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Feminine touch may change Northern Ireland politics

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 09/05/2016

East Londonderry: Claire Sugden, Independent
East Londonderry: Claire Sugden, Independent

The election is over, the result is clear, and now is the time for action by all the parties. When the new Assembly meets for the first time this week there will be a number of new faces at Stormont, while several familiar figures will be missing after retiring or losing their seats.

Despite what many people see as an underwhelming election campaign, and the fact that the main party pattern is largely unchanged, the new faces might bring hope of something different.

It is encouraging to note that the number of female MLAs is at a record high, with 10 more being elected than in 2011.

The First Minister Arlene Foster claims in today's Belfast Telegraph that the influx of women could change the tone of Stormont politics, and she may be right.

There are 30 female MLAs at Stormont, which is more than at any time since the Assembly was established.

Some 28% of our MLAs are women, compared to 19% in 2011, and only 13% in the 1998 Assembly.

Much attention has been given to the election of two People Before Profit candidates, and rightly so, but equally impressive was the election of independent unionist Claire Sugden in East Londonderry. By successfully taking on the party machines, she showed that there is still a role for a politician with a strong voice outside the party system.

The First Minister, in today's Belfast Telegraph, returns to one of her main themes - namely her desire to work together with other parties to get things done.

It would have been difficult for her to have fulfilled this promise to date, given that she was made leader just months before a cutthroat election campaign.

However, she has been returned with a strong mandate, and the challenge is still there for her and the other Executive parties to work together in order to solve some of the many challenging problems which face Northern Ireland and its people.

The immediate challenge is for the parties to quickly work out a Programme for Government which will unite everybody and help people on all sides.

After all the electioneering and the harsh words involved, the public is demanding a convincing level of positive and practical co-operation.

This is the only way in which Stormont can gain a reputation as a place where business really can be done.

There is no time to lose.

Belfast Telegraph

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