I don’t tend to talk politics and I’m fairly sure my readers already know that I’m a Guardian reading, Green/Alliance party voter. Is there any point getting involved, I think, when round and round we go in ever more depressing circles. It would be rather embarrassing, until we look across the water at the circus masquerading as a government there, and think, well, at least it’s not just us who are being run by a bunch of muppets.
Another reason to stay clear of politics are the nasty surprises which lurk beneath the surface. We’ve all been there, chattering away with people whom we assumed shared similar views to ourselves, when they reveal that they support some bastard party you wish were every bit as extinct as the dinosaurs they don’t believe in. It takes time to reconcile that they’re still the same people you liked before.
I was the subject of such confusion myself once, when teaching in a Catholic Grammar school. They were a GCSE English class and I was taking them through the poetry anthology and trying to bring some awful poems to life. I always pictured the person behind the dreadful collection as being a flinty old crone who spent her Saturday evenings chaining up swings in playgrounds. Anyway, while trying to explain ‘I remember I remember’ by Christina Rossetti (she was another barrel of laughs) I let slip that I had attended a Church of Ireland growing up. One wee girl almost toppled off her stool. ‘Yes, I’m a Protestant,’ I clarified for the rest of them, most of whom were AGOG. I think they had quite liked me and felt aggrieved or betrayed or probably both, when they discovered I was one of ‘them’uns.’ They seemed quite put out by it.
Last week I was listening to the Nolan show on Tuesday morning when Vinny, (Nolan must have been on his hols) was talking about the cuts to education. I knew already, but hearing the first-hand experiences were horrifying. The funding has all but dried up, and of course the ones suffering are any children who require extra help with their reading and writing. There simply isn’t the money to pay for support staff, and teachers are already battling to get through the curriculum with 30+ pupils in a class. It’s a horrible feeling, to know in your bones, that you can’t give each child the time and attention they need. Teacher friends of mine work for HOURS, every single night. They often stay in school until 5 or 6, before going home to start into the marking and/or planning for the next day. Perhaps they’ve stayed after school to take games or drama or debating, and on Sunday morning they might pop down to Junior parkrun to encourage their pupils, or stand freezing the bollocks off themselves while their team plays rugby or Gaelic of a Saturday.
To think that at every single meeting, these teachers, who have already had their pay or pensions frozen (I can’t keep up but it’s all a shite state of affairs) have to sit and listen to an extremely glum prognosis about the school budget. ‘Don’t be even thinking about ordering books or other essential equipment!’ God Forbid the Executive invests in something important like education. As long as the sheds and out houses in Fermanagh are nice and toasty who gives a shit about the kids, eh?
And yet. Every year, because of the deeply entrenched divisions between the orange and the green, Northern Irish voters still elect the very parties who refuse to go into government and do the jobs they are supposed to do. It’s our teachers who suffer, and the parents pulling their hair out at home because their children aren’t getting the care they deserve and need.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what scandals our politicians embroil themselves in, or what hatred they stir up when they purposely make decisions that they know will antagonise the other side. They can do whatever they want, knowing fine rightly, that when they rap on doors needing votes, all they have to say is: ‘Who do you want as First Minister? Arlene or Michelle?’ and they will get the vote, because people stick to their tribes, regardless of how abhorrent the actions of the parties are, and how little they actually care about the vulnerable in society.
So no, I don’t normally talk politics, but I’m frustrated that for over eighteen months we’ve had no government, and being a true cynic, I bet there’s all sorts of nefarious wheeler/dealing going on, but why should it be our children, our elderly and the sick in our society who have to pay the price?
We need to wake up. Write to your MLA’s and MPs and quote what the principal of your child’s primary school said about their flat-lining budgets and what that means for your kids. And say there’s no way you’re giving them your vote next time if they don’t sort their shit out.