Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of the #wedeservebetter peaceful demonstrations here, to try and restore government in 2018 the last time Northern Ireland was without a functioning government. It begs the questions, where are the people this time around?, why are the people not mobilising? Why are the electorate as MIA as our MLAs?
Northern Ireland already holds the unofficial record for going without a functioning government (unofficial because technically Westminster can pass our laws), when in 2018 we beat Belgium, who had held the title of 589 days. Are we aiming to beat our own personal best?
In a statement in 2018 by Seamus McAleavey, former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, noted “We are storing up hundreds of unmade decisions and ever greater problems that will be harder to deal with the longer they go untackled”. This statement is truer than ever and evidenced in the Department of Health’s recently published Mental Health Strategy Delivery Plan for 2023/24. Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Peter May, said of the plan: “Given the current financial constraints facing the Department, tough decision have had to be taken on the actions to be included in this year’s plan”.
He didn’t however highlight what actions were being excluded for obvious reasons, most notably the workforce plan. It is reminiscent of a child with a handful of coins walking up to a shopkeeper and asking, “please sir, what can I get for this much money?” Cuts now will have enduring consequences for those trying to deliver the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031. Not fully funding work at this early stage is like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.
Every government department is suffering budget cuts, the financial arrangement that Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy described as a “punishment budget“. When are ‘we the people’ going to realise it is us that is enduring the punishment now and will continue to long into our future? The words of Dr. Seuss in, The Lorax resonate greatly with our current situation, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”