Andrew Neil and Mark Carruthers with the latest political news, interviews and debate. Andrew is joined by Penny Mordaunt MP, Neil Hamilton and Kamal Ahmed.
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Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland.
The posters are up and the candidates are smiling,
but the gloves are well and truly off
in the battle for seats in next month's Assembly election.
We'll hear from the Alliance Party's deputy leader, Naomi Long.
Plus Kevin Magee looks at some of the electoral alternatives
to Stormont's big five.
In the last Assembly election, for example,
14 different political parties fielded candidates
and 15 independents stood for election,
all trying to take a seat up there.
And with their thoughts on a busy week in politics,
my guests of the day are commentators
Patricia MacBride and Newton Emerson.
So it's just under a month to the Assembly election.
This day in four weeks, it'll all be over.
Naomi Long is back in the fray.
She's trying to win back her seat in East Belfast,
and she's with me now in the studio.
-Morning to you.
-Thanks very much for joining us.
The party launched its CANDIDATES this week...
The manifesto launch comes in a couple of weeks' time...
The message of your campaign seems to be about
fast-forwarding to a fresh new start,
an optimistic message at a time
when a lot of voters are not, frankly, hugely positive
about local politics.
Well, I think it's really important.
I mean, today, for example,
is the date at which the Good Friday Agreement
was signed 18 years ago,
and I think as an, if you like, adult institution,
what we now need to see is real mature politics develop
within those institutions.
I don't think anyone would argue that the Assembly hasn't made
a contribution to Northern Ireland's society
in terms of stability in the peace process,
but I think the public are increasingly feeling
that they're disjointed and disconnected
from those institutions as a means of delivering change.
We want to break through that because we share that frustration.
We want to offer people better politics,
but we also want to offer people really difficult decisions
in many cases that will need to be taken if we're going to make
Northern Ireland fit for purpose for the next 18 years and beyond.
It's a message that we've heard before from the party,
and the party's been around for a very long time, many decades,
but it's never really broken through, though,
into the absolute front line.
One of the main five? Yes.
One of the main two or three? No, and probably not this time either.
You're likely to end up the fifth-largest party on May 6th
and, even if you meet your highest ambitions of seat gains,
you'd only be nipping at the heels
of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP,
so people could be forgiven for thinking
that backing the Alliance Party, no matter how positive you might be,
is a waste of time.
Well, clearly it isn't, because we have made breakthroughs.
For example, in Belfast, we're the third-largest party
in the city council, so it's not fair to say...
And I think you actually underestimate what we could achieve.
If we hit our high-water mark in terms of our target for seats,
we could well overtake the SDLP,
rather than simply be nipping at their heels.
So I think it's wrong to write a party off in an electoral cycle.
It's up to the public how many elected representatives
we're going to have, but what we are doing in this campaign
is taking a positive message to the public.
We're showing them what we would do differently to the other parties.
If people want to see progress, they've got to vote for it,
because, if they vote for what they voted for last time,
they will get what they got last time.
It's that simple.
If they want change, they've got to back change.
So what is your potential high-water mark?
Because David Ford said a couple of weeks ago
that there are half a dozen potential new seats.
You've got 8. That would make 14.
You wouldn't surpass the SDLP,
because the SDLP's got 14 at the moment.
-At the moment.
-The Ulster Unionists currently have 13...
-At the moment.
Well, let's be honest here, if we take additional seats, someone's losing them somewhere.
So we could easily overtake other parties in that context.
Yeah, but it would be a seat here or a seat there -
it's not going to be a huge sea change. That's the point.
But it's not just about numbers.
It is also about influence and ideas.
What we're going to be presenting to people through this campaign
are ideas that we believe will actually increase
the speed of change at the Assembly.
We want the influence to be able to be in the negotiations
for the Programme for Government
so that we have a progressive Assembly in future
that connects with people.
And, on the basis of those negotiations,
we would like to be able to take a place in that government
to actually continue to deliver as we have in the past.
But you were hugely frustrated during the last mandate
at the inability that your two representatives in the Executive had
to actually effect change.
So were the Ulster Unionists and so were the SDLP.
So you talk about your high-water mark
and you talk about having a great influence,
but you'd still be frustrated by the dominance presumably
of the DUP and Sinn Fein. That's not going to change.
