Business

As leaders, women and mothers, Arlene and Michelle must find common ground

It's time for Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill - as leaders, women and mothers - to find some common ground and make the changes we need
Roseann Kelly

THE health and education services in Northern Ireland are being hugely impacted by the lack of ministerial direction and authority. Core services are suffering and declining due to the absence of the Assembly.

This, along with the many faceted challenges that Brexit will bring, has brought us to crisis point. The most vulnerable in our society - our children and those requiring treatment - are being directly impacted, and it's just not good enough.

In a time when we should be investing in our future, we learn than all primary and nursery schools are to receive £56 less per pupil.

The principal of the school my own child goes to said: "Education in Northern Ireland is at crisis point. We do not have sufficient funds to continue to provide the high-level education that our country has always provided for our children. If the funding does not come, then either children are going to suffer.”

I've also heard directly from a nurse about the extent in which the health service is in crisis. The stress nurses are under is either causing ill health or they are leaving to pursue other careers. She said she would leave as soon as the opportunity arose. These are men and women who chose this vocational path, but now see no other alternative but to leave they are to look after their own heath.

As far back as January Royal College of Nursing (RCN) head Janice Smyth expressed serious concerns warning that the health service in Northern Ireland was heading for meltdown in the wake of the Stormont crisis.

We were then shocked the actual numbers of jobs vacancies and the huge waiting lists - some 850 nursing vacancies across four of Northern Ireland's five health trusts and 243 doctor vacancies, and over 260,000 patients waiting for their first appointment, a 17 per cent jump on the same point in June 2016.

So what has this got to do with business?

Well, business depends on a healthy and educated population, and every one of us is impacted by their success or failure. I believe we've reached the point where the political parties have a moral obligation to reach agreement and restore the Assembly immediately.

The new head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, has enthusiastically taken up his position of huge responsibility and challenge, but with no Executive in place, is it fair to ask him to deliver with his hands tied?

I understand that reaching agreement is not easy and many of the issues are complex. But it's got to the point where our society is suffering, and the politicians inaction is simply not good enough. The politicking must stop and leadership must come to the fore. Prior to the election the parties told us what they would do for us if we elected them. Well we did elect them - and we now expect them to deliver.

So today I appeal to Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, as leaders, as women, and as mothers, to sit down together and find some common ground. It's time these two showed the men that they are prepared to make the change we need. Women did this during the worst of the Troubles and we now need these two party leaders to show courage and decisiveness, and to find a way right now to do the right thing for all the people of Northern Ireland.

:: Roseann Kelly (roseann@ womeninbusinessni.com) is chief executive of Women in Business (www.womeninbusinessni.com), the largest and fastest growing business network for female entrepreneurs and senior women in management in Northern Ireland, with 2,500 members spread throughout all industry sectors. Follow Women in Business NI on Facebook at www.facebook.com/women-inbusinessni or on Twitter @wibni.

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