Belfast Telegraph

More fool me for thinking that women taking reins of political power would actually change things for the better

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster
Michelle O'Neill
Naomi Long
Theresa May

By Lindy McDowell

Have women let the side down in Northern Ireland? Women politicians, I mean. Some years ago, when women in local politics were a rarity (and we still have some way to go) I wrote articles bemoaning this dearth and arguing for a more balanced gender representation at the polls.

I didn't think women politicians would necessarily be better than their male counterparts.

But I did think they'd bring something a bit different to the party. Or, in this case, parties.

More common sense. A more grounded feel for what used to be called the bread and butter issues.

Yes, women also understood the importance of flags and emblems (who here doesn't?), but back then I also truly - naively - believed, more female representatives would inject a bit of down-to-earth realism, compassion even, into local politics.

And just look at how well that has panned out, sisters.

At no time in the history of this place have more women held more power.

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Yet Stormont is currently in abeyance, the Assembly is unassembled and nobody's speaking.

Michelle isn't speaking to Arlene who isn't speaking to Naomi who has no time for Theresa who sent us Karen who appears to think the best way to deal with all this is just sit back and let it fester.

Meanwhile, Mary Lou in Dublin is on her high horse about Brexit, yet won't dispatch to Westminster the Sinn Fein MPs who could actually make a difference.

Which might be a pointer as to how much she/they really care.

It's inaction and impasse all round. Sitting back and gurning. But not actually doing anything about any of it.

This week, the only flutter of movement on Stormont's cardiac monitor was another downward blip.

Citing the absence of the Assembly as a contributory factor in his decision, Steven Agnew announced he will be stepping down as leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland. He will remain as an MLA, though.

While Steven is honest enough to point out that, with two young children, his own priorities may have changed, he describes how he is also all too well aware of public disgust over what he calls the Stormont "betrayal".

He recounts how when he would go into his local - Fealty's in Bangor - people used to say to him: "What are you having to drink, Steven?"

Now it's more likely to be: "Are you still getting paid?"

They say it with a smile, he notes. I imagine Mr Agnew is clever enough to know that behind his back the smiling is more likely to be sneering. Sneering, not at him personally perhaps, but at a local political system that has entirely betrayed us all.

He adds: "I am angry that we have two parties that are putting their needs as parties ahead of the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

"I don't think anyone could say this period of suspension... is good for Northern Ireland."

And there you have a politician who speaks for us all.

That said, it's unlikely we'll have a Green First Minister any time soon. Come election-time, most voters here are likely to plump, as they always do, for one of the Big Two.

Which is what the Big Two count on. It's what's made them arrogant. It's what's made them complacent. Why should they even bother to make the effort to get along with each other? Stalemate, stand-off, stubbornness, suits them just fine.

We can't blame female politicians entirely for this state of affairs.

I just would have thought female political leaders might have done more to tackle it.

And I suppose it's sexist of me to admit I once really truly believed that more women in politics would have shaken things up - in a positive way.

That they would have been more focused on the everyday needs of those who'd voted for them. Less on the flags and emblems stuff, more concerned about hospitals, schools, workers' pay packets...

As it turns out... more fool me.

Belfast Telegraph


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