Patrick Murphy: Planet Stormont is light years from the real world

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy is an Irish News columnist and former director of Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education.

The main executive parties have produced election broadcasts for the Stormont Assembly poll on May 5
The main executive parties have produced election broadcasts for the Stormont Assembly poll on May 5

The argument as to whether there is life on another planet has now been settled.

For years astronomers have searched the skies for evidence but, in view of the current party election broadcasts, they should train their telescopes on the planet occupied by Stormont’s five executive parties.

Planet Stormont is a million light years away from the real world, littered with promises of wealth and health and houses for all. Its atmosphere offers eternal education and unlimited opportunity, while poverty, deprivation and homelessness are eased away with soothing music and aerial shots of Belfast and the Mournes.

(Are you on a hospital waiting list? Never mind. Take these images of Jeffrey Donaldson in the Mournes twice a day after meals and you’ll feel better.)

While election broadcasts inevitably veer towards advertising, the Executive Five might reasonably be regarded as having crossed the boundary into delusion. That could be seen as humorous (send your donations to the Stormont Home for Deluded Politicians), but in the real world it might be more accurately interpreted as disrespectful towards a people deeply scarred by Stormont’s negligence.

Some are waiting seven years for a medical procedure. Almost 400,000 are waiting to see a consultant. A patient waited in Altnagelvin for four days to get a hospital bed. One in five are in poverty, including 100,000 children. Countless thousands rely on food banks and all of this dates from before the recent spiral in living costs.

(The assembly website says: “Food banks are an increasingly useful resource for many”. Food banks are not useful. They are essential to stave off starvation. Subsidised canteens in Stormont - now they’re a useful resource.)

In view of Stormont’s repeated failures over 24 years, it might be expected that the five main parties would begin their broadcasts with an apology. But they show no sense of embarrassment. Not a tincture of shame. No hint of regret.

The word “brazen” fails to convey the sheer insensitivity of their broadcasts. The SDLP’s and SF’s are introduced by MPs whose constituencies have among the highest poverty levels in the UK. Neither mentions that. (Let’s start a campaign: “Free the Executive Five - from denial”.)

Instead, Sinn Féin says the election is about the future. Of course it is. They dare not highlight the present. The SDLP and SF promise change. But both have already delivered change. Together with the other three parties, they have changed a workable welfare state into an unholy mess.

We have had enough change, thank you. Now can we have improvement?

Having already stolen the SDLP’s political clothes, Sinn Féin’s election broadcast plunders Alliance’s entire wardrobe. (This may explain why Michelle O’Neill says only one line and Mary Lou is silenced. Tomorrow’s Easter commemoration speeches will be interesting.)

Gone is the shimmering aura of Irish unity, the mirage replaced by Alliance-speak, in which SF promises to “strengthen” the NHS. Meanwhile they are mere spectators at our ambulance service’s collapse and Daisy Hill’s downgrading in Newry.

Alliance comes across as a party which has promoted itself beyond its ability. It claims the solution is to work together. It apparently fails to notice, for example, that in working together to gerrymander local government, the five main parties have replaced an effective planning service with a bloated bureaucracy and vested political interests.

The UUP also argues (in song) that the parties should work together, while showing images of an idealised society which exists only on Planet Stormont.

Meanwhile back in the Mournes, Jeffrey looks like he is advertising porridge or piping hot soup. Instead he tells us that he loves Northern Ireland, which is useful information if you are undecided between heating and eating. (Whether NI loves him remains to be seen.)

The tragedy of these broadcasts is that all five parties refuse to accept responsibility for their role in failing our society. Until they do, we cannot take them or their videos seriously. All we can do is look in disbelief at their existence on another planet.