An Open Letter to the Northern Ireland Assembly
When the initial political thought sparked in my head I realised that my childhood illusion of politics as intended for old men with balding spots muttering about irrelevant high-brow issues to pass the time before their death and using a vocabulary I’d need a thesaurus to dissect was completely inaccurate. Not long after this discovery I learnt that despite every child’s lesson growing up to be to respect others, my country, my province was run by a group of people who simply couldn’t do that. I am nineteen years old, a child of the Good Friday Agreement and I am not here to dredge up the past. I wish to hold up a mirror to the Northern Ireland Assembly as it stands, dissolving, swallowed by its own ineptness and show it what I see. Much like Rawls’ theory of justice, I have the advantage of some lack of historical context; I am not being disrespectful in this means, I am merely stating that I am neutral. Growing up ‘The Troubles’ were not something I knew anything of; I distinctly remember, age 11, asking my mother whether I was a Protestant or a Catholic. I have the benefit of being an outsider with the cultural contextual insight of a young woman who has lived her entire life in East Belfast.
It used to strike me as odd how apathetically the world around me looked at politics. Here it was, this glorious shining vessel of democracy; a chance for a voice in the wind to be caught and released in a chamber where it would bounce off the walls and heard. Here it stood, a system of scrutiny and equal opportunity, where the people represented the people, listening to each other, and respecting each other even if they didn’t stand in agreement, creating a nation that worked. Perhaps my idealistic black and white stance that all people are good and compassionate and honest was naive; perhaps I am Rousseau, full of ideas but completely missing the point, but several years down the line, politics makes me angry. Does the anger come before the apathy? Does the revolutionary fire flare and die before we just lie down on the pavement, too tired to bother anymore? Whilst America weeps about Trump and Somalia lives in a military run war zone or whilst England debates over and over about the definition of a word invented by the media; the wheels keep churning and this little life goes on.
I want to send a message to the Northern Ireland Assembl that; whilst you all sit in your ivory tower of clashing ideals, whilst you cover a hatred based on hundreds of years of disassociated ash and stone that was handed to you on a platter with pointed passive aggression, whilst you refuse to answer the questions put to you; life goes on at the bottom of Stormont Hill. Continue, as we all know you will, but do not dare pretend there’s any integrity in your actions.
The RHI scandal is nothing but another opportunity for you all to throw your hands up, throw out any reason to do any governing and to point fingers at each other. Again. The horrible irony is, whilst you make grave remarks about this being the final straw; you have never worked. Northern Ireland faces an annual issue with the passage of budget (often taking well over 6 months to do so), abuse of petitions of concern, appeals of court cases, a lack of care or appreciation of arts, closures and amalgamations of schools and an overstretched NHS. Every year it’s like watching a rerun of an old episode of an overly familiar TV drama which wasn’t even funny or clever the first-time round.
Shall I tell you a little secret? As you all whine about the other parties’ complacency in looking at anything from another’s perspective for fear of gaining a little bit of understanding, every single person in this God-forsaken country must do just that. We all work with people we don’t like or agree with. The truth is, as Atticus Finch said and President Obama recently quoted “youIt’s the way of the world. Most of us have more maturity than 9-year-old children and can get on with it without throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the working week and threatening a shutdown of the entire workplace.
It’s become boring, predictable, embarrassing. Look at yourselves. Look at the electorate. The 2016 election had a turnout of 54%, do you really think another one is going to magically fix everything? Most of us suck it up and get on with it. So, whilst you, our elected individuals, paid to get on with each other, paid £70,000 per annum (a budget that always manages to take priority I might add) to sit down and talk and compromise refuse to do so, the only people that suffer are us, the poor everyday common people who have the displeasure to call you our government. You sit there at the top of your hill and talk about standing up for your constituents when the only thing any of us want you to do is pass something slightly resembling legislation. These grandiose speeches about equality taste quite bitter when all it means is that we’re equally ignored.
I know we are still ‘getting to grips’ with a power-sharing government. I know that twenty years ago Northern Ireland was still in a state of conflict, yes it’s amazing, look at how far we’ve come. What if I told you that we’re over it? Twenty years to change a world is perhaps asking too much, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but twenty years to make some start? To put in some effort? Twenty years for something other than this throwing of mud at each other from across a velveteen room is not an unreasonable request. The truth is most of our MLAs stand unfit for the job that they perform, the ‘university of life’ is not a good enough qualification to run a department; or, at the other end of the spectrum where stand the bigoted politics graduates who think that they know it all; representatives who, when at school refused to learn nationalist politics in favour of remaining ignorant or who simply want to follow in the footsteps of their opportunistic, ego-maniac heroes. As a student who with 12 GCSEs, 4 AS levels, 3 A2 levels and a BA degree on the way who struggles to get waitressing jobs, this is not fair. We are better than this. This game of stick in the mud is sickening.
The thing is the more I learn, the more I realise I do not know, each door I open leads me to another room filled with 12 more. Knowledge is wonderful. I stand, a nineteen-year-old Christian from a Protestant-dominated area who identifies as a romantic nationalist minus the xenophobia and republicanism. I am socially liberal and vote central. My political heroes range from Parnell to Eleanor Roosevelt to Gorbachev. I sit here and can see the desert spanning in front of me, the unending landscape of knowledge I do not yet understand and the knowledge that I never will understand. But it isn’t a lack of understanding on my part that causes me to lash out at the Northern Ireland Assembly. I understand completely that the Assembly’s bias and refusal to shift; that this stubborn child sitting in our white house may never work. I call for the opposition that has been discussed for the past decade. I call for a shift in system set-up. Democracy is a beautiful thing; no matter what I will remain civic minded – I will be angry at politics for as long as I can about it; I will care fiercely and obstinately.
Despite everything, I love Northern Ireland; I love the history, the culture, the people, the humour, the landscape. I love that we birthed C.S. Lewis and Seamus Heaney, that we invented the modern agricultural tractor and contributed to Thin Lizzy. I love that we call bread rolls ‘baps’ and always have the longest wedding parties, the worst weather and talk with an accent that makes me cringe when I hear it recorded. We have this gem of a nation; we’re so lucky to live in this first world country, a country people flee to for safety and yet, the government lets us down every time. Tradition alone is never a good enough reason to do anything. Imagine if we only had to worry about sleazy politician liars and overpaid lazybones? Imagine if a bill could get passed in under 9 months and without 4 petitions of concern held against it. Politics is an important job. You, politicians, have a responsibility and a privilege to play a small role in looking after us, in representing us. Why have I rarely heard my views heard in your chamber? You forget yourselves. We, the Northern Irish people put this power in your hands and we can take it away. Imagine daring to do more than the bear minimum? Imagine gaining a small sliver of respect? Imagine taking some responsibility. In this regard, I actually take my hat off to Jonathan Bell for standing up and being honest, no matter how long it took. A man with political beliefs I completely disagree with and yet, in showing some humanity, I can say he earned some degree of my respect.
We live in a complicated world. A world of game playing and ambiguity. In the face of it all I refuse to disbelieve that we are all compassionate beings. No one is born hating, if is something we learn along the way, alongside intolerance and prejudice. Mandela said “people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” At the risk of being sentimental I beg, I ask, I demand to see some glimpse of the unity in a country that represented itself so well in the UEFA Euros in the summertime. I want to see some of that representation in the parliament buildings. Have some bloody pride in this place, some self-respect. Get to work.