Newry.ie

Over 300 people attended the We Deserve Better rally at the Albert Basin Park in Newry last night, Tuesday 28 August calling for our MLA's to return back to work at Stormont. It was one of several rally's throughout the north, with one also taking place in Warrenpoint. The campaign began with a man in County Fermanagh making a video asking people to gather to demand action.

The crowd at the We Deserve Better rally at Albert Basin Park in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The crowd at the We Deserve Better rally at Albert Basin Park in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

The event was organised by locals Anne-Marie Blaney, Sarah Devlin, Bronagh McAtasney and Jim McDonnell.

Speakers included Bronagh McAtasney, Rod O'Hare, Jim McDonnell and singer songwriter Finbar