Friday, February 17, 2017

Northern Ireland Debate

The leaders of the 5 major parties in Northern Ireland held a debate yesterday. You can watch it on the UTV website that the link goes to. I'll try to summarize.

Remember the context; the DUP and SF were the only two parties in government, while the UUP and SDLP in particular focused on being an opposition. The Alliance was also in de jure opposition, and de facto held no government power, but the Alliance has always acted as a moderate neutral party.

In the debate, SF and the DUP both shared one talking point, that only SF and the DUP can finish first or second; that the First Minister and deputy First Minister must therefore come from these two parties, and that without SF or the DUP, that the entire system of government will fail. They differed on why the government collapsed, with the DUP blaming SF, and SF blaming the DUP.

The other 3 parties generally agreed that the DUP was primarily at fault for the government collapse, but also that SF acted rashly and didn't need to bring down the government. The UUP and SDLP basically offered a joint alternative government to SF and the DUP.

The only thing all parties agreed on was there would be a period of negotiations after the election, a period that could result in changing of the existing agreements that dictate how NI is governed. This means everything is up for grabs. We could see a change to the petition of concern, the way the First Minister is elected, potentially we could even do away with the concept of a deputy First Minister. The only limit to what can be done is agreement of the major parties.

All in all I think that SF did what it needed to, but the DUP failed to do what it needed to do. SF presented themselves as the vanguard of the nationalist community while the DUP could only threaten with "SF might win the election." Given that the powers of the FM are identical to the dFM I don't think this held much weight. The SDLP meanwhile didn't do horribly, and the Alliance made their points well.

However, I'd have to say from my own judgement at least that Mike Nesbitt and the UUP gained the most out of this debate. Nesbitt presented a clear alternative to the DUP; a party that works with nationalists not because it has to but because it wants to. He also came across as the most competent of all the leaders.

How all of this will play out is undetermined, and given the nature of Northern Ireland, it's 50-50 on if we get another poll before the election; but from what I've seen in this debate and the news in general, I'd expect the UUP to do very well.

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