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Leona O'Neill: Our political leaders are elected to make stuff work for us – not walk away

As the DUP threaten to pull Stormont down again over the Northern Ireland protocol, Leona O'Neill wonders why we never seem to be happy here unless we have something to fight each other over, regardless of the cost...

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson says he will close Stormont if issues around the Northern Ireland protocol are not resolved to his party's liking

WE REALLY do love a good old crisis here in Northern Ireland, don't we? It's like we're not content until we have the threat of violence and chaos hanging over us.

To an outsider looking in, it would appear we're not happy unless we have something to fight over, oppose or be infuriated by. That we love nothing more than falling in behind an issue that sets us totally against the other side of the community, ceaselessly.

There used to be an advertisement on the television for an insurance company, Commercial Union if my memory serves me correctly, that had a catchphrase "we won't make a drama out of a crisis". Well, here in Northern Ireland, that is exactly what some of us are experts at: making full-on, level seven dramas in the midst of a crisis, taking a very challenging situation and making it 10 or 20 times worse than you could think possible. It's our gift.

Last week, as hundreds of students were sent home as close contacts of a Covid case, our school staff struggled with contact tracing, thousands more people fell ill with coronavirus, dozens more died from the virus and our beleaguered hospital workers tried to keep everyone's head above water, some of our elected representatives decided it was the time to deepen an already cavernous crisis.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson announced he would pull Stormont down if issues around the Northern Ireland protocol are not resolved to his party's liking. He said that violence could return to our streets should the problem not be solved.

Last time I looked, it's the actual job of politicians to talk, shout, wrestle, wrangle, negotiate and make stuff work on behalf of those who voted for them. Not walk away. Walking away is giving up. Walking away shows you're not capable of standing your ground and fighting your corner.

The last time the lights went out at Stormont, our schools found themselves completely on their knees and our health service suffered the same fate. Progress stalled on crucially important issues and regulations were not implemented to the detriment of all people.

And all of those issues, some of which our society is still recovering from, were not while we navigated our way through the worst health crisis Northern Ireland and the world has seen in recent history.

Back then, with no government, we were seen as an unstable entity with regard to investment, a place that is perpetually teetering on the brink of some kind of spiralling abyss, not worth investing in.

Political nothingness created a void in which malicious groups were allowed to grow and thrive. Those groups gunned down an innocent woman in Creggan. They caused mayhem, murder and misery throughout the north.

Hope, unity and the notion of meaningful peace was in short supply, again. But crisis mode seems to be our default setting here in this place. Life can be hard here, harder than a lot of other places. Covid notwithstanding, unemployment is high, we are still enduring the hangover from the Troubles, our population faces increased mental health issues and the brain drain tap has not been switched off as yet. We are still a very divided society that at times finds it very hard to thrive.

Why make this worse? I understand people are passionate about their identities and their union and relationships, but I can't fathom why they would put themselves, their family, their children's education, their health and everything else second to the protocol and let their politicians off the hook by clapping and cheering them as they walk away.

Why not insist that your politicians get stuck in and fight your corner on a political field, not take the ball in a huff and walk off. What good will that do? As we have previously seen when Sinn Fein did that very thing, absolutely no good came from it, only harm.

If you feel there are issues around the Protocol, urge your politicians to get in there and thrash them out like politicians are paid to do. Pulling down the government would be a shameful and despicable dereliction of duty to the people of Northern Ireland while we are navigating the worst health crisis in modern history.

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