There are 370,000 people in poverty in the north. 30,000 food parcels were distributed last year, 13,000 of these to children. There are 11,800 people homeless in the north, a higher figure than in the south.
Suicide rates are higher in the north of Ireland than in the south of Ireland or in England. Drug use and deteriorating mental health is not being met with the neccessary funded interventions. The economy of the north and enterprise is not getting the attention that it needs. Farming is still waiting for Stormont to work out how to replace the collapse in income brought on by the ending of CAP as a result of Brexit. All of this before, the planned Welfare Cuts dig in.
Stormont is broken. It needs to be seriously reformed for it to ever work in a stable and productive manner. Aontú has detailed the necessity for Join Authority to be instituted now to get bread and butter departmental decisions made and to motivate the DUP to actually fulfil its Executive responsibility. We have illustrated the steps that can be taken to devolve more power from London to Ireland and how an All-Ireland government can develop in the future.
Aontú is in opposition to the establishment parties. It’s our job as part of the democratic process to hold the establishment parties to account.
Michelle O’Neill has called on people to vote for Sinn Féin for equality. We have simply asked where is the equality for the 370,000 people in poverty, the 11,800 people homeless or the 30,000 people in receipt of food parcels. Calling for equality and yet not using your mandate to fix the gross inequality is wrong.
For highlighting this we have been attacked by members of Sinn Féin. That’s fine. That’s the way the political system works. However that the anger has been focused on Aontú and not the poverty, homelessness and hunger is shocking. Political activists need to ask themselves the question why is there anger focused on us and not the poverty, homelessness and hunger. The debate should not always be framed “Sinn Féin against the World”. It should be framed, is there merit in the words of the opposition and how can we work to fix the problems.
The truth is, interest in fixing the problem has been dragged out of the parties due to the brutally tragic events in Derry. The standing ovation at the funeral of Lyra McKee gave a visual picture of the “leadership in reverse” society that we have in the north of Ireland. The leaders at the front were forced reluctantly to follow the great body of ordinary citizens in the rest of the church.
It is true that the DUP’s intransigence has prevented the Executive from functioning. But over the last two years, where has the urgency been in pushing the DUP, the Irish Government and the British Government to fulfill their responsibilities. Food poverty, housing poverty, health poverty and the economy are urgent issues. But there has been no visible push by either nationalist party to make happen.
We questioned the drawing down of millions of pounds of salaries and expenses from a closed Stormont. This did not go down well either. The job of an MLA is to legislate, create policy and to deliver budgets. This is not being done. Yet the money is being drawn down by the parties. At best this is embarrassing. At worst it feels like the noses of hundreds of thousands of people in need are being rubbed in it. No one is forcing them to take the money, they choose to do it.
As nationalists and republicans we cannot rely on demographics or Brexit to bring change to Ireland. The problems experienced are urgent and real. The response to them should also be urgent and real.