My Dad died two days before Christmas. I was on my way up to see him when I got a missed call and a text from my brother telling me he’d passed away.
He had pancreatic cancer. The time between diagnosis and death is often short. Before you’ve had time to wrap your head around the fact that your loved one is ill, they are gone. The shock of the loss is as sharp and painful as the grief. How can somebody be there one minute and gone the next?
Throughout dad’s illness, the problems inside the NHS were laid bare. The waits in A&E. The struggle to see a GP. Delays. Uncertainty. All this is allowed because, oh well, this is just how it is now.
NHS staff are underpaid, exhausted and taken for granted. They deserve the world. They deserve better than this wreck of a healthcare system that treats their hard work with indifference and contempt.
Going through it all, you get angry that you’re supposed to accept this. That you are not the only family experiencing the day-to-day reality of the broken NHS. It has been like this for many, many years. You feel like you’re going mad. Something is broken and nothing is changing.
Tomorrow, sixteen unions in Northern Ireland will bring the country to a standstill. Nurses, teachers, road gritters, civil servants and bus drivers will walkout in one of the biggest strikes in Northern Ireland’s history. There will be widespread disruption to health, transport and education.
The only shocking thing about the strikes is that it took this long for the dam to break. The unions have been striking for years over pay and working conditions but there is something different about tomorrow. You can feel the anger in the air. Enough is really enough.
On Twitter/X, the BBC’s John Campbell said, “Official figures suggest median real pay in the public sector fell by 4% in 21/22 & then again by a whopping 7% in 22/23. The sort of ‘adjustment’ you might expect during an IMF bailout.”
Northern Ireland’s politicians should thank their lucky stars that they are only facing a day of strikes. It is a miracle that the unions haven’t burned this place to the ground. That the people of Northern Ireland, weary, exhausted and disillusioned with politics, aren’t kicking down the doors of Stormont.
The Secretary of State could end this now. The money is there to raise pay but it is being withheld while Chris Heaton Harris plays chicken with the DUP. Public sector workers are the latest victims of the Tories’ cruel, vile policies as they seek to cause untold misery to thousands no matter the consequences.
The DUP have been a useful scapegoat for the government but let’s not sidestep the obvious here. The Secretary of State has a weapon in his hands because they put it there. The boycott of Stormont has achieved nothing but the further demise of Northern Ireland’s infrastructure and broken community relations.
Indifference towards Stormont is not just confined to unionism. Outside of a desire to see government return on a basic level, does anybody think the average person in Northern Ireland has any enthusiasm for the status quo? Does anybody have any faith in the political system anymore? There was a sense of finality about today’s Assembly recall. We have moved into a new era of politics here.
Will there be constitutional implications? Maybe. Nationalists and republicans are using the crisis to argue that Northern Ireland doesn’t work. I don’t blame them. Time will tell whether the middle ground listens.
Over the summer I heard a phrase that sticks in my mind-“The hope of possibility.” With every day that passes the positive economic case for the union disappears down a drain. It is all but gone. Does the average person have the hope of possibility in Northern Ireland anymore? By embracing nihilism and tossing the Assembly to one side, the DUP are playing a dangerous game.
Despite the grimness of it all, there is hope in tomorrow. The unions strike for us all. For those of us feeling angry and despondent, the strikes are a shot in the arm. A reminder that, no, people aren’t willing to put up with this ridiculous situation anymore. They are a balm for my very sad soul. Let there be more of it.
Sarah is a writer and lawyer from Belfast.