Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Times They Are A-Changin'

I love election time. I love the hype, the camaraderie, the propaganda and I never fail to be amazed by how far some people are prepared to stoop in the game of political one-upmanship. 

This election time has been particularly dramatic what with the demise of NI21 and events in Derry. Events ranging from John Hume's brother being escorted by the PSNI from the counting booth over an incident involving his son-in-law, a Sinn Fein Councillor's questioning if she had been set up to fail by the party and last but by no means the least the SDLP's withdrawal of support for one of their sitting councillors just two days before the election.

During this time the SDLP Councillor Jimmy Carr (not the comedian) continued as an independent candidate, although still registered on an SDLP ticket. Prior to the election Jimmy's father Sean Carr an elected SDLP representative publicly declared if elected he would have to re-evaluate his position within the SDLP over the unfair treatment of his son. This will make for interesting times ahead, as the newly elected Councillors will sit alongside the outgoing councillors until April next year when the new super councils come into effect.

From April 1st 2015 local councils will be reduced from 26 to 11 and will have increased responsibilities, these responsibilities include Housing, Planning, Roads, Urban regeneration, community development, local economic development and Tourism. This is why I am overjoyed that we now have four independent councillors on the Derry/Strabane council to ensure independent oversight and promote openness, honesty, transparency and accountability in terms of decision making.

The new Independent councillors are Darren O' Reilly, Dee Quigley, Gary Donnelly and Paul Gallagher (Strabane). Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly topped the poll in the Moor ward (home of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness) out polling former Sinn Fein Mayor Kevin Campbell by 50 votes.

These new independent councillors are free from party constraints, dogma and ideology and will hopefully act in the best interests of the people, putting people first as outlined in their manifestos. These new independent councillors have been grounded in the community for years dealing with issues affecting the community on a daily basis, issues such as poverty, anti-social behaviour and the growing addiction crisis amongst other things. Many see their new role as independent councillors as a natural progression from their community based roles. 

The three Derry based independent councillors have taken two SDLP seats and one Sinn
Councillors Quigley, O'Reilly & Donnelly
Fein seat. The poor result from the SDLP coupled with the rise of the independents has us now with Sinn Fein holding the majority of seats on the new council. In this election Sinn Fein gained a seat but they lost a seat  in the Foyleside ward to the Independent Councillor Darren O'Reilly.

Throughout the north the usual main political parties with the exception of the Ulster Unionist Party have a witnessed a decrease in their voting percentage. The parties have been dismissive of these decreases, however the fact that that Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew was elected on a four vote majority following three recounts in the 2010 Westminster election is something they should bear in mind.

Those who claim to represent the population would also need to take into consideration the poor voting turnout as just over 50% of the population in the north turned out to vote, hardly a resounding endorsement of this wee 'democracy'!!!!!

In the Derry / Strabane super council elections alone approx 54,354 of those eligible to vote turned out whilst the remaining 48,007 chose not to. It is very clear there is still a large percentage of the population dissatisfied, disillusioned and disenfranchised, this is something I heard on the doorsteps whilst on the canvass trail with Independent Councillor Darren O'Reilly.

This dissatisfaction with politics is something that the independent candidates could well tap into over the next few years with the onus now on them to demonstrate the advantages of not voting tribally. One of the key advantages the independent candidates have over the party candidates is that no matter what the Stormont parties make a mess of, or what poor decisions they make it cannot reflect on the independent candidates. The parties would also do well to remember that poor decision making at Stormont in terms of austerity measures will encourage a growth in independent and 'other' candidates being elected as can be seen in the south with independents taking 27.9% of the vote.

The turn around in Derry sends a clear message that lip-service is no longer acceptable and that the days of tribal voting are coming to an end with more and more people realising that tribal voting does not address social and economic issues. The recent disclosure that Martin McGuinness had signed off on Project Kelvin going to Coleraine despite it being earmarked for Derry has disgusted a lot of people, the refusal by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the DUP to fund vital services from the Social investment fund has disgusted a lot of people as has the relentless orange and green sabre rattling from the big parties which is a sham fight to deflect from their failures and the real issues that are impacting on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

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