Well, let's be clear -
our position is quite different from the Ulster Unionists
and from the SDLP, because, in those departments which we ran,
we actually did deliver.
While Danny Kennedy was turning out the streetlights,
our ministers were creating employment and opportunities,
David Ford was investing money seized from criminal gangs
into local communities and making a difference...
Stephen Farry wanted to close St Mary's College
and he couldn't do it.
Stephen Farry didn't want to close St Mary's College.
Let's be clear about this.
Stephen wanted to have an integrated teacher-training option in Northern Ireland...
And he wasn't able to do it.
Yes, but he did deliver on many other things
that were part of our agenda.
Mark, the point of coalition government
is that no-one can deliver 100% of what they want,
but, where we had the opportunity to do so,
where we had the influence to do so,
we have delivered on the promises we made last time,
and I'm saying that, if we're in stronger numbers,
we will have a better position to be able to continue to do that,
but to say that parties got frustrated in government simply
because other people prevented them from doing anything...
In fairness to Stephen, when he took over
at the Department of Employment and Learning,
he was cleaning up messes that had been left
from the time when the SDLP held it two mandates ago.
You talk about holding the other parties to account.
-You can do that within the Executive.
But you could pick up
the newly fashioned cudgels of opposition
to hold the parties to account in the new mandate
in an entirely different way.
Is that not what you should be talking to voters about this time?
Is that not a very important conversation?
Particularly for the Alliance Party, and perhaps the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists?
It is a hugely important conversation.
It is one that we are having with the electorate.
But the question that we have to ask ourselves
is where we can best deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.
But what people want to know, with respect,
is whether a vote for the Alliance Party
is a vote for you in the Executive, in government, making decisions,
-or a vote for the Alliance Party to be in opposition...
..holding a, potentially ineffective, Executive to account.
-Because it can't be both.
What people want to know is what a vote for Alliance
will deliver for them in the Assembly.
I'm saying that if we can deliver on the things
that we are taking to the doorstep,
the issues we are raising with people
and telling them we're going to champion,
if we can deliver those best in government
then government is the place where any serious politician wants to be.
No-one runs for opposition.
People run for government.
We believe we are competent and capable of government.
We believe we have proven that on our past record in government.
But what we are saying very clearly is that
if we do not believe that the Programme for Government
is ambitious enough to represent the ambitions
that we have for the people of Northern Ireland
then we will not simply go into government,
because we're not interested in ministerial cars and perks -
we're interested in delivering for the people who vote for us.
-And that has always been our objective.
-OK. And just very quickly on this one...
That could mean some difficult decisions for the public,
because you want to raise revenue,
and the other parties are not so upfront about this,
necessarily, on certain issues,
but the Alliance Party says we do need to raise revenue.
That, of course, might not play that well on the doorsteps.
People might not like having to pay for water in future.
Well, people may not like the thought
of having to raise revenue,
but equally people don't like to turn up at hospital
and have to sit there for 48 hours and excess to wait to get seen.
People don't want to see that 70% of cancer targets
are missed in our hospitals, so we have got to get
real about how we manage our finances in Northern Ireland.
We don't want to raise revenue.
We first of all want to save money,
so we're looking at the cost of division and where money is
wasted on supporting a segregated society in Northern Ireland.
That is money that would be better invested in front-line services.
That is the first thing that we want to do.
Then we want to look at efficiency within the system, so that we
deliver better, and then we want to look at how we make up
the gap in funding that exists,
because we are not getting the same revenue for public services
that we previously did from Westminster.
It is irresponsible to promise people the world
-and have no plan to pay for it.
-OK. I want to talk to you about abortion,
and that debate has found its way in the headlines again recently.
Where do you, personally, and where does the party stand on the issue
of prosecuting individuals for the use of abortion pills?
You were involved in a Twitter... let's call it a conversation,
a fairly lively conversation last night and you've got quite
clear and some might say strident views on the issue.
Well, I don't think my views are strident, I think
they're considered. It is a matter of conscience for the party.
We believe that issues both at the start of life
and end of life ought to be matters where there is no whip applied,
and so people should ask their candidates, and we will not be shy
about discussing our views on the doorstep.
