Thousands join 'We deserve better' rallies against Stormont deadlock
Thousands of people came out in force across Northern Ireland last night to tell Stormont's absentee politicians: "We deserve better."
Supporters gathered at 14 protest rallies in one of the largest demonstrations witnessed here in recent years. And they had a common demand - that the Assembly Members get back to work.Cool response as Alliance bids to kick-start fresh political talks
However, the We Deserve Better rallies didn't all go ahead without a hitch. Organisers were forced to cancel at Belfast City Hall due to the major fire at the Primark building in the city centre. Nonetheless, the other demonstrations went ahead as planned.
Towns and cities taking part were: Londonderry; Strabane; Portadown; Dungannon; Newtownards; Newcastle; Newry; Ballyclare; Portrush; Armagh; Enniskillen; Banbridge, Warrenpoint and Bangor.
At least 600 people gathered in Bangor under the landmark, the McKee Clock.
Supporters held aloft white pieces of paper each bearing a number - 589 of them, to represent the number of days Northern Ireland has gone without a functioning government, surpassing a milestone set by Belgium.
Carrying two of the numbers were mother and daughter Jackie Morrow (63) and Suzi Robinson (32).
They said they had to come out and "be counted" because they were fed up with the political stalemate.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Ms Morrow. "People are waiting too long for operations, health, education. Nothing's being done."
Her point was poignantly reinforced when grieving mother Wendy Crawley told the crowds about how her daughter, who had been terminally ill and partially paralysed, was forced to spend 24 hours in an overwhelmed A&E ward.
Angela Crawley Smith, a 39-year-old mother-of-one, died at the end of June from a brain tumour.
She said: "There was no bed. There was seven hours waiting to get a blood sample analysed. There was another several hours to see a doctor. They couldn't get an MRI scan because it wasn't there or available.
"She sat all night on a chair with other people very ill. She was paralysed on her left-hand side, she was in pain. It was inhuman.
"Do you all know how bad it is? Because if you take ill that is how our health service functions."
Ms Crawley said the £9m-plus in salaries paid to MLAs during the power-sharing impasse would have been better spent on hospital beds.
Meanwhile, hundreds were undeterred by the rain to show their support at Derry's Guildhall Square. Umbrellas were necessary, too, for protesters at Portrush's scenic East Strand, although there was a strong show of support.
Heavy rainfall failed to put off Enniskillen's demonstrators, with one participant posting online that he was "proud" to be part of the protest.
Another Twitter user, who attended the Warrenpoint event, said the rally sent out a clear message to those who are "literally doing nothing and getting paid a fortune".