In the recent election, with DUP and Sinn Fein still taking the majority of seats, are we still voting in tribes? It certainly seems like that. Change is happening, though it’s happening small, not just with the evident lack of faith in the DUP in recent months, but also by the steady winning over of voters by smaller, more progressive parties such as Alliance and the Green Party.
Post-election I’m sure many unionists are reeling in shock by the surge in Sinn Fein seats and the drop to 28 seats for the DUP, which means they no longer can trigger a Petition of Concern as Arlene Foster’s party has fallen under the 30-seat threshold. Unionists will also worry at what the future Assembly may hold. Some people have voiced concerns to me that they don’t know of a unionist party worth voting for anymore.
I’m certain this is because people want to move forward, and I know I’m not just talking about people of my generation.
We are years behind many countries on equality issues, so much so that it doesn’t matter to me if a party is a unionist one, or if I come from that background; I won’t feel compelled to vote ‘just because’.
If a party does not trust women with their own reproductive rights, then it won’t have earned my vote.
The same goes for gay marriage. I know that the writing community feels very strongly about these issues, and all matters of equality.
At times I wonder if I am in my own little bubble on this and then I talk to someone I wouldn’t normally meet every day, and I’m reassured that most people want to look after each other, respect other’s choices and feel valued in return.
When I’m working in the community with people of all ages, it’s obvious to me that people are social, inclusive beings who relate much better to each other than election results would have you believe.
Most of us feel that our friendships and working relationships go across and well beyond any so-called ‘divide’.
What seems to be uniting a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t have been so quick to agree on that past, is that this country is undoubtedly a better place than it once was, and that most of us don’t want to go backwards any more than we want progress to become stale.
Certainly, there are people who remain within their own communities much of the time, which in itself is no bad thing when our communities are the people who understand us, and where we have our truest sense of belonging.
These people will probably still tell you that they are proud of the change here and that politics, like everything else, has to change. For me, my community mostly resolves around the writing community of NI and Ireland, with the internet broadening that out further to include friends from the UK and the United States.
As a girl raised in predominantly unionist North Down, I know I’m all the richer for embracing what other communities have to offer, and that my identity is much more to me than being British, or Northern Irish, or Irish, or even a little bit each of all the above; that it encompasses all of my influences, though mainly literary, but also the inspiring people I’ve met through the writing world.
All my friends are a healthy mix of many nationalities.
We have respect and willingness to learn about each other’s cultures.
I’m glad it has got to the point where someone else’s religion is not something that is at the forefront of people’s minds when they are developing a relationship — at least not in a negative way — and that we can relate through our work and our lives and have a deeper understanding of each other.
Right now in Northern Ireland there is so much to unite us when you consider how we continue to be brought together by the arts and sport and all the things that generally transcend any divide and make us proud — like they should — to be living in Northern Ireland: this little country that punches well above its weight in many areas.
We should be proud to be part of it. I think the way we need to continue is by focusing on the positive aspects of this province, and on making good lives for ourselves with good people around us no matter which tribe they come from.
And by voting thoughtfully, with the aim of making the country better for everyone.