And it is very potentially possible that Alliance candidates
standing in one constituency will take different views.
I mean, you and Chris Lyttle share a view on fatal foetal abnormality
in East Belfast, but you said last night to someone who raised
the issue with you on Twitter, "What about Tim Morrow,
"the other candidate?" And you said, "Ask Tim Morrow."
Do you not know or did you not want to say?
I don't believe that on matters of conscience
I, as deputy party leader,
ought to be making a comment on behalf of my colleagues.
But you did say that Chris Lyttle agrees with you
and you did say, "Ask Tim Morrow."
Because Chris is committed in a vote and Chris has already said that
he's comfortable with me actually referencing that.
Chris and I are not in the same place on the pro-life, pro-choice spectrum.
I'm not sure voters care about that. What they might want to know is,
in East Belfast, does Tim Morrow share your views? Let me ask you now,
-does Tim Morrow share your view on that?
-Yes, he does.
-So he does on that issue?
-Would it not have been easier to say that?
-But I think it's quite important on matters of conscience
that we don't get drawn into speaking for each other.
I think what's important here, you asked me
a very important question and I don't want to duck it,
in the debate around whether or not it's a matter of conscience.
You asked me what my view was, so I want to talk a bit about that.
It's hugely important to me that we do not
criminalise women who are desperate in Northern Ireland in the way
that has happened in the last week.
We're talking about a very young woman who has been
traumatised by what happened, but we're also talking about two
flatmates who were put in an almost untenable position,
one of whom had recently had a miscarriage herself, and
we have traumatised three people in that situation and possibly beyond.
I believe that the law needs to be reformed
and if I am elected to the Assembly, I want to see the law reformed.
I specifically want to see reform on fatal foetal abnormality,
I want to see reform when it comes to issues of sexual crime.
I don't believe that the '67 Act is fit for purpose and I don't
believe that it addresses many of the issues which people
who campaigned for that act to be extended to
Northern Ireland are actually concerned about,
but I do not believe that the public interest was served
in dragging that young woman through court on this occasion.
-That was your direct question and I'm happy to answer it.
One last, very quick, final question, which is that the DUP has now
got a bounce, potentially, in the polls in the run-up to this
election with a new dynamic woman leader for the first time.
Would it not have been much more sensible for the Alliance Party's
leader, David Ford, to stand aside, if ultimately that is his intention,
to allow you to take over as leader?
This is a leader's interview, you were put forward this morning.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a leader's interview
on a conference programme, it was you put forward once again,
so there's no question about what the direction of travel is.
-You've missed a trick.
Look, I know that this is something which the media are obsessed with,
but let me be assuring you now that I am here this morning
because David is already on his way to Dublin to
a commemoration for 1916 this afternoon.
I will be joining him later when I leave the studio,
but he had to leave earlier today and that is why I'm here today.
I'm the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, I'm proud to be so
and to represent it. Whenever I'm asked by the leader,
I deputise for him and I'm more than happy to continue to do that
for as long as is required.
OK. Naomi Long, thanks very much indeed for joining us.
Now let's hear from our guests of the day,
Patricia MacBride and Newton Emerson. Welcome to you both.
Good to see you. Let's just pick up on the issue of abortion first of all.
Tricky one for all of the parties,
Alliance included, but Naomi Long at pains there to make the point
that it's something personally she wants to address, to put her
position out there for everybody to understand and decide upon.
Do you think Alliance is playing that right,
to make it an issue of personal conscience?
I think they're playing it absolutely right.
I think the other parties, some of the other parties, especially
if you look at the Ulster Unionist Party, and the SDLP have
been very reluctant to engage in the debate, and that's a difficulty.
We need to look at ways that we don't criminalise women who find
themselves having to make extremely difficult decisions.
The reality of the situation is that any legislation around abortion
is going to be emotional, it's going to raise public debate.
But the further reality is that if we legislate to provide safe
terminations in the circumstances where it's required, we're
not going to increase the number of people who are travelling...
You know, people are currently travelling to England.
If they can have safe abortions in an environment where
they're supported, where they're required,
then we're not going to change the numbers.
It's not that there's going to be a sudden explosion and
more people are going to seek terminations of pregnancy.
Newton, there's been a lot of talk in the past week or thereabouts that
this conversation has moved on from the specific talk
about fatal foetal abnormality to a much broader discussion
about abortion on demand and the 1967 Act.
Do you think there's some validity in that view?
Yes, in fact, what you're dealing with in the abortion pills case
is effectively abortion on demand by the internet.
And that shows just how far behind Stormont is falling.
I mean, it's hopeless to expect that Stormont will legislate for change.
No foreseeable numbers in the Assembly will allow any
change in the law that I can see,
but that's actually quite a rare way for big social changes to happen.
What's really going to happen in Northern Ireland is that the
current abortion system will simply collapse.
The public won't wear it as the scandals continue, professionals
will stop enforcing it and Stormont will have to catch up,
and the longer it waits, the more liberal
the facts on the ground will be for it to catch up on.
It will try to turn the clock back on fatal foetal abnormality,
now it's dealing effectively with abortion on demand.
OK, Patricia, just a quick word more broadly about the possibilities for Alliance in this election.
If it comes back with eight, ten, twelve, maybe fourteen seats,
as Naomi Long was suggesting there,
what kind of influence could it realistically hope to
have in parliament buildings?
I think that one of the points that Naomi made there
when you were talking to her regarding challenging
the SDLP in terms of the number of seats is quite a valid one.
This will be a huge test for Colum Eastwood's leadership of the SDLP.
Are we seeing a change in the way that the party is pitching
itself to the electorate?
So if Alliance is truly challenging, the way that they
have on Belfast City Council,
we could see a change in dynamics in terms of the ministerial
options that they choose and how they enforce those.
OK. We'll hear lots more from you a bit later in the programme.
For now, thanks, both, very much indeed.
Now time for a look back at the week in 60 Seconds with Stephen Walker.
The election campaign kicked off in earnest this week, but politicians
have their work cut out if they want to impress these young voters.
I would like more young people, more women, more ethnic minorities,
rather than just the same faces
that you've seen for the past 20, 30 years.
Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson was on the EU referendum trail
and also met with local Labour activists disappointed
the party won't field candidates here.
They understand the absolute priority is June 23rd.
It's a bigger decision than whether Labour's recognised,
a bigger decision than a general election.
It is the biggest political decision of my lifetime.
And more than a month from its general election,
the Republic is no closer to forming a government,
as Fianna Fail reject the offer of sharing power with Fine Gael.
The best interests of the Irish people are not served
by a government made up of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Stephen Walker with a look back on the political week.
Let's stay with the story in the Republic
and the formation of the government there.
There were developments yesterday evening,
with the news that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will meet to discuss
how a minority government would work.
Let's discuss that with Newton and Patricia.
Newton, it just gets increasingly baffling. Fianna Fail
and Fine Gael can't come together to form a coalition government,
but they could support rival minority governments, potentially.
-How would it work?
-Well, I mean,
I really enjoy this idea that crops up after every kind of imbalanced
election in the south, that this will be
the end of civil-war politics.
What we finally see is it will never end.
When they're confronted with having to call it off,
they realise it's the reason for their existence
and they can't do without it. It's more entrenched now than ever.
Do you think it could potentially work that there would be
a Fine Gael government supported by independent TDs with an
agnostic Fianna Fail-led opposition and then they would all switch
round and do the mirror image for the next couple of months or years?
-Would it last?
-I think it's quite a strange situation, where you
see that Fine Gael are trying desperately to hold on
to power so that they don't
have to force a leadership challenge to Enda Kenny.
They want to be in the position where they're in government
and THEN make their leadership change, and Fianna Fail
are desperately afraid of Sinn Fein being the official opposition.
So it's an awful lot of dancing around handbags at the moment,
but the problem with that is, you know, you're not making any
overtures to the opposition.
You may end up walking home alone at the end of the night.
Whatever happens with dancing round handbags,
-the music will stop eventually and decisions have to be made.
Thanks very much indeed. During the election campaign here,
most of the airtime will be filled by the larger parties, but there's a
range of smaller parties also vying for your attention and your votes.
Kevin Magee's been speaking to some of them.
All the main political parties are in election mode...
..launching manifestos, setting out their plans,
showing off their candidates and all vying for your vote.
The Alliance, DUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists
make up the big five of Northern Ireland politics,
but if you don't want to listen to their message,
there are lots of others to choose from.
In the last Assembly election, for example,
14 different political parties fielded candidates, and 15
independents stood for election, all trying to take a seat up there.
The Workers Party is no stranger to elections.
It's been fighting them for 40 years.
Hello! How are you? I'm here from the Workers Party today, and...
And this time around, it's hoping to win its first ever Assembly seat.
'These cuts affect everybody, from the top to the bottom.'
You know, we have cuts to health and social care,
we have cuts to education.
That affects every single person in Northern Ireland,
and, really, we can't take it any more and we shouldn't.
We should be coming out and voting against these parties.
The big five have failed us, and it's now time for other
parties to be able to step up and do a better job.
In electoral terms, People Before Profit is the new kid on the block.
After taking a seat in Belfast in the last council election,
it now has designs on Stormont and is running three candidates.
I think this is one of the most important elections in a generation.
It's over 20 years since the ceasefire, almost 20 years
since the Belfast Agreement
and almost 10 years of Stormont being up and running, and I think
one of the lessons we've learnt from that is we can't wait on Stormont.
It'd be very healthy and helpful for working-class communities
if we had a number of socialists in Stormont representing
the interests of ordinary people and not
the interests of corporations and actually standing up to the cuts,
standing up to austerity, not peddling the lie that there is no
alternative to these cuts, because there is an alternative to
all this austerity which is being pushed down our throats.
-Thank you very much.
-That's great. Thank you.
-A bit of brown, please.
Towards the other end of the spectrum, the Conservatives,
too, are hoping to taste success
and enter Stormont for the very first time.
'What we need is a new type of politics.'
You know, the previous five years at Stormont hasn't provided
anything of any great note. It's dragging our economy down.
We've got a system of politics that doesn't work.
All the parties that have been in power for the last five
years, even the ones that are now posing as an opposition,
bizarrely, are culpable in that, and that's why
we need to have a real fresh start and get away from them.
-So those key election messages are most likely going to be...
..55,000 people unemployed...
The Progressive Unionist Party is also promising change.
It has two Belfast city councillors
and is hoping to build on this and make a return to Stormont.
'We still have long-standing social and economic problems,
'education and underachievement, high unemployment.'
We are committed to addressing not just the statistics but
the root causes, and as a party we have worked in the grass roots.
That's where the PUP was born,
in the grass roots of working-class communities.
We understand the issues that those communities face,
and we are committed to dealing... tackling those problems.
At this stage, it's not known exactly how many smaller
parties will be standing in this Assembly election,
as nominations are still open.
However, a full list of candidates
should be available in two days' time.
Kevin Magee reporting. And a final word from Patricia and Newton.
Let's talk about the plight of David Cameron. Is he a busted flush?
Well, I think when you're explaining, you're losing,
and David Cameron has been on the back foot all week, and it took him
an awfully long time to come clean
about his previous offshore investments.
But we shouldn't be surprised.
This is a government that has ensured that large
corporations pay the smallest amount of tax.
The Bullingdon boys are still keeping their money offshore -
terribly unpatriotic, aside from being, you know, any other
questionable things that you may wish to say about it.
It has to be said he has done nothing wrong,
he hasn't broken any laws.
He's maybe not handled it terribly well, but it could have
far-reaching consequences for his leadership and his premiership.
I don't think so.
I think that Tory leaderships are sorted out by the men in grey suits,
and the chance of him getting a tap on the shoulder in the middle of
a referendum campaign, having done nothing wrong, is zero,
especially when he could have to go in two months anyway.
It might hasten his departure after the referendum.
-Is that not the point?
-If he lost the referendum he'd be done anyway,
so I don't think it's going to make any difference.
Yeah. Well, it's going to be fascinating to see
if we have information now about George Osborne and Boris's returns.
Thanks, both. That's it from all of us.
Andrew Neil and Mark Carruthers with the latest political news, interviews and debate. Andrew discusses the EU referendum with Penny Mordaunt MP, Ukip with Neil Hamilton and the Panama Papers with Kamal Ahmed. On the political panel are the Daily Mail's Isabel Oakeshott and Sam Coates and Beth Rigby from The Times.