Open debate in DUP contest would be good for the party and for Northern Ireland

News Letter editorial on Thursday May 6 2021:

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Thursday, 6th May 2021, 11:38 am
News Letter editorial

Political parties have, and should have, wide latitude as to how they run their affairs.

If they want to be centralised and closed, so be it. If they want to be de-centralised and have open debate on every key policy position, fine.

They should be able to organise as they see fit, provided they comply with disclosure, financing and employment law.

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If a particular party operates in a way that voters find disagreeable, they can punish that party it at the ballot box.

Parties that are extremely open and give their representatives free rein as to what they say and believe can run into serious disciplinary problems, and can even fall apart.

The DUP has long tended to impose firm parameters as to what its politicians can do, such as when talking to media.

That controlling impulse is in place in this current election for the DUP leadership. Candidates for the top position have been banned from doing interviews during the contest.

This is not only an unreasonable bar, it is an unwise one for the DUP. It will make it easier for the party to select a replacement to Arlene Foster who has avoided saying something they later regret, or indeed that the whole DUP regrets. But it means the candidates cannot be grilled their thinking.

This is problematic at any time, but above all now. For example, yesterday Mrs Foster attended a North South meeting, again raising doubt as to DUP policy on such meetings.

And the latest troubling development on legacy, relating to the RUC (a force that was set to lose most under the Stormont House Agreement with its police misconduct element), coming a day after the disturbing case around the killing of the IRA terrorist Joe McCann collapsed, means that we do need to know what the DUP believes about how to proceed legacy.

Opacity will not help the party. It will merely, for example, lead people to assume that the DUP is going to take a position (such as a tough one on the Irish Sea border) only later to be disappointed if no such action is forthcoming.

It would be better for the key positions of the two candidates to be made clear to both the DUP and the wider population before they are chosen.

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Alistair Bushe