Leona O'Neill: Your vote is power - don't sit at home, use it

At a time of much uncertainty and against the backdrop of an ever-growing cost of living crisis, it is important to cast a vote this week for politicians who will make the decisions that impact on each of us and our families, says Leona O'Neill

Thursday's assembly election is an opportunity to vote for those candidates who we believe will best represent our views and priorities about the future direction of Stormont. Picture by Mal McCann.

IN two days' time we will all – well, hopefully all of us – head to polling stations and vote for the people we think will best carry our voice to the corridors of power in Stormont.

This election has been the most vicious and violent I've seen in a long time. We have seen candidates being attacked, bricks thrown through their office windows, posters torn down and defaced and candidates physically assaulted.

Last weekend People Before Profit's Hannah Kenny was grabbed by the throat and threatened in east Belfast during a canvass. Two weeks before that SDLP candidate Elsie Trainor was assaulted and called a "republican b*****d" after she gave chase to two youths who took down her election posters in south Belfast.

There are numerous reports of groups of men intimidating candidates, telling them to get out of 'their areas'. Graffiti has been scrawled on election billboards telling candidates that they are 'not welcome' in certain areas.

The vitriol has been vicious and dangerous. Candidates have been threatened, one had a noose drawn on his election poster. There has been intense hatred and staggering abuse online.

Those who do not want democracy, who want chaos and instability to continue to reign in Northern Ireland - as it benefits them - are pushing back against those who wish to create change, create a better future for us here.

If chaos, instability, veering from one political crisis to the next, division, hatred, attacks on the street, violence on the peace lines, lack of investment, endless heated summers of rioting, vicious violent rhetoric, fear and a void where hope should be is your bag, stay in the house and don't bother voting.

If you want people who will roll up their sleeves and work to counteract all of the above, and at least try to make things better rather than actively working to make them worse for us all, then get out and vote.

I've heard so many people say this time around that they are not going to vote. They are fed up and angry and feel our politicians have let them down, they are disillusioned or feel that there is 'no point' in voting. They believe that their vote won't make a damn bit of difference.

We are living through a cost of living crisis. People are struggling to heat their homes and feed their families. And things are only going to get worse later this year when we enter the winter.

We are only partly emerged from a devastating global pandemic. There is a war on our doorstep that is changing everything, Of course people are angry. It is completely normal to be angry.

But now is not the time to sit in the house and let that anger fester. Now is the time to vote in people who will take a seat around the table, thrash out deals, make decisions that impact on you and me and our families, and work to get us through these dark days.

Everyone has a different perspective on what is important to them and their families. You have the power in your single vote to change things. Don't let others dictate to you how you want things to be, how they should be. This election is one of the most important in recent times.

We can either stay on the road we are on - where attacks on those of a different faith to ourselves become normal again, where people aren't permitted into certain areas of their city because of their religion or beliefs, where it's OK to physically attack another human being because you don't agree with their politics - or take a stand against this dangerous and divisive journey we seem to find ourselves on again, and hope for a better future. We deserve what we tolerate.

There are people who don't want democracy in Northern Ireland. They want us to stay abnormal, chaotic, tense, divided. They thrive on the chaos that, if we do not act, we will pass on to our children like a genetically inherited disease.

You have the power to make change. Don't sit at home. Vote.

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