The DUP has unveiled a five-point plan that promises investment in health, economy and education, alongside continued efforts to scrap the protocol from Northern Ireland.
However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson launched his party’s manifesto in Craigavon yesterday – in the absence of his predecessor Edwin Poots and five of his fellow MPs – by continually insisting that a victory for Sinn Féin in the election legislative elections next week would lead to an increase in Republican demands for a border ballot.
“It’s not about helping ordinary households who are worried about how they’re going to pay their energy bills, it’s not about fixing protocol issues, it’s not about to fix the health service, this is about pushing their agenda for a border poll and a united Ireland,” he said of Sinn Féin’s election campaign.
The Lagan Valley MP predicted the DUP would defy recent opinion polls by emerging victorious in Thursday’s election.
“I believe the DUP will win this election, but suppose Mary Lou McDonald or Michelle O’Neill stand up next week to declare a victory for Sinn Féin, does anyone seriously believe that in their victory speech , the question of border polls will not be in the foreground? he said.
“I’m just alerting people to this reality and giving them a clear choice in this election.”
While in recent weeks the DUP leader has focused much of his energy on protesting the protocol, post-Brexit trade deals 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, despite the manifesto stating that “the political balance must be restored”.
The biggest priority among the 60 pages is a pledge to invest £1billion in health services to reduce waiting lists, while implementing Bengoa’s recommendations and training more GPs.
It is expected 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 deal, says it wants to ‘grow the local tourism sector into a £2billion industry’ by investing in infrastructure and a strategy dedicated to the hospitality sector.
The manifesto includes a chapter on “maintaining our world-class schools,” which includes an “equitable funding model” encompassing all sectors, a modernized curriculum, and plans to build more schools.
The DUP says it will provide 30 hours of free childcare per week, unspecified financial support for “struggling families” and an energy efficiency program for homes.
Regarding the structures of Stormont, the party advocates “fixing the government” and says “we remain convinced that a willing coalition represents the best long-term option”.
“I think we need change – we would like to see reform in the way our political institutions work,” said Sir Jeffrey.
“We would like to move towards the concept of a willing 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.”
The manifesto also plans to reform the civil service, but the party voices its opposition to the decentralization of taxing powers, citing the need for “much greater stability”.
On protocol, the manifesto includes seven tests to determine whether the UK government “respects NI’s position as part of the United Kingdom”, including compliance with articles of the Acts of Union that require “everyone in the United Kingdom is entitled to the same privileges”, and no control over the goods brought to Great Britain or vice versa.
When asked by The Irish News to produce evidence of increased costs as a result of the protocol, beyond the 27% rise claimed by the Road Haulage Association at a TUV event the year Last, Sir Jeffrey simply cited limited choice at Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s.
The party says it will continue to “support pro-life policies and reject abortion.”