Campaign proving more boring than “brutal”

Posted By: February 04, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Saturday, February 4, 2017

We’re nearly three weeks into the assembly election campaign, but you could be forgiven for not having noticed. The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) crisis that helped precipitate March 2’s snap poll may have grabbed the public’s attention, but the same can’t be said for the election campaign. The electorate’s weariness can account for much of this apathy, but it’s clear that all the parties, with the possible exception of Sinn Féin, have been caught on the hop. Trying to summon enthusiasm for an election and pitch fresh ideas just nine months after we last went to the polls is certainly proving problematic. Be thankful there are a few scandals that can be cast up now and then.

Thus far too there has been little evidence to support DUP leader Arlene Foster’s prediction that we were in for a “brutal” campaign. What exactly the former first minister meant by this is open to interpretation, but we can assume she meant a campaign characterized by tribal drum beating and mud slinging, as opposed to careful consideration and dissection of each parties’ policies.

The DUP have tried to steer the debate away from the RHI, primarily by focussing on unfounded perceptions around historical prosecutions and the usual scaremongering over the possibility of a Sinn Féin first minister. However, this has proved only partially successful, and there remains a high likelihood of further embarrassing revelations around the botched green energy scheme over the next month.

What we can perhaps expect is a less prominent campaign role for the embattled Mrs. Foster, who was very much to the fore ahead of last May’s election. The DUP will be the last to admit that their leader is damaged goods but anywhere she appears in public her oversight of the RHI is likely to be raised, meaning she’ll be much less visible.

It’s early days, but so far this campaign has been lackluster and low key. On current form, we’re heading for a poor turnout and little change in Stormont’s overall configuration.