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After day of firsts in Northern Ireland, the work begins

It was a day of firsts in Northern Ireland: The first time in two years that it has a functioning government;
the first time that a nationalist and Catholic has been elected First Minister in the form of Michelle O’Neill;
the first time the executive office – made up of the first and deputy first ministers, and two junior ministers – is made up of women, in the form of Michelle O’Neill, Emma Little Pengelly, Aisling Reilly and Pam Cameron.

But now after the day of firsts, the work begins. Richard Garland is a loyalist political activist from Belfast.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, he said: “I think it’s a tough one to quantify the exact impact of two years with no government. Northern Ireland was already having huge issues before this.

“We had a three-year boycott of Stormont from 2017 to 2020. I think a lot of people are getting more and more frustrated.

“We’ve got these strikes that are going on having a huge impact. You know everything from education to health, hospitals, all sorts of stuff.

“Waiting lists are the highest they’ve been, the highest on record; A&E times – highest on record; ambulance waiting times – highest on record.

“There’s a lot going on here and politicians need to realise that this impacts people, that people get emotional about this, they get angry. Don’t get me wrong, Stormont isn’t going to cure everything but we need to make a start. We can’t keep going round and round in circles.

“From a unionist perspective, to sell the union, we have to make it work, to make Northern Ireland work,” he said.

Cailín McCaffrey
Cailín McCaffrey said recent public sector strikes were all about ‘fighting back’

For Northern Ireland to “work” the basic needs people face in order to get by day-to-day need to be prioritised, according to Cailín McCaffrey, a nationalist community activist from west Belfast.

“I suppose in Belfast and right across the North, we’ve seen the charade of the DUP and people are just completely and utterly fed up with it.

“People you know are very much worried about the food that they’re putting in their fridge and how they’re able to wash their clothes with the rising bills and the rising cost of everything, I suppose.

“The fact that we haven’t had a government is a joke, and I suppose that’s been shown as well by the broad strikes that we’ve seen from workers right across the board. From medical staff, hospital workers, teachers, transport workers, this is all fighting back.”

The Stormont Assembly sat for the first time in two years yesterday
The Stormont Assembly sat for the first time in two years yesterday

“I think that’s ultimately the turning point that forced basically the DUP to come back. People obviously can’t get GP appointments. I mean there’s a family up the street from me, they have to have food from the food bank.

“They can’t afford to buy necessities for themselves and for their children, and this is all an impact of not having our government to be able to help us in any way. I don’t think many of us are very hopeful.

“You know, it feels like we’ve had no government more than we have had in recent years.

“It is a historic moment having a Sinn Féin first Minister, but it doesn’t feel like one, people are just fed up,” Ms McCaffrey said.

Mr Garland said he is happy for Catholics, nationalists and republicans in Belfast, who finally get to see somebody from their side of the community representing them.

“Look, you know, remember the days of Paisley and McGuinness? There was something about that, something about them working together, positive attitudes, smiles, grins. I want to see [a return] back to that.

“I know, it’s not perfect. We’ve got to make this place work and see a bit of positivity return to the place. So we’ll see how it goes,” Mr Garland added.

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