Soapbox – Here we go again?

Dr John Kyle is the deputy leader of the Progressive Unionist Party and Belfast City councillor for Titanic.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the DUP failed on 19 December to sign up to an agreement allowing the restoration of Stormont. No self- respecting DUP negotiator would end negotiations three weeks before a deadline. Plenty of time remained to squeeze out further concessions.

Never-the-less, there is serious pressure on the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree a deal and re-establish a functioning executive. Both Parties lost tens of thousands of votes on 13 December as voters made it clear their patience had run out and the continued absence of an assembly was totally unacceptable.

While MLAs continue to pocket a salary, Northern Ireland’s public services disintegrate. The magnitude of the hospital waiting list fiasco combined with the industrial action by nurses, no longer willing to tolerate their intolerable working conditions, blew away much of the lingering support for the DUP and Sinn Fein’s self-imposed deadlock. To watch politicians fiddling while the NHS burned proved too much for most voters.

The fact is that politicians are elected to govern, that is to say, to accept responsibility to act to make people’s lives better, or at the very least to prevent deterioration, loss of well being and ultimately chaos.

Politics is about finding ways to get things done. It is about problem solving, creating order, enabling change, facilitating progress. The juvenile attitude of some politicians in taking their ball home because they can’t get their way does not cut it. Negotiations can be robust, difficult, hard fought, but ultimately competent politicians will come to a compromise that will work, and they will not expect to be bailed out by Westminster.

More and more people are aware that we have major and growing problems in our public services. Politicians need to start delivering. Elections are competitive, adversarial and sometimes brutal, but once elected politicians should begin acting in the national interest, especially at this time of Brexit upheaval and uncertainty. Boris Johnston’s Brexit Withdrawal Bill will pass into law on 31 January 2020. The implications and consequences are far from clear and important decisions will be made later this year by the EU-UK Joint Committee. Our politicians should be working together, robustly advocating for Northern Ireland and lobbying this important committee.

We need to be making friends not enemies; we should be working constructively with both the UK and Irish Governments to achieve the best possible economic outcomes for Northern Ireland. It is time that our politicians began to do what the people expect them to do, namely work together collaboratively during a time of monumental change and in the face of significant challenges. Unionists railing against the Irish Government is unhelpful. Nationalists, Canute-like, opposing Brexit is senseless. Working together is in everyone’s best interests. We should be strengthening the bonds of kinship and friendship, not undermining them, and strengthening cultural ties between these five nations.

Leaving Brexit aside, a National Health Service in which hospital waiting lists are one hundred times worse than in England is beyond dysfunctional. It is broken. Settling the nurses’ industrial action alone will not resolve the problems; that will need a Minister, all party collaboration, vision, a willingness to make difficult decisions and a programme of sustained transformation over the next 10-15 years. Whether we have the calibre of politician capable of leading this change remains to be seen, but past experience does not encourage one to be optimistic.

Let’s hope that the results of the last election will convince our elected representatives that virtue signalling and blaming others is not good enough. People want to see action and results will only come if they can overcome their mutual animosity and work together. Petty party politics has failed, the people deserve better.

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