I’ve always been quite in-tuned into politics and current affairs, I could never help myself in having that opinion that spoke out against injustice and the oppression of basic rights. I am a product of my environment I guess, my grandmother active in social housing campaigns in the 1960/70s and having worked with the local youth in community projects back in her day – I guess a bit of it rubbed off on me. She often goes on at the family on how important it is to vote, especially to the younger members of the Rainey clan, stating her mantra “…We fought so that you, our children and grandchildren could vote – so vote for who you want, but as long as you vote.”
However, what my granny and baby boomer’s sometimes don’t understand is that my generation, the millennials, feel disillusioned with the nature of politics in Northern Ireland. Tribalism – green and orange, tends to dominate our political sphere. Out of protest to the status-quo, I’ve often voted for smaller alternative party’s because I hated the assumption that Sinn Féin had that they would receive my vote, because 1) I was a Nationalist; and 2) I was my granny’s granddaughter. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin have been guilty of taking the electorate for granted on both sides of the community. I’ve often questioned what these party’s have ever really done for the communities since the Good Friday Agreement and for my generation specifically. Northern Ireland has not progressed as far as I would have liked and I personally blame the sectarian divide in Stormont. Squabbles over flags, parades and other identity issues seem to be the priority over real life everyday problems that our society faces.
However, in last years election, we seen some unprecedented events take place in what is considered to be Sinn Féin’s stronghold – West Belfast. Gerry Carroll and People Before Profit did the unthinkable, they won one of MLA seats and it was quite apparent that Sinn Féin were not happy about it. I admit that I was one of the West Belfast electorate that voted for Gerry Carroll, I liked his approach to grass-root politics and many of his ideas, although a bit far-left at times, he sang to the old socialist republican sentiments of my teenage days and I couldn’t resist, despite his stance on the EU. The momentum of his victory was great, there was a real buzz in the area and people were hopeful that this would be the beginning of a new political era in Northern Ireland.
Then came Brexit. I remember that night so vividly, watching in despair as the results rolled in, feeling angry, tears rolling down my face and thinking all sorts of ill wishes to those who voted for it whilst sitting in my Brussels apartment. My emotions were so stricken that I was sick for days afterwards. All sorts came to light after the EU Referendum, one being the electoral turnout. I’ve always known Northern Ireland’s turn out for the assembly elections was pathetically low but I honestly thought that for something as important as this referendum, people would make the effort to vote. Unfortunately this was not the case, political apathy continued to rule. Out of an estimate of 1,260,955 eligible voters in Northern Ireland, only 790,149 valid votes were counted. That means 470,806 people didn’t vote during the EU Referendum. Not that it would have made a difference in the grand scheme of things, Northern Ireland’s population only makes up for about 3% of the UK’s total population. Our voice to ‘Remain’ would have been drowned out regardless of how many of us voted; however, the point is that we would have asserted our preference to ‘remain’ in greater numbers. Would the DUP have been able to disregard our preference so callously then?
The blog ‘Love NI, Vote NI’ highlights that during the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections, out of 1,281, 595 people were eligable to vote, almost half did not. Let’s look at the numbers below:
- 540,018 in total voted for DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP and SDLP in first preference votes;
- 577,851 did not vote at all.
People don’t realise how significant their one vote is. If each individual were to join together, they then create a collective whole. Your one voice joins a choir of others that becomes so loud, that in any true democracy, it cannot be ignored. Nothing can be more evident of this than the events that we’ve seen leading up to this election on March 2nd 2017.
Martin McGuinness did the right thing by pulling the plug on the Northern Irish Executive, the DUP and Arlene Foster need to know that their behaviour, incompetence and corruption will not be tolerated by the people. Sinn Féin may have only done this for political tactics or perhaps they were afraid of any potential backlash from the electorate in the future if they did nothing, or could I dare say that Sinn Féin have now acknowledged that they’re expected to work for the people, not just for them and their cronies?! Maybe losing that one seat to People Before Profit in West Belfast was the wake-up call they needed.
Whereas the DUP and Arlene Foster have done nothing but play Project Fear – ‘…vote for us or you’ll have a Catholic First Minister’. From the outright laughable obsession with Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin to the vile bigotry to gather support from Unionist hardliners, it is clear that Arlene and her party are scared of the electorate’s retribution.
This is probably one of the most important elections Northern Ireland will have since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. We’ve been given an opportunity to vote for change, have a means to vent our frustrations and to tell them enough is enough. I make the effort at every election to either vote by post or proxy, a little bit of paper work each time but I know in my conscious then I’ve done my bit. I know exactly who I’m voting for this election and no it’s not People Before Profit – they lost me when they voted against the motion for Northern Ireland to have special EU status. For the first time in my life, I’m voting for Sinn Féin – my 18 year old self from back in the day would be so shocked by this, but in all fairness, we need a majority party that will work towards progress for all citizens, regardless of their creed. Sinn Féin might be the only way to do this as they have one of the biggest basis for support in Northern Ireland.
Regardless of who I am voting for, it is imperative that you, the reader of this blog, makes the effort to vote in 3 day’s time. I by no means aim to condescend to you regarding the use of your civil rights as it is your prerogative to vote or not vote; however, I only ask that you consider this quote from Abraham Lincoln “…Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
Till next time.
How to get the best out of the Single Transferable Voting System
- If your preferred party is fielding multiples candidates, then follow their guidance on voting preference. They will have worked out the best strategy for reaching the quota and maximising transfers.
- If there is a party that you would not like to receive your vote, you’ll want to vote by preference for EVERY candidate on the ballot and make sure that your least preferred party is at the bottom of the list.
This second option is more preferable as how the votes tallies are calculated, you lower the chances of your least favorable party of having an effective quota to gain power. #votetillyouboke