As the scandal, exposés and drip feed of information continues from various departments and political parties over the renewable heat incentive scheme, there is one certainty. We will be going to the polls on Thursday 2 March.
Regardless of the why, we, the voters, have been handed a golden opportunity to pass judgement on the performance of our elected representatives.
We have an opportunity to appease the ghosts of the 2016 elections, which saw Brexit and Trump triumph. We have an opportunity to reduce the mandate of Northern Ireland’s largest political party to below the 30-signature threshold required to trigger a petition of concern. We can eliminate the automatic ability of the DUP to wield it at will in favour of their own.
Of course, you may be happy with the status quo and that is your democratic right. However you still need to vote.
Voting is one of the most fundamental rights we enjoy. It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. That’s just 89 years ago. And every vote really does count. Remember when Michelle Gildernew won her seat by just four votes in the 2010 Westminster election? Even the Brexit outcome saw a relatively small number of votes, in the context of the voting population, secure the result.
Who to vote for in Northern Ireland is a perennial problem, with the narrow choice between themuns and t’other ones, and political parties will have a job to do to galvanise a weary public into casting their vote.
However “the public” is angry at the waste of money, time and effort that seems to recur on the hill. Our MLAs are supposed to work for us. Our votes got them into office.
Anecdotally, there are stories circulating of people who have never voted pledging to vote. You can’t believe everything (anything?) you read online but there are indications that some will change how they vote. In a country with such tribal divisions, even a small change in voting preference could translate into big change at the outcome.
For those who are starting to consider to whom they will give those all-important preferences, there is a need to cut through the political rhetoric and propaganda that is being perpetuated. Ask yourself what is important to you? It could be job creation, equality, the environment; your local hospital or GP practice. Or perhaps your children or grandchildren’s future.
Then take action.
Put your questions to the candidates. Expect answers. Then make an informed decision and come polling day, vote for the future you want.