SEEMS like there hasn’t been an election here in 30 years that hasn’t been ‘The most important for a long time.’ But things are shaping to be extremely interesting when the votes are counted this time round. That’s even though this campaign has been decidedly lackustre.
Successive polls have suggested that the Sinn Féin vote is holding up well in the face of unionist uncertainty and that is of course throwing up the tantalising prospect of Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. That has badly spooked the DUP and the UUP, neither of whom will confirm that they will serve alongside a Sinn Féin First Minister if that is what the election throws up.
And it has badly spooked the usual suspects in the local and British media, who attempted this week to  introduce a deeply dishonest and divisive New IRA narrative with the extraordinary coverage given to a two-year-old letter that the party wrote to Saoradh inviting them to join the democratic push for a border poll. Thankfully the family of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee – a victim shamefully pulled into the story in an attempt to do late damage to Sinn Féin’s prospects – were having none of it. They saw through the cynicism and the cant and as they questioned the motivation and timing of the story they called on those behind the punting of it to hang their heads. The story immediately collapsed.
It was perhaps the last desperate throw of the dice by the unionist media, although the hysteria is at such a pitch that another attempt at manipulation could never be ruled out.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson is in such an obvious state of panic that his Sinn Féin scare tactics are at a level that Arlene Foster could only have dreamt of when she attempted the same tactic during her disastrous 2017 election campaign.
The words ‘Sinn Féin’ and ‘border poll’ have tripped off his tongue with a regularity that hovers somewhere between funny and embarrassing. The party’s focus groups can have told them nothing other than what the world and its mother knows – that people are primarily concerned with the ever-deepening cost of living crisis. And yet Mr Donaldson has decided to traipse off again down the well-trodden path marked ‘Republican Bogeyman’.
His fear must be, however, that the nature of his argument may fail to hit home with ordinary unionists. Mr Donaldson argues that Sinn Féin have been for some reason trying to hide their eagerness for a border poll in order to attract some much-needed preferences down the ballot. But he needs to ask himself this question: Who in these six counties doesn’t know that a united Ireland is Sinn Féin’s number one priority? And because the answer is no-one, he then needs to consider what happens if voters ask themselves why he’s pursuing this nonsense-on-stilts rather than outlining his vision for putting money in hard-hit people’s pockets.
Let’s hope Thursday’s verdict on what voters think of those who turned their back on struggling families is a harsh one.