Opinion

Do I regret leaving politics? I don’t miss a thing – Patricia O’Lynn

Former Alliance MLA says after the melodrama of first day back at school, nothing has changed at Stormont

Patricia O'Lynn

Patricia O'Lynn

Patricia O'Lynn is an academic and commentator and former Alliance Party councillor and MLA for North Antrim

Patricia O'Lynn
Patricia O'Lynn became the first Alliance member and first woman to represent North Antrim in the Stormont assembly when she was elected in 2022. She announced she was stepping down a year later

Something about this past week has been particularly galling for me. Aside from all the political drama, hand-shaking, black-slapping and sighs of relief, some have not only felt it appropriate but necessary to ask: “Well, how do you feel now about leaving politics… any regrets?”

Apart from the irritable lack of emotional intelligence demonstrated by this predominantly male cohort, it is the sense of entitlement coupled with a complete lack of political understanding that has jarred with me.

Let me be clear, these desperados are not my friends. They are not even my acquaintances and they know it. The trouble is they think I don’t know it. How could I? I wear fake tan and get my nails done so obviously I’ve lost my mind.

Patricia O'Lynn revealed in February that she was quitting politics. Picture by Jonathan McCambridge/PA Wire
Patricia O'Lynn represented North Antrim in the Stormont assembly before stepping down in 2023

Deep down, the inquisitors are so intoxicated from drinking the Stormont Kool-Aid that they cannot begin to fathom how a ‘pretty little thing’ like me, with a few qualifications before and after her name, could possibly turn down what they see as the career opportunity of a lifetime – being an MLA.

The truth of the matter is this, there is nothing to miss. While everyone has been caught up in the melodrama of the kids turning up for their first day of school, being praised for not immediately throwing stones across the assembly playground floor, nothing has changed. Not a single thing.

While everyone has been caught up in the melodrama of the kids turning up for their first day of school, being praised for not immediately throwing stones across the assembly playground floor, nothing has changed. Not a single thing

While the prospect of serious institutional reform may appear stronger now than ever before, it will not happen overnight, if at all. More importantly, if the political will needed to muster up appropriate safeguards has been absent amongst our political leaders for the past 25 years, what makes anyone believe it will suddenly appear now?

A power-sharing executive has been restored – but for how long? (Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)

Whether it be two weeks, two months or two years, the Assembly is still liable to collapse. Given the propensity of our MLAs to fight amongst themselves, I’d say the stability of Stormont is currently best compared to a deck of cards in a wind tunnel.

Less than 48 hours after a speaker was elected, the party infighting and political psychodrama emerged. Surely that’s a record, even by Northern Ireland’s standards? Rather than tackling the backlog of policy and legislative issues racked up after years of impasse, the main topics of concern have been Justin McNulty and the mystery of who funded his helicopter ride, Robin Swann’s candidacy for the Westminster election, Andy Allen’s tweet, oh and the general confusion about who exactly is leading the Ulster Unionist Party.

Overhead view of the chamber of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Parliament Buildings, Stormont as MLAs met last Saturday.
Stormont Assembly The chamber of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Parliament Buildings, Stormont as MLAs met last Saturday. PICTURE: LIAM McBURNEY/PA WIRE (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Newsflash: even primary school children face harsher consequences for naughty behaviour and at least their schools have effective discipline systems in place to hold everyone to account. Something constituents could only dream of when it comes to reining in our political parties.

On a much more sinister note, the sincerity of our two peace-building cartels was well and truly unearthed when it came to ministerial nomination time. Despite the DUP and Sinn Féin waxing lyrical about their deep concern for our failing healthcare system, they dropped any opportunity to enact health reform like a hot potato, which coincidently landed on the lap of the UUP – the party with the lowest voting power in the entire executive.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly during a press conference at Stormont Castle, Belfast
First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly during a press conference at Stormont Castle. Neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP chose to take on the health portfoliio (Liam McBurney/PA)

Tough luck if you are waiting on a cancer diagnosis, languishing on a hospital waiting list or in need of pain relief but here, thanks for sharing your traumatic lived experiences – it made for one hell of a news story and our press team will be in touch the next time we need to legitimise our political narrative.

So, to sum it up, do I miss politics, now that the pantomime continues? I’ve never really been a great actor but then again I wasn’t entirely open to taking acting classes – I’m much more interested in writing the script. Plus, if my craving for drama, toxicity or general nonsense kicks in, I can turn on Assembly TV.