Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

So many MLAs, but why do we never meet them?

One statistic in the row about MLA’s proposed pay rise, struck me as interesting. We have one Assembly member per 16,000 people, roughly.

This compares to one per 50,000 in Scotland and one per 40,000 in Wales (give or take).

By the sounds of it we’re swamped with representatives. We’re heavily over-represented. and not Democracy Lite.

The question is but, how often do you ever see your MLA?

You’d imagine, given how relatively thick they are (on the ground I mean, I’m not even going to go there on a debate about their intelligence) that you’d be tripping over them every time you went out the door.

Or at least, if you don’t interact with them directly, you’d see them deep in conversation with some of their constituents, as you pass on by your way to the shops, wondering if you can afford a jar of mayonnaise this month, or does that count as a luxury item.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I hardly clap eyes on my reps. I reckon I probably see them oh, let’s see, on average, maybe once every four years or so. And that’s not even them in person, just his or her image leering at me from the local lamposts. Not sure what exactly I expect them to do about this. Obviously, although everyone knows everyone here, it isn’t, strictly speaking, a village, so I shouldn’t expect to see my constituency Ass. (that’s short for Assembly Member) (in most cases anyway) strolling around the village green chatting to young mothers about childcare and middle aged men about the state of the roads/health service/Stephen Nolan’s bank balance. But I do. I do expect to see them.

I want to see them in the dole office when loads of young men and women are signing on. I want to see them in the A&E Department of the Royal Victoria Hospital on a weekend night.

I want to see them in the hallways of thousands of home-owners as they receive a letter telling them their house is being re-possessed because they can’t pay the mortgage. I want to see them in our town centres having a good look at all the empty shops. I want to see them at the Odyssey Arena and in Bradbury Place and all the other “nite life hotspots” at 1.30am on a Friday and Saturday night.

Because all those lives are being lived by their constituents, but not, it would appear, by them.

Alasdair McDonnell might cry “poverty” but I doubt he or his fellow MLAs sit in the house freezing because they can’t afford oil.

What I don’t want to see or hear is MLAs arguing about what it says on a flag in Downpatrick celebrating St Patrick’s Day.

Or debating about whether or not they might like to meet the Queen if she comes here (has anyone asked the Queen if she wants to meet Martin McGuinness?) or whether they will or they won’t go to this game or this service or that commemoration.

This is the cost of our sectarian duplication of representatives. Maybe at the start we needed to keep “both sides” happy so we could move forward. Well, we’ve moved.

We don’t need two of everything anymore. We can’t afford it. We could get by with half the number of MLAs. Who’d notice they’d gone? Would you?

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