Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: The right to vote is a potent weapon that must be used wisely

'After being absent from their jobs for nigh on three years, the parties are expected by the public to make a genuine effort to reach a compromise which enables them to return to Stormont' (stock photo)
'After being absent from their jobs for nigh on three years, the parties are expected by the public to make a genuine effort to reach a compromise which enables them to return to Stormont' (stock photo)

Editor's Viewpoint

As Northern Ireland goes to the polls today, voters could be forgiven for feeling a little war-weary. This is the third election in the province in a year and essentially the arguments have been the same.

This General Election is billed as a battle between Brexiteers and Remainers, especially in Northern Ireland, where a majority voted to stay in the EU, an argument which was lost in the metropolitan areas of England.

The civil war within the Tory Party over Brexit, which saw Theresa May ousted, unable to get her exit deal through the House of Commons, and replaced by Boris Johnson, who in typical soundbite fashion has reduced all arguments to getting Brexit done, has been wearing on everyone.

However the poll here is dressed up, it remains a contest between Orange and Green.

The mutually exclusive ideologies of the Union with Britain and Irish unity are the touchstones which are guaranteed to stir the emotions of the most fervent unionist and republican voters.

The middle ground may deplore such politics as extremism, but it can be argued that all the voters are doing is holding a mirror up to society.

The armed conflict may have ended more than 20 years ago, but decommissioning sectarianism is a painfully slow process that is not helped by the toxic nature of politics here and the lack of real leadership among the political class.

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Winston Churchill once memorably said "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others". Of course, he was correct and that is why everyone who is eligible should exercise their right to vote today.

Remember, it is only slightly more than 50 years ago that the concept of one man, one vote was finally accepted in Northern Ireland. It was that campaign for a basic civil right - one in which women in an earlier age in Britain gave their lives for - which was corrupted into the horror of the Troubles.

The vote, even in this part of the UK, is a potent weapon which allows virtually every person over the age of 18 years to register their support for their favoured party - and, by extension, their opposition to those they object to.

How often have we heard people complain about the result of an election?

In many constituencies here, the majority for the incumbent is so large that it would take a political earthquake to unseat them, but in others just a handful of votes can make a difference.

If you do not vote, you lose the right to complain about who is elected.

However tomorrow's election pans out, local politicians have pressing issues closer to home to occupy them.

Talks are due to start on Monday aimed at restoring devolution and tackling the crises in health, education, infrastructure investment and a host of other public services.

While Brexit may determine how the UK fares in years to come, the problems in public services in the province are of immediate concern and require urgent and innovative action. People are literally suffering because of political inaction.

After being absent from their jobs for nigh on three years, the parties are expected by the public to make a genuine effort to reach a compromise which enables them to return to Stormont.

Given previous red lines and finger-pointing, that will require a level of statesmanship and courage which has been notable by its absence in recent times. Time is of the essence and failure to reach some form of agreement will not be forgiven lightly.

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