DUP unveils five-point plan for health, education and the economy – plus removal of protocol
THE DUP has unveiled a five-point plan that pledges investment in health, the economy and education, alongside continued efforts to remove the Northern Ireland Protocol.
However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson launched his party's manifesto yesterday in Craigavon – in the absence of his predecessor Edwin Poots and five of his fellow MPs – by continually insisting that a Sinn Féin victory in next week's assembly election would lead to increased demands from republicans for a border poll.
"It is not about helping ordinary households who are worried about how they are going to pay their energy bills, it is not about sorting out the issues around the protocol, it is not about fixing the health service, it is about pushing their agenda for a border poll and a united Ireland," he said of the Sinn Féin election campaign.
The Lagan Valley MP predicted that the DUP would defy recent opinion polls by emerging victorious from Thursday's election.
"I believe the DUP are going to win this election, but suppose Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O'Neill are standing up next week to declare a Sinn Féin victory, does anyone seriously believe that in their victory speech the border poll issue won't be front and centre?" he said.
"I am simply alerting people to that reality and giving them a clear choice in this election."
While over recent weeks the DUP leader has focused much of his energy on protesting against the protocol, the post-Brexit trade arrangements do not feature prominently in the manifesto.
However, he again stressed that his party would only join the next executive if the Irish Sea border was removed, while the manifesto says "political balance must be restored".
Taking greater priority among the 60-pages is a pledge to invest £1 billion in the health service to cut waiting lists, while implementing the Bengoa recommendations and training more GPs.
There are plans to support 20,000 jobs in a "range of sectors, from technology to tourism, construction and retail".
The party, which has held the economy portfolio consistently since the St Andrews Agreement, says it wants to "grow the local tourism sector into a £2 billion industry" by investing in infrastructure and a dedicated strategy for the hospitality sector.
The manifesto includes a chapter on "keeping our schools world-class", which includes a "fair funding model" encompassing all sectors, a modernised curriculum and plans to build more schools.
The DUP says it will deliver 30 hours a week free childcare, unspecified financial support for "hard pressed families" and an energy efficiency scheme for homes.
In terms of the Stormont structures, the party advocates "fixing government" and says "we remain convinced that a voluntary coalition represents the best long-term option".
"I think we do need to see change – we would like to see reform of how our political institutions operate," Sir Jeffrey said.
"We would like to move towards the concept of a voluntary coalition. I think people are looking for change, but fundamentally they want Stormont to work, they want Stormont to deliver and they want Stormont to stay."
There are also plans in the manifesto to reform the civil service but the party spells out its opposition to devolving tax-raising powers, citing the need for "much greater stability".
On the protocol, the manifesto includes seven tests to determine whether the British government "respect NI's position as part of the UK", including fulfilment of articles in the Acts of Union that requires "everyone in the United Kingdom is entitled to the same privileges", and no checks on goods moving to Britain or vice-versa.
When asked by The Irish News to produce evidence for increased costs as a result of the protocol, beyond the 27 per cent hike the Road Haulage Association claimed at a TUV event last year, Sir Jeffrey merely cited limited choice in Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's.
The party says it will continue to "support pro-life policies and reject abortion".