The Good Friday Agreement was supposed to change our lives for the better. The Ulster Unionists and the SDLP had the opportunity to set the pattern for a fundamental change in the way that political power was exercised here.
SDLP MLA Carmel Hanna stated in this column recently how important it is not to have a power carve-up. Yet that is exactly what we got in the Assembly. Those of us in the centre ground, representing cross-community values, were ignored.
In our divided society, you cannot ignore divisions. A large elephant and living room come to mind.
Indeed, I work hard every day to overcome our divisions. In the Assembly, there was no attempt to engage with the rest of us on how we could all work together for the common good. Instead, there was this misguided notion that so long as one unionist balanced one nationalist, all was well.
Was it really any surprise that repeated opinion polls have shown that we have become more polarised in our views of others since the Agreement?
And is it any wonder that we see the focus shifting to the DUP and Sinn Fein? Especially when the British and Irish Governments continue to fete them, thinking that if they can square this implausible circle, we will be contented with the result?
We have strayed so far off the track of how we should be progressing together.
I wish to focus on what works, and how what doesn’t work is costing us – a lot.
Water charges, Education and Library Board budgets, and regional rate hikes three times the rate of inflation are in the news. But nobody besides Alliance is asking: How much is wasted on segregation? We estimate that it’s £1 billion, per year. That’s ten per cent of all of our public expenditure.
This cost of segregation goes beyond policing and clearing up costs.
We spend 30% more on health and personal services in Belfast than in comparable cities in England – because we have far more buildings providing services to only one section of society.
We spend 30% more on running schools – because we divide pupils by age, alleged ability, gender and perceived religious background.
We even manage to have Catholic and Protestant bus stops in Belfast.
Separation wastes resources that are desperately needed for quality services.
And what about the costs of lost inward investment and lost tourism?
Sharing works. Segregation costs.
On the canvassing doorstep, many people are saying to me, “I don’t vote because they never address the issues that matter.” I reply that the Alliance Party sees politics differently.
Alliance’s unique vision transcends the squabble of what passes for politics here. We will work to ensure the rule of law throughout this region, and an end to paramilitarism and crime. We will work for the restoration of devolution, based on a collective consensus so that no single party can hold any other to political ransom.
While all the other parties put the division between unionist and nationalist first, Alliance is working for a shared future, where people can live and learn, work and play together in safety.
I am here to work for all of us in the community, not just one section. Indeed, if you don’t vote, then you’re letting those other politicians you despise carry on with even more nonsense.
Voting works. Apathy costs.