • Harmonisation of the two education systems on the island.
  • Sinn Féin opposed the introduction of student fees and continues to oppose student fees – including any increases.
  • Delivery of £20 million annually to a new Social Investment Fund (SIF) for the most disadvantaged communities additional to funding of other departments. Ensuring £20 million to a new Social Protection Fund (SPF) in 2011/12 for those most affected by British-government central welfare cuts, while supporting at least £20m in each of the following years.
  • Reinstate the 50/50 recruitment policy within the PSNI to ensure that Patten targets of 40% nationalist/republican personnel is attained, and set appropriate targets for PSNI representativeness regarding gender (50/50), ethnic minorities and sexual orientation.
  • Promote a ‘growing-your-own-food’ culture by supporting allotments and community farms.

Afterwards, Gerry Kelly gamely agreed to sum up the manifesto. He said it was about “leadership and equality” using the campaign slogan “Leadership across Ireland” and pointing to Sinn Féin’s desire to see harmonisation and eliminating duplication. He added that the party’s “consistent big idea is equality” and highlighted educational applications of this policy.

Referring to a desire to deliver, Gerry Kelly commented on the opportunity of the next four years.

This is the first time in something like 15 years we’re actually going to have a break from elections every 18 months to two years. I would argue that would allow for the political space to do the type of conversations and political conversation about moving forward that maybe wasn’t as easy in the past.

Both the DUP and Sinn Féin set out detailed manifestos that largely focussed on practical policies the Assembly could implement. But while there are some overlaps (water rates, Altnagelvin radio therapy unit, etc) both parties will face compromise or deadlock in the years to come (50/50 recruitment, post-primary education, Victims, RPA, etc) as they try to deliver what they are promising the electorate.

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