In voting, there is a joy to be rediscovered

By voting for a candidate who will deliver in your community, you are ensuring your vote works hard to make your area a better place, which can have a long-lasting impact for your family for years to come
By voting for a candidate who will deliver in your community, you are ensuring your vote works hard to make your area a better place, which can have a long-lasting impact for your family for years to come

ONE must cast their mind back to May 2019, shortly before Covid-19 brought about a global standstill, to remember the last time Northern Ireland went to the polls for a council election.

Four years is a long stretch by anyone’s count, and to say that much has changed in our world, across local and global arenas, would be dealing in wild understatement. New leaders and monarchs, fresh challenges and opportunities. None more tangible for Northern Ireland this month than the council elections set to take place on May 18, following a two week delay due to the King’s Coronation.

Whatever the reason, and whatever your inclination, the chance to exercise one’s civic duty and have a meaningful influence on local issues doesn’t come around too often. Governments and councils make decisions on behalf of their citizens all year round; election day is the chance to open up something of a two-way dialogue and have a say on how local services are delivered.

What I have been saying to anyone who will listen is that these are council elections, so vote on who will deliver for your local community. And by that, I mean where you live. By doing so, you are ensuring your vote works hard to make the area where you’ve planted your roots a better place, which can then have that long-lasting ripple effect for your family and those around you over the years to come.

It’s the first and easiest step towards getting involved in your local community and, as is the case with a council election, determining how the range of provisions from waste collection to park management goes towards making the place you live feel reasonably pleasant, clean, and safe. Vote today and impact tomorrow.

Voter apathy is of course a perennial issue, made worse by the current stalemate that we have seen become both a political football and a sticking point for an electorate for whom the memory of last year’s Stormont poll still looms fresh in the mind. However therein lies a risk of reinforcing the narrative that whatever happens on Thursday will be inconsequential.

Take the spoof election posters spotted in Belfast City Centre as an example, which read: ‘vote for a header; you’re gonna’ get one anyway’ and feature a host of renown international soccer players famed for being, shall we say, larger-than-life personalities on and off the pitch.

Other than serving to entertain the electorate, these mock-ups are little more than a very visual jest which in many ways attempts to undermine the outcome of May 18.

Perhaps they are reflective of those already resigned to a view that their individual vote doesn’t matter in that it won’t have much of a bearing on the eventual outcome, whether that’s down to disillusionment, lack of knowledge, or believing that a particular council seat is already marked safe. Pessimism pervades, and apathy isn’t too far behind.

Yet I am firmly of the belief that, in voting, there is a joy to be rediscovered. Or perhaps experienced fresh if it’s your first time at the ballot box. For one, just about everything we interact with within our neighbourhood can be traced back to the work carried out at the local guildhall or council office.

And it’s not just bins and parking tickets; the remit of Northern Ireland’s 11 local councils spans building control, cemeteries, recycling, sports facilities, and the protection and improvement of environments and public spaces. Those shared havens on our doorsteps. In voting, you’re having a say on how these amenities ought to be managed and maintained over the next number of years.

Yes, it may be Northern Ireland’s second election in as many years. And commentators and analysts will no doubt watch closely in their bid to determine if Friday’s results are a bellweather of things to come. Whatever the case, everyone you know will be impacted on some level. This week is a chance to use your vote and be part of that conversation.