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Leona O'Neill: Living in Northern Ireland is like being stuck on the merry-go-round from hell

As Stormont flounders yet again, Leona O'Neill ponders how life in the north is starting to resemble being stuck on a hellish merry-go-round which keeps going out of control and putting lives in danger...

The DUP have refused to nominate a speaker following the recent Assembly elections. Picture by Hugh Russell.

I WAS on American radio last week, trying to help them make sense of our 'complexities' – what happened at the election, why we have such an unstable government, why we currently have no government, the Brexit shambles and the like.

I described living in Northern Ireland as much like residing on a big merry-go-round. It is absolutely beautiful to look at and it is at times lovely, sailing around in leisurely circles taking in the gorgeous scenery, everyone smiling and laughing. But there are times when it speeds up to uncomfortable, motion sickness inducing levels.

There are times when the person on the hobby horse beside you can get a bit tetchy and say something nasty about your hobby horse, even though it's exactly the same as theirs.

There are times when someone brings out a flag and waves it in the face of someone else, then they bring out their flag, and then the flags are set on fire and there's a fist fight.

There are times when people on the side-lines throw bottles and stones at the merry-go-round as it twirls and you have to duck to avoid getting hurt.

And there are times when the merry-go-round is on fire and spun so hard it has come off its axis and everyone is laying around nursing their wounds and wondering what the hell happened.

But then it gets fixed, it gets going again and it starts to spin leisurely, everyone laughing and smiling, everyone talking about how beautiful it is. Everyone has forgotten about the flags and the fist fights and the thing burning down. And so the cycle begins again. That's us. That has been us for the last 24 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

And here we are again. The merry-go-round is again spinning furiously, picking up speed. There are those who are standing on their hobby horses screaming about the protocol, others sitting on the floor and refusing to budge to let others pass. And there are others who are pleading with them both to talk this out, find a solution while the rest of us hang on for dear life as it speeds up, hoping the bloody thing doesn't go on fire again and burn to the ground. And we aren't even in the heat of the summer yet.

As a mother of four children, I totally despair at the state of the place we live at least once a week. Perhaps it's because I was so close to it all, working in the news, or perhaps I care too much.

The last time Stormont was left floundering, when Sinn Fein crashed it, we saw the damage it caused in our society. Our hope got a good battering as well as everything else. And, with the pandemic, it has taken us this long to get back on our feet only to get knocked on our back again.

I have spoken to people this week who are gobsmacked at where we find ourselves again.

I have spoken to health workers who say that the Health Service is on its knees, that it needs urgent help. They say they are exhausted and that is so stressful to field constant complaints from people sick and in pain languishing on waiting lists.

Small business owners say they can't grow following the pandemic because funding is not available due to no budget being in place. Last week, we heard a single mother beg politicians to get back into work and unlock the £300m that could help families who are really, really struggling. We heard how women were selling their wedding rings to put oil in the tank to heat their homes.

And yet, despite pleas from all over Northern Ireland to get back to work, we still find ourselves stuck, unable once more to move forward. People who can't afford to put petrol in their car or feed their children or heat their homes had to watch as the DUP politicians, who are stalling government this time around, walked into Stormont's chamber and signed their names on the register to get their salary, then walked back out again and away, effectively abandoning the people of this place.

I don't know how many times we can withstand the sickening spinning of this merry-go-round we call Northern Ireland. But here we go again.

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