Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Why this General Election is about more than Brexit: business, education, union and green leaders tell us their priorities


Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The General Election campaign has run its course.

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Voters go to the polls today and Brexit, Leave or Remain, has been a major topic on the lips of politicians.

Battles have been fought across the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland and election 'pacts' have evolved, but voters have been reminded there are other key issues they should be thinking about when it comes to casting their vote.

The crisis in the health system, concerns over the future of the economy, environmental issues on a world scale and the failing state of education are all serious concerns.

Here, leaders in their respective fields tell us what they hope voters will think about when choosing a candidate.

Health

Patricia McKeown, Unison Northern Ireland regional secretary:

"This will be a hugely significant election for our 40,000 members, their families and their communities.

"We have had no Executive or Assembly in place for more than 1,000 days. We want a return to genuine power-sharing, but we are clear that this must be on the basis of implementing human rights and equality for all.

"We know that this election has be dominated by Brexit. What our members will demand of all the candidates is that they reject a disastrous no-deal exit, and that they commit to protect our economy, our rights and the Good Friday Agreement itself from the damage that any Brexit will cause.

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Patricia McKeown

"Members who work in health and social services are taking industrial action due to the pay deficit they suffer compared to England, Scotland and Wales.

"Our services limp on with unsafe staffing levels, poor morale and crisis waiting lists.

"We expect all parties to commit to securing the pay justice that the workers deserve and that the service needs.

"In the absence of our devolved institutions, we will continue to press for Westminster to deliver. We have welcomed the interventions that have been made around equal marriage and the right to choose, but now Westminster must step up and deliver the Bill of Rights that is their responsibility under the Good Friday Agreement.

"We will not accept any attempt to repeal or replace the Human Rights Act.

"Despite the £1bn the DUP secured through their confidence and supply deal with the Tories, no one should be under any illusion that austerity has ended.

"Health, social care and education are all seriously underfunded and the resources that these vital services need must be delivered from Westminster."

Business

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs, Federation of Small Business NI:

Roger Pollen
Anne Madden
Patricia McKeown
Geri Cameron

"While businesses have not relished an election in December, there is a recognition that the current political situation has reached an impasse, so this may serve to break the parliamentary deadlock.

"The big loser in the process so far has been the way that domestic issues have effectively been sidelined.

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Roger Pollen

"All candidates need to focus not only on Brexit but on all the other issues which affect business as well, such as infrastructure, skills, business support and the scourge of late payments.

"We certainly hope that on the other side of this election some Brexit certainty can be provided. As new MPs take their seats at Westminster, we want to see MLAs return to Stormont as part of the restoration of devolved government."

Environment

Anne Madden, Sustrans:

"We are in a climate and health emergency caused by the way we live our lives. Road transport accounts for 26% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and the evidence of the devastating impact of air pollution is mounting. Yet we know the climate emergency and air pollution will not factor much in this election debate.

"A shift away from driving to healthier, clean alternatives such as public transport, walking and cycling is the best way to reach a zero-carbon future.

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Anne Madden

"However, these are devolved matters for the Assembly to tackle. Since Stormont collapsed more than 1,000 days ago, we have been left with a massive democratic deficit.

"But while Brexit continues to dominate the political discourse and will do so for years to come, radical decisions on reallocating the transport budget to encourage more of us to walk and cycle will, I fear, continue to be parked."

Education

Geri Cameron, president, National Association of Head Teachers (NI):

"At the beginning of this year, I travelled to Westminster and gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to assist with their Inquiry into Education Funding in Northern Ireland. A report with some very positive recommendations was published and then progress halted.

"If you ask me what will the election mean for Northern Ireland in terms of education, it is hard to know if it will make any difference, with education being a devolved matter, but the NAHT took the opportunity over the last few weeks to engage with all local political parties and discuss what needs to change in education.

"School budgets are still at breaking point. Given the increasing demands on schools and the vital role they play in society, we urgently need a funding settlement that commits to year-on-year, real-terms funding increases for all schools to support the education of young people in these uncertain times. Our young people need the best possible education to prepare them to meet the future with confidence

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Geri Cameron

"It is now widely recognised within the education system in Northern Ireland that fewer people are stepping forward to take up leadership roles in schools.

"A career that was once highly sought-after is becoming less and less attractive as decision-makers fail to invest in schools and educators and to prioritise the wellbeing of those working in education.

"A double strategy is needed to, firstly, support school leaders to ensure that these great leaders remain in their role; and secondly, to identify teachers who can be supported into leadership roles in the future.

"We cannot wait another 1,000 days for change. Our young people and our educators deserve better."

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