Throughout February, we’re getting people from all over Northern Ireland to contribute personal pieces in the run up to the election on March 2nd. 28 days in February for 28 different voices.
The BBC news app on my phone defaults to an item dated 26th January 2017. It is titled ’Apocalypse is 30 seconds closer, say Doomsday Clock scientists.’ The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of the symbolic Doomsday Clock from three minutes to, two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. It is, the item goes on to tell us, the second closest to midnight it has been since 1953, when the US and Russia were testing hydrogen bombs. In 1991, it was set at seventeen minutes to midnight, and has been at three minutes since 2015. Scientists weigh up the threat of global perils, such as climate change and nuclear proliferation, and the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock becomes a metaphor for what it means for humanity – a complex range of factors, becomes represented by a single calibration.
I may have made it onto the BBC news myself in recent days. Two young men stopped me in the street to ask my opinion of the upcoming Northern Ireland election. The pithiest response I could give them for their vox pop, was, ‘this is an incredibly important election. People need to go and vote. People need to go and vote, and they need to vote for change.’
If I’d begun to say why I believe that, I’d be standing there yet – my list is a long one.
I am worried about the world. I think about it all the time. In no particular order, these are some of the things I think about: Brexit, reproductive health and welfare of women, equal marriage, public services like health and education and welfare and roads and environment. I worry about climate change and the landscape, biodiversity and food production. I worry about our water, and the air we breathe. I am an artist and I worry about getting enough paid work. I worry about sectarianism and racism, and domestic violence. I worry about women. I worry about equality. I worry that the Irish language not respected in this country and with it the people who speak it and I don’t like that something as ethnically belonging to this place is treated with such utter contempt. I worry about the needs and rights of disabled people and old people and children. I worry about how we get through the legacy of our past, about truth, about justice; about what it is we have come through together and how we got this far.
I worry about the rights and needs and welfare of the refugees and asylum seekers and how and what it is we have to do to support people better and what it is there is to learn from all of this. I worry about the scandals concerning institutional abuse of our children, about trafficking, and sexual exploitation. I think about and worry about our Jewish community and the threat they feel themselves to be under. I find it unacceptable that the graves of Jewish people have been desecrated. I see that farmers are suffering. I see that our landscape and environment is always being compromised and pressed; it is under constant threat… from fracking, from pollution, from poor planning decisions.
I see that animals are suffering. I see that children are suffering. I see that men are suffering. I see that we still have the worst statistics for suicide in Western Europe and we are not adequate in responding to the needs of our old people, our hungry, our homeless, our poor, our ill, our bees, our native wild and migratory birds. The hares. The poor old badgers. The wild flowers. Nothing sacred, is sacred in this place, it seems.
I worry about Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Somalia, and Turkey. I see how Italy and Greece and Germany and Sweden in particular, have responded to the needs of the refugees, and I see that other countries are not pulling their weight.
I detest that the British Government are closing the doors on lone refugee children – and that at least four NI MP’s voted to do that… in our name. Shame on them. They work for us, but don’t seem to notice.
I worry about Dakota and the Native American people being driven off their sacred land in the name of corporate dollars. I worry that our leaders seek to appease the likes of Trump, and that they tell us, and him, they will welcome him here!
I worry about the Orangutans in Borneo, the rhino, the whales and the elephants and the rainforests the world over. I worry about plastics in the sea and the melting of the ice caps.
The poor are becoming more poor. The rich are becoming richer. We live in a world of slavery and exploitation. We are all connected and the planet is connected.
Closer to home, and while I have the ‘floor’ and I’m having my say, I want to focus on Brexit – it isn’t going to go away and it is a mess of gargantuan proportions.
I grew up along the border, and because I remember, viscerally what that was like in day-to -day life – the added level of poverty that was not only a poverty of finance, economy and opportunity, but it was also cultural. It impacted on our identity, our sense of safety and freedom and our sense of ourselves. It impacted on our habits and our thinking, and the day-to-day osmosis of going about our business. I have stories. There were unapproved roads.
Back in the day, we had to tell the cops / Gardaí / army/ UDR / customs officers north and south, our names, our addresses, our dates of birth, where we were going to, where we were coming from and what was the nature of our business – all the time. You swallowed your rage and your indignation and your sense of humiliation and you smiled and told them, just for the sake of a quieter life and because the hassle really wasn’t worth it. They had power and you had not. End of.
The border brought an added presence of (and abundance of) uniformed, and wholly unsuitable, men into our teenage lives. Where I grew up, we had British Army, RUC, UDR, Northern Ireland Customs Officers, Irish Army, An Garda Síochána, Republic of Ireland Customs Officers and prison officers from ‘the South’. Occasionally, when I went to feed the horses before going to school, there might be a stranger, who’d slept in the hayshed overnight. Collectively these men, and they were always men, constituted a third fractured, bureaucratic, militarized, uniformed and paramilitary village, superimposed across our two villages of Belcoo and Blacklion, over that bridge, over the river that linked upper and lower Lough MacNean. In this milieu I went about my daily life going to school and thinking, if not obsessing, about how to find a way to leave.
I felt betrayed by the outcome of the Brexit referendum and I feel betrayed by the stance of the former First Minister, who chooses to ignore the fact that we voted remain. I feel betrayed.
As a result of Brexit my adult children are leaving this country; one of them has left already and the other plans to go as soon as she has finished studying. We will be at least two, highly educated and capable young women down.
My husband is a foreign national, from another EU country, Sweden. He works in Dublin and commutes across that border three days a week, twice a day. For the time being, he comes and goes and no one passes any remarks really. He goes about his business and that is that. He tells me about things he notices are happening – the businesses that are relocating out of London to Dublin, the partners being sought for projects, that no longer include seeking partnerships with businesses and academics from the UK, from uncertainty in the short-term, but possibly permanently – business simply has to continue and it needs to be effective and efficient and they need to just get on and do the jobs they need to do… and besides, they can get the right people and the right skills elsewhere, and give the UK the body-swerve, because no one needs more barriers. Well done the ‘leave camp’ – this is a serious own goal on trade.
We are already seeing stories appearing in the mainstream media about EU nationals coming into conflict with the Foreign Office in relation to their right to remain in the UK – even people with children, even people with jobs, and even people who have been in the UK for 30 years. We wonder what will become of us and what it will mean.
I have been asked for my passport when crossing the border. Garda Síochána regularly board the airport bus, that goes from Belfast to Dublin and vice verse, on several occasions in recent years, asking people for their passports. They have removed people off buses. I have seen this.
I lie in these situations. I simply lie. I say I don’t have any ID. I shrug and tell them, I don’t have ID but I know that they know by the cut of my jib and by my accent that I am from here and that, if it comes to it, I am as Irish as they are. Not that that is the point either really. No. This is far more sinister indeed.
If you have a different colour of skin, a different accent, any difference, and you have no ID, you will be removed from the bus. I don’t know what happens to those people then.
I am enraged about the cavalier, abrasive, arrogant and supremacist attitudes that I have seen from the Former First Minister, who, whether we like it or not, was there to represent us all – a fact she blatantly disregards. She has led us into a series of catastrophic messes – RHI and Brexit to name two specifically. Now, she behaves like a ‘Teflon John’, deflecting all the crap of the day onto the nearest civil servant and is digging in, stirring up old hatreds and old attitudes to keep us all stuck in the past. It is not just her however, her party has a track record of dodgy deals and poor decisions… reference also, Red Sky, oh and the NAMA portfolio Project Eagle. They have a track record of bad decision-making that is starting to look like a repetition compulsion.
I am hoping for better things in this election – higher standards of behavior in public life and that the public themselves, the electorate will opt for candidates – any candidates of a higher order of ethics, decision-making and standards – leaders committed to equality, leaders committed to shared space, committed to tolerance and love of difference and diversity; leaders of maturity and grace and ethics; leaders who are inclusive, and leaders with the right values. Our former First Minister and her ilk have so clearly demonstrated they are not capable of sharing, or inclusion. At best she is incompetent, but I find that hard to believe given how righteous she is and besides, she is clearly intelligent and well educated.
Our democratic say and our capacity to resist are critical. Votes matter. If you’re not voting, you’re part of the problem. We have no choice but to act locally and keep a view to how that has a global implication. We have to make our votes matter, now more than ever. Our government matters, and good governance within the government, matters.
Let’s give the right to govern us, to people who deserve it most and who will respect that most. We have to give our votes to people who will continue to listen to us once they are in government, and we have to hold them to account when they get there.
Let us vote for people who demonstrate that they have the willingness and the capability to care not just about themselves and the people like them, but the people who demonstrate a concern for others, those committed to the common good, committed to including people who are not like themselves. Believe behavior and examine the track records of those candidates and those parties who have contributed the most to change, to progress and to inclusion.
The thing about the STV system is that it supports us to be nuanced and pragmatic in our choices – to be inclusive. Choose wisely. Choose the ‘voices’ that represent the values that matter most to you. Be daring and pragmatic. Silence those who abuse their positions.
Every vote counts. Every second counts. Tick. Tick. Tick. Two-and-a-half-minutes until the Doomsday Clock strikes midnight.