NI Election Briefing: From radical ideas and lengthy manifestos to doubling the effort in South Antrim

Some overt campaign promises are progressive, others are adventurous, and sometimes some are just plain radical.

Despite Northern Ireland’s habit of lagging behind other nations in innovative political ideas and its penchant for clinging to ‘old-fashioned’ views, most parties are careful not to go overboard when presenting their electoral stand.

Too too soon?

Nonetheless, we got a taste of the radical on Wednesday morning when the Green Party’s Mal O’Hara was grilled on his party’s Assembly manifesto on the BBC’s Nolan Show.

One of the party’s proposals is not so much to treat drug addiction as a health problem, but rather to go further and advocate for the decriminalization of all illegal drugs. This would include everything from cannabis to heroin.

Mr O’Hara repeatedly referred to the so-called “Portuguese model”, when in 2000 the country decriminalized the public and private use and acquisition of all drugs.

Since then, policy results have been largely positive, with drug-related deaths in Portugal remaining below the EU average since 2001; the proportion of prisoners sentenced for drug-related offenses drops from 40% to 15%; and the rate of drug use consistently below the EU average.

In Northern Ireland, the abuse of hard drugs is on the rise and drug-related deaths have doubled over the past decade. However, given our fairly conservative population and parochial attitudes, such a move to decriminalize drugs at this time may be a case of “too too soon” for many, regardless of whether it would save lives. I guess the proof in the pudding will be in the post-election consumption.

Double the effort in South Antrim

Things are accelerating in South Antrim when it comes to the TUV’s election efforts. This week, the party distributed not one, but two campaign flyers to homes across the riding. One from candidate Mel Lucas and another from party leader Jim Allister.

Mr. Lucas’ flyer is complete with an acrostic – a poem or composition in which the first letter of each line forms a word or message. It spells out ‘TRUST TUV’ with phrases such as ‘Union with GB comes first’ and ‘Adamant opposition to Sinn Féin’. Points for creativity.

One side of Mr Allister’s leaflet is a polemic against Northern Ireland protocol, as if the designation of the TUV ballot paper “TUV – No Sea Border” was not clear enough. The other side of the flyer features a personal pledge from Mr. Allister.

“TUV is clear: we will never empower Sinn Féin. Make the TUV the largest unionist party and there will be NO Sinn Féin Prime Minister. We would shamelessly block Michelle O’Neill,” the pledge reads.

“Will the other Unionist parties also commit to blocking a Sinn Féin Prime Minister and stand their ground? We have seen enough discussions during elections followed by turnovers afterwards! TUV is not of that ilk.

At least you could never accuse TUV of not being clear or not giving it 100% effort.

Manifesto or encyclopedia?

If the length of a party’s manifesto translates into votes, the Alliance party will blow off steam in the May election.

Sinn Féin’s manifesto has 20 pages, those of the SDLP, the Greens and the UUP all have 40, while that of the TUV totals 42 pages.

How long is the Alliance Manifesto? A whopping 92 pages. Now, I’m all for being on top of every detail and providing potential voters with a comprehensive list of party promises and policies, but I doubt many will be willing to wade through 92 pages.

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