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Leona O'Neill: It's time for new faces with new ideas at Stormont, for the sake of our children

Three years and counting without a sitting government is dragging the north back to its bitter and divided past, writes Leona O'Neill. Isn't it time we all came together to demand something better for the sake of our children and their futures?

The north is now a world record holder for going without government. Picture by Mal McCann.

IT'S been 1,000 days since we last had a working government here in Northern Ireland and those who gathered in protest at Stormont on Sunday are right – we do deserve better than this.

Because of our politicians' 'red lines' and disrespect for one another we have gone three years – now the world record for the longest period without a sitting government – without any progress, unless you count the backward steps we have been taking across the region.

Besides the fact that is has cost the taxpayer almost £100 million to run Stormont since it shut down, the toxic attitude of our politicians has created a poisonous atmosphere that stretches well beyond the walls of Stormont.

There is no doubt that our society has changed for the worst over the last three years. Our leaders inability to work together has filtered down to every community, to every city and town in this place. Our young people are using the language of our past: teenagers talk of republican and loyalist paramilitaries with pride, the writing on the walls has become more threatening. It matters again whether they are Catholic or Protestant, whereas it didn't for 20 years.

There is division again, fear, hatred, distrust. It might not have reached you yet, but I see it on the streets every day.

You need only look at the comment sections on news sites or comments on social media to see we are as intolerant of each other as ever and more divided than we ever were.

The political void has allowed groups with menace in mind to build trenches and more and more young people on both sides are being enticed into them with revised versions of our brutal and bloody history.

Brexit, dissident republican violence, Tory cuts, welfare reform and continued social and economic deprivation, among many other issues in this corner of the world, have given our young people this perfect Northern Ireland storm where their streets are becoming more dangerous, their schools less funded and their hospital waiting lists longer.

God only knows what this place will look like then they reach an age to have children of their own. Hope for their future is in short supply and yet we all carry on regardless, for that is what northern Irish people do. We carried on through the darkest days of our Troubles, because we are made of tough stuff. We carried on through the days of peace, because we knew we had to put it all behind us. Now we are just stumbling blindly forward, trying to pretend that everything is going to be OK, but with that old familiar feeling of dread in our stomachs.

Martin McGuinness pulled down the institutions in 2017. There have been talks about talks but they came to nothing, not even when journalist Lyra McKee was gunned down in April. Even the loss of a young innocent woman in the prime of her life couldn't prompt them into action, to prevent something like that happening again.

What we need is not our MLAs to return to Stormont. For it is evident that they cannot and will not work together. Their time was back then. It is time now for new faces with new ideas and new solutions to drive us forward, drive us fast and far away from the old familiar sectarian cancer that is starting to slowly envelope us.

Our politicians haven't worked for 1,000 days and are still getting paid. They know that there is not another election until at least 2021 and that they won't have to face the electorate until then. There should be an assembly election called this year, because we are a ship set adrift and we are undoubtedly entering uncharted, treacherous waters and we need someone to take the helm, not stand about the deck arguing over whose fault it is or isn't, or who did things worse, themmuns or ussuns.

I would hope that the Northern Ireland public, jaded by almost three years of political stalemate, would perhaps choose their public representatives more wisely, ditch the tribal politics and vote for people who have the courage and strength to go into negotiations and fight for the betterment of them, their children and the betterment of all their neighbours in Northern Ireland.

I can hope that, but as with everything that happens in Northern Ireland, I'll not hold my breath.

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