Getting down to the business of real politics

By Tom Ekin, Alliance Councillor for Belfast, Balmoral

“IT’S a sad fact of life, but four years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the main political parties here are still fighting over ‘important’ issues like the display of lilies in Stormont.”

“While the bombs and killings have largely stopped, it seems that we are still some way away from ‘normal’ bread and butter politics – politics that genuinely benefit the people.”

“So it is disappointing that the Executive has yet to get to grips with joint responsibility, as it is clear that we need to make major leaps forward to improve our public services. Health, education and public transport should be topping the agenda – not petty, political point-scoring exercises like the DUP’s feeble attempt to throw Sinn Fein out of the Assembly.”

“What we have in the Assembly is a system of governance that has taken us out of 30 years of conflict and towards a better future. But the Agreement should not be the ceiling against which our politicians bang their heads. Rather it should be the foundation on which we all build.”

“No other party has supported the Agreement as strongly as Alliance. But we have reached the stage where we need to look critically at what the Agreement has achieved and how it can be improved. There is no doubt that it has enhanced life here immeasurably; but that does not mean it cannot be even better.”

“Perhaps one of the flaws of the Agreement is that in an effort to get things off the ground and get the parties to co-operate as a multi-party Executive, our politicians failed to provide for real accountability. After the initial hiccups, I believe we should be seeing mechanisms emerge whereby incompetent ministers and senior staff are made amenable to the normal disciplines of political ‘business’.”

“We have had years of passing the buck to fly-by-night ministers and then calling on them to resign, years of calling for more money to be thrown at problems, years of asking the impractical or impossible, such as hospitals, schools or leisure centres on every street corner. Now we must stand on our own two feet and look at what is realistic.”

“At the moment we seem to live a life of consultation and review. Of course, these are often necessary, but we appear to be swamped by a sea of forms asking us for our opinion, and so far there is very little to show for it. We have known for years that the 11+ transfer test creates problems as well as opportunities; we know that the health service is increasingly ineffective in everyday delivery. Too much is being put on the long finger, but people want to see results. What we have not done is to find effective ways of incorporating the best of the existing with effective proposals to provide something better for everyone.”

“It’s about grasping the nettle with both hands – it’s about taking seriously the responsibilities that come with political power. It means taking tough decisions for the long-term, rather than just looking for quick-fix solutions that get us out of a crisis but don’t solve anything. A prime example is waste management. Only now are we beginning to wake up to the environmental time bomb that is waste.”

“Lessons also have to be learned here in Belfast City Council. While we recognise the filth of our streets, there has been a reluctance to try to change attitudes about littering. Council has now started a campaign which will be far reaching and ultimately money-saving if we have the ‘stickability’ required. It will require immense effort and commitment to get people to treat Belfast with the same respect that other cities have for their environment.”

“Because the Assembly is still in its formative years and must be built upon, it is necessary for Belfast City to stay energised in the pursuit of improvement. I believe the city council should look at the bigger picture and set out clearly where it wants to be in 20 years. I would like us to draw in the disparate Assembly departments and other non-devolved departments, many of whom have some say in the problems which have to be tackled and co-operate in properly integrated and co-ordinated government.”

“We have had too many years of bad, visionless government with a lack of responsibility; we must now pull together more than we have ever done. Despite the odd spat, hypocrisy and posturing, we are growing in political maturity – long may it continue. We need to spend more money and effort moving forward and less on looking backwards.”

“We must stop the squabbling, the point-scoring and the megaphone politics of yesteryear. In other words, we need to leave the sectarianism to one side and get down to the business of running Northern Ireland both effectively and efficiently – and we can do it.”


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