Belfast Telegraph

Crucial for our future that those with vote exercise their right

Editor's Viewpoint

Tomorrow you get a chance to make a difference in Northern Ireland. Every person over the age of 18 can help shape how the next five years of devolved government will work.

But, sadly, the predictions are that as many as half of the electorate will simply not bother exercising that responsibility. Cynicism is the new buzz-word in politics and politicians here, as in other regions of the UK, are viewed with increasing scepticism by many ordinary people.

Yet it will always be true - we get the politicians we deserve. Democracy may not be perfect, but it is still the best system of government under which to live. And it gives us the opportunity on a regular basis to choose the people we want to govern us.

Even by the standards of Northern Ireland - where the demographic head-count is the major consideration in every election - this has been a lacklustre campaign. While all the parties have produced glossy manifestos, one of the major themes has simply been who will be the next First Minister.

Yet the problems facing Northern Ireland are much more pressing than whether Arlene Foster or Martin McGuinness takes that title. Health, education, roads, employment, inward investment are the issues which impact on the daily lives of everyone.

They are issues which cross sectarian or political boundaries. The desperately ill patient, for example, has no interest in the religion or political persuasion of the doctor trying to save his or her life.

Tomorrow is the opportunity to remind the politicians that these issues do matter. You will not do that by refusing to go out and vote - remember people, particularly women, died to gain the vote, and one man, one vote was the original demand of the civil rights movement here. It is not that long ago that the right to vote was much sought after.

For those who argue that Stormont doesn't work, it should be remembered that for all its deficiencies it continues to promote the province as a tourism and investment destination; it retains populist policies such as free transport for pensioners and free prescriptions; and it tries to mitigate some of the worst austerity measures which could be imposed here.

There is now an opportunity for some of the parties to form an opposition. Jim Allister of the TUV may be a lone voice calling the big parties to account, but his impact far outweighs his numerical strength. The Greens have also highlighted environment policies, showing that small parties with coherent arguments can rise above the usual political babble.

But those will probably be arguments for another day, as it is difficult to see any significant shift in the fortunes of the largest parties.

The 108 MLAs elected tomorrow will see Stormont through until the centenary of the founding of the state. It has certainly been a troubled 100 years, but the politicians have a chance to begin creating a new, pluralist and shared society. We cannot keep excusing the glacial pace of change as inevitable.

Nor can we continue to have good, honest, decent people like Joanne McGibbon forced from her home. Her husband was murdered by dissident republicans in a so-called punishment attack that went wrong.

Understandably, she doesn't want to live cheek by jowl with those who killed her husband, seemingly with impunity. The politicians' main task is to create a Northern Ireland where such people cannot flourish and where ordinary people can expect to go about their daily lives in safety and peace.

Belfast Telegraph


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