Whenever there is some kind of political development, and by that I really mean a crisis, in Northern Ireland I often receive messages from friends in other places asking me to explain what is going on
Usually I have some kind of standard response ready, but when I received that inevitable text at the beginning of the week from a friend in England following Martin McGuinness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister, my response was different – I almost didn’t have anything to say.
Because whilst the situation we face has all of the theatrics of a crisis that we’re so used to in Northern Ireland, this time it feels different.
I’m only twenty-four years old, for another few days at least, so I accept that my experience of our history is much more limited to those who are older than I. But to me, it feels as though we’re at a turning point – as though the stakes are higher than they have been for quite some time.
I know that many have faced very different and immeasurably difficult experiences, and in many cases, with unimaginable pain and heartache attached to them.
I do not pretend to know those experiences. But I do have a brain, and a voice and a vote. And I also know that over the years people did not make sacrifices for us to take anything we have today, for granted.
The truth is that our peace process was born out of big, bold thinking. It was born out of a desire to build bridges and to energise a genuine process of reconciliation within society. The structures it put in place perhaps assumed those who inhabited them would always understand, respect and abide by the values that took us to those first stops on the ever-evolving road to power sharing. That assumption is one which perhaps now puts everything at risk.
My generation was born into a time of renewed hope – a time with the promise of peace, stability and prosperity. We too were raised by a generation who for the first time in a long time had reason to be hopeful, not necessarily for their futures but almost certainly for ours.
The reality we face today however is one in which I believe the vast majority of people question whether Stormont really has the capacity to improve society let alone help its citizens. That is, quite honestly a shameful place for us to be.
I whole-heartedly believe that we, the people of Northern Ireland, are best placed to govern ourselves. But in recent years we have become too tolerant of a political culture that does not relate to our own lives. We have accepted a political system that is characterised by crisis and dysfunction. And we have allowed the gap between our government and the people it is there to serve, to widen.
The road ahead is without a doubt ours to determine. Politics ultimately is about making people’s lives better and if the politics being played out in Northern Ireland isn’t doing that, then we all have to bear responsibility.
It now seems inevitable that there is to be an early Assembly election. So now there is no excuse. Each and every single one of us has, not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to ourselves and perhaps more importantly the generations who will follow us to use this election and the opportunities that come with it to deliver the strongest possible message about the standard of politics we not only expect, but deserve.
It is time that we not only make that our basic demand, but that we take responsibility for making it a reality.