The change might seem minuscule but change there was and it gives me a real sense of hope that Northern Irish politics has turned a corner. Though a lazy glance at the statistics might suggest that last week’s Assembly elections was nothing but the same old destroy. I am not convinced. Indeed I see reasons to be hopeful.
In spite of Arlene’s politically astute Keep-Martin-out-of-First-Minister slogan over all, this election was not fought on the old divisions. Health, education, employment, the arts and refugees, the real business of politics, were beginning to have their say. There were significant that we were moving to more normalised politics.
I sensed from social media that many who have not voted for years were starting to engage. When politics is localised then those who live under the decisions of the politicians start asking questions and realising the importance of their vote.
A few years ago there was that peace protest at City Hall at the height of the flag protest. I sense that that group, who had probably been driven to apathy by the inertia of orange/green politics were now mobilising for chnage. The Greens getting another seat through Clare Bailey, as well as giving it a good lash in East Belfast, was a sign of that.
As well as an extra Green seat the People Before Profit winners Gerry Carroll and Eamon McCann is a whole new dimension. The title of this party is a prophetic statement to the entire world and if the idea flourished it would be hard not to vote for that. Agnew, Bailey, McCann and Carroll might just give courage to those who felt there were no alternatives. Watch that space for sure.
If these are the fresh faces on the fringes, there is much freshness at the core. The SDLP might not have made any inroads but, after just five months as leader, Colum Eastwood has added to his own youthfulness; Nichola Mallon and Claire Hanna bring a new intelligent articulate energy. Alliance have now got, perhaps one of our shrewdest political minds, Naomi Long in the house. Even Sinn Fein with Declan Kearney joining the recent addition of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir brings a very different kind of Sinn Feiner into the mix. Arlene has added new faces like Carla Lockhart and Christopher Stalford. It is good to see more females on the hill too. These are all very different kind of politicians and could bring new mutations to the DNA.
The seat figures are almost exactly the same but I am very hopeful that this new chamber might just move us forward. It might take another two elections but I see signs that Northern Ireland politics, eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, is moving into a different, dare I say, more adult phase.
We will have to wait and see. A few years without elections give our politicians the window to take some risks, make some moves. Let us pray that they do. In the meantime let us keep them honest. We are a small community and can influence those in power much more effectively than most other places on the planet.