By Edward Ferrin- Business and Economics Editor
Many people will recognise that now the political parties in Northern Ireland are setting their sights on the forthcoming Stormont election in May. The DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has come under fire over his party’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol and Sinn Fein has come under the spotlight over their failure to accede to Deirdre Hargey’s request that the £20 Universal Credit uplift should continue into the new year.
Every party wants to win the most MLAs and have the most influence in local decisions on the hill next year, but are voters now going to the polls because of the economy, society rather than orange or green. Every election, we have seen the same argument over again – “vote for me, or the other side will win.” It has worked well for parties in the past. Arlene Foster mentioned “Sinn Fein” on 32 different occasions in her “2017” Assembly election manifesto launch speech. She mentioned the word “economy” on just 6 occasions.
In the aftermath of five years since the 2017 election, people should ask themselves two simple questions – which have complex answers. First is are you better off than you were in 2017 now? Do you see your future in Northern Ireland? Can you get the job you need? Get the financial assistance you need to live your dreams in Northern Ireland? If not, then the power of your vote is key to changing that in May!
People in the United States who were angered by job losses and a frail economy under President Donald Trump, made their anger loud and clear at the election last November. In key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona, they held the difference between Trump’s re-election or Joe Biden becoming President. Ultimately, many of them put their weight behind Joe Biden, who went on to win 8 of the 12 key “swing states” to become President.
The next Assembly election is important, because the state of Northern Ireland’s economy hangs in the balance. Power-sharing is not ideal – it is the least-worst option to get agreement between unionists and nationalists. It has been responsible for poor decision-making and a lack of leadership from Stormont when difficult situations arise, but it is the way government works here. We must make do with the system of government there is now.
The second question is clear: are the current two largest parties providing the best plan for the future? Are they providing a clear agenda to create jobs? Are they tackling our poor infrastructure system? Are they the most ambitious parties at Stormont to build a better Northern Ireland? If yes, well they both should be re-elected again to continue what they have started. If not, then maybe it is time for a change at the top.
If people truly want to make Northern Ireland work for themselves, their children and their grandchildren, then they must go to the polls in May with the question “which party/parties are going to make Northern Ireland stronger, safer and more productive?” They shouldn’t ask themselves “which party will keep the other side out?”
Community division has stalled progress in Northern Ireland for too long. It has blocked economic prosperity, global opportunities and job creation once too many. People should look at the record of the past five years at Stormont to help them choose their vote in May! Three years of no government between 2017 and 2020 because of the DUP and Sinn Fein’s childish refusal to form a government, people left in limbo under soaring NHS waiting lists, an underfunded water and sewage system in desperate need of repair and continued community tensions because of words and deeds of politicians. (Anyone wondered why the buses have stopped early lately?) Is this as good as it can get?
Some political commentators have muted debate over who might become First and deputy-First Minister lately, but it is helpful when we think about the economy. Do you believe Jeffrey Donaldson and Michelle O’Neill working together at Stormont will make the economy grow, create new jobs, educate people with new skills and qualifications and end deprivation in our communities?
Or is there another alternative? Maybe Doug Beattie and Nichola Mallon perhaps? Would they best be able to build a stronger and more united society and deliver a stronger economy in the Executive Office? These questions have to be answered by those who are struggling…students struggling to pay rents on their accommodation, young people unable to gain the skills needed for jobs, communities suffering from floods and other effects of climate change and those who have been unable to break the cycle of poverty in their communities.
The election in May presents us with a huge opportunity, let’s not waste another five years to sectarian politics, economic downturn and social strife. Northern Ireland’s economy is in the balance, your vote is powerful and should be heard!