So here we are with a brand new year for Northern Ireland. The election year that was 2016 has seen a new Executive up at Stormont and a new Opposition. The people of Northern Ireland were promised that this new Executive would be the one that would definitively bring Northern Ireland forward into the twenty first century and the people of Northern Ireland voted for it…
Well not quite. In fact only 54% of the people of Northern Ireland turned out on voting day to cast their vote. The remainder did not…for reasons I will not begin to understand. It’s not like your vote really matters is it? No because if you don’t exercise your democratic right then you can rely on the rest of the country to do it? Surely. What have we been given then? Another crisis funnily enough!
The RHI debacle rages on and now the frustrations of the people of Northern Ireland are showing no signs of stopping. Arlene Foster remains resolute in her position as First Minister. The SDLP brought a motion forward in December calling for her to stand aside and allow an inquiry to take place. Sinn Fein would not support this. Instead they wanted to…bring forward their own motion calling on Arlene Foster to step aside while a full public inquiry could take place…but it might actually be an independent investigation…or it could be an inquiry, or not…nobody, including Sinn Fein it would appear, really know what Sinn Fein want to happen in this regard. Meanwhile the DUP ministers and elected MLAs go on television and radio broadcasts to express their outrage at…the media. Though nobody is quite sure anymore as to who is to blame for this particular crisis. It could be the media, or it could be those pesky rogue and renegade nationalists who Ms Foster was so cautious of a few months ago…it might be the fault of Republicans or it could just be the fault of men because Arlene Foster is Northern Ireland’s first female First Minister and Lord knows how angry this makes all of us. Maybe we could just blame the Civil Service? At least paramilitary groups claimed responsibility when they carried out one atrocity or another.
Meanwhile the current Economy Minister and Finance Minister were working together before Christmas to come up with a robust strategy to ensure that the cost to the people of Northern Ireland in the wake of this crisis was minimal. Today we find out that the Economy Minister Super-Simon Hamilton has come up with a strategy to solve this crisis…and Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir found out about this strategy when he tuned into the news yesterday! We were told by everyone’s favourite Sammy Wilson MP today that this is commonplace practice and that Mr Hamilton didn’t need to make Mr Ó Muilleoir aware of his plans…Mr Wilson also needed to remind us that the DUP were not going to be dictated to by the likes of Gerry Adams! Meanwhile the Justice Minister Claire Sugden has apparently disappeared off the face of the planet!
Where does it leave us? We’re in a funny sort of state of limbo at present which is all rather uncertain until the Executive resumes duties on the 16th January at which time we will see what proposals exactly Sinn Fein will bring to the floor and whether or not the other parties will endorse it. Are we heading for another election? Who knows.
I am so frustrated about all these goings on at present that I am struggling to put the words together in my head about it all. Before Christmas it was all referred to as farcical but now the farce seems to have turned into some sort of afternoon soap opera which shows absolutely no sign of stopping. So what are we going to do about it all?
Here is my suggestion…strange as it may sound because I’m not a politician. But perhaps that is what makes me someone who should raise their voice given that it is through the actions and inactions of certain politicians that we find ourselves in this particular crisis (until we reach our next one!) I would suggest that we take out example from the Wizard of Oz! Yep! You heard it right. There are three vital things which are missing from our current Executive: Brains, Heart and Courage. It’s so simple really!
I look at the current Executive and I do wonder where is the thought process to make a sensible decision for Northern Ireland? Where is the heart to do the right thing even if it means having to work alongside people who were once thought of as your enemy? Where is the courage to put your pride to the side and really do what a politician is elected to do: represent the people who elected you!
At this stage I think we’re pretty stuck. I do not see Arlene Foster going anywhere at present. But there is something which we as a people of Northern Ireland can do! Funnily enough it is the same thing I suggested just before election when I was campaigning for my South Down SDLP MLAs. It is precisely this: get involved!
“The people are the majority, and the will of the majority is sovereign.” (Aristotle, ca 335 b.c) Aristotle spoke these words some 2300 years ago and they are just as important today as they were then. So here is what I propose: find a political party that is aligned to your views and sign up. They don’t necessarily have to be an exact fit because one of the joys of politics is that if you have the brains, the heart and the courage you can have wonderful things called discussions in which all manner of ideas and thoughts can be brought forward and the views of everyone can be respected. What you see then is that just because someone has a differing view to you this does not make them your enemy! But rather it makes them someone who you can learn a great deal from and they can learn from you!
We the people of Northern Ireland deserve a better kind of politics and a damn sight better breed of politician that some of the ones we have at present. We deserve better than people who will use the political arena to further their own ego, whether they admit it or not. We need to champion the fantastic politicians who really are there for the right reasons…believe me they are there and I have seen them first hand!
So get involved. Get in touch with your local branch, get in touch with your councillors, your MLAs and even your MPs. These are the people who you voted in so put them to work! If you want Northern Ireland to work then you have to make it work too. Persist with them, make sure they give you an answer to your questions. Debate with them! Scrutinise them! Don’t be fobbed off! Tell them your view and why you hold that view to be true. Hold close to your principles and take a principled position. Do not listen to the lie that says in politics you have to leave your principles at the door. We are not tied to the horrors of the past and we are not constrained by this anymore. We can and we must do better.
Three years ago I signed up to join the SDLP. I do not take my membership of this party lightly and I carry my card with honour. You can too. Just get up and get active!