Organisers of a event in Portadown, voicing frustrating at the lack of political progress, have vowed to continue to call on politicians to ‘get back to work’.
Up to 400 people gathered outside St Mark’s Church to hear the rally cry ‘We Deserve Better’.
It was sparked by a campaign launched to mark the date when Northern Ireland had the ignomy of holding the world record as a democratic country without a government for the longest period in peacetime.
One of the organisers, Tim Reynolds told last night’s audience: “Over the past 18 months across Northern Ireland, there have been thousands of conversations around the frustration of Stormont stalemate - at the bus stop, in the office, at the gym, or the school gate - on car journeys and at family gatherings.
“Today, our voices are joining together to tell our elected officials loudly and clearly that We Deserve Better.”
He and joint organiser Mel Wiggins pointed to a number of ambitions the campaign wished to achieve.
That all parties return to talks immediately
That an independent facilitator be appointed by the Irish and UK governments to get politicians and parties talking and working together effectively for the betterment of everyone in Northern Ireland.
That there be a return to Stormont, but not to business as usual - to rational and mature politics, which lay the foundations for a positive, progressive and prosperous future for us all.
that MLAs’ wages to be significantly reduced if they are unwilling and fail to return to talks.
Mel said: “These events have been organised by ordinary, local, peaceful people, who want the very best for all people in Northern Ireland. We are fed up and, like you, we are frustrated that Stormont is dormant and even today the parties that are supposed to represent us have used the we deserve better campaign as a leveraging tool to try and blame the other for our lack of leadership. It’s not good enough.
“And so we gather here to say that We Deserve Better.
“It is estimated that £9 million pounds of taxpayer money – our money – has gone into the pockets of MLAs over the last 589 days, not including MLA pensions or expenses. They even got a pay rise! We Deserve Better.”
Tim said: “Dormant Stormont is preventing progress; government departments aren’t getting policies signed off by ministers. Why? Because they aren’t at work to sign them off!
“Northern Ireland has no consensus on Brexit, can you believe that?”
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, who attended the protest, said: “At times politicians must actually listen to the people instead of just saying they are listening to the people. At the ‘We Deserve Better’ rally in Portadown I stood with the people – around 200 – and listened to the messages coming from the podium. They were from activists, teachers, community workers and church leaders; it was a message that was clear and concise. We, the politicians, must get on with governing Northern Ireland for the good of all the people.
“It was not easy to stand there as an Ulster Unionist MLA and hear the people vent their frustrations – some directed at the political parties, some at the MLAs - but nevertheless it was the right to be there and as some would say ‘take my medicine’. The rally made me feel embarrassed but also frustrated in that I can do little to get our Executive and Assembly up and running again and that I am being excluded from doing my job because others cannot do theirs.
“No party is free of guilt at the present situation but the continual carve up of Northern Ireland for the political benefit of the DUP and Sinn Fein is endangering the lives of our citizens and our democracy. Through a crumbling health service and an education system that is clearly not fit for purpose combined with an infrastructure that is in need of serious investment Northern Ireland is fast becoming the basket case of the United Kingdom. No political party should be allowed to do this to it citizens and it will only be a matter of time before the people take back control and MLAs are forced to do what they are elected to do.”