Clare Bailey is the Deputy Leader of the Green Party and a candidate for South Belfast
I’ve been struck by the ramping up of regressive rhetoric since the traditional parties “launched” their election campaigns. The Irish language, soldiers in the dock, orange halls and border patrols.
I became interested and active in politics as a mature student at Queens in my late thirties. I was so proud when I went to vote with my two children for the first time. I was optimistic about their future in our post-conflict society.
Another personal high point came when I was elected to the Assembly in May 2016. And then came the RHI fiasco and, well, we all know what happened next. As you read this, I’m out again in South Belfast asking the people for their first preference vote.
While the rhetoric of the traditional parties creeps in and around us like a dense fog, I am invigorated by what I hear from people on the South Belfast doorsteps. The voices, faces and views of the people that I meet are diverse and interesting.
My theory is that the people are more progressive than the politicians they elect. On issues such as marriage equality, abortion law reform and political donation transparency, people take a more progressive and pragmatic approach than the vast majority of our politicians.
But isn’t it true that we get the politicians we deserve? I don’t always think so. And maybe here’s why – there is a collective trauma and fear that stems from the conflict here.
Thankfully young people like my kids are not always directly affected by this, but the generation that lived through the conflict is certainly impacted. The traditional parties have been adept at tapping into these negative emotions, stirring up fear and suspicion.
So, when the DUP warns of putting soldiers in the dock and Sinn Fein about the borders of the past, the conflict-related trauma and fear kicks in and people retreat into their shell or want to come out fighting.
It’s the classic fight of flight response. Matters such as marriage equality and abortion law reform don’t appear so important when you feel under threat.
On key social issues, the UK has moved ahead of this place and our regressive politicians. In a similar way, the Same Sex Marriage Referendum has shown that the Republic of Ireland is leaving Northern Ireland in its wake despite Sinn Fein’s all-island approach.
We’ve just had wasted money, time and opportunities here in Northern Ireland.
So, what do we do? Forget the past and move forward? I don’t think that we can or should just forget, but I do think that the traditional parties need to stop using the past as a self-serving electoral tool.
I am passionate about the Green Party and would encourage people to vote for the Green candidate who is standing in every constituency.
But above and beyond this, I would advocate for a post-election constitutional convention to move decision-making closer to the people. The Good Friday Agreement was called the people’s agreement.
People have moved on a series of social issues since 1998 – their politicians need to move with them.