RHI could be key poll issue

Posted By: March 01, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tomorrow voters go to the polls in one of the more unpredictable elections of recent times.

The reality is it is an election that none of the parties really wanted, and certainly, none had planned for, coming just ten months after the last assembly poll.

Last May it was all fairly predictable in terms of the likely share of the vote and even the anticipated progress of the executive programme which promised a new era of cooperation and joined-up government following the Fresh Start agreement.

As we now know, all was far from well behind the scenes with the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal bringing hidden tensions to the surface and eventually driving a wedge between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

This is an unusual election for Northern Ireland in that it has been dominated by an issue that is all about political judgment and financial competence.

Of course, there are other issues at play, but it is public disenchantment over the RHI fiasco that could prove decisive in this poll.

There is undoubtedly widespread anger at how politics has been conducted at Stormont which may make some people change how they normally vote.

But there is also a danger that the electorate is so fed up with politicians that they choose to stay at home, which would be deeply regrettable.

The ballot box is the best way to send out a message to our politicians. Failing to vote simply lets them off the hook.

In last May’s assembly election, the turnout was 54.9 percent. Almost half the voting population did not exercise their franchise.

We have seen some dramatic results in recent polls, in the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election.

We do not tell people how to vote but encourage them to use their democratic right.

If people do not vote they have no right to complain about the outcome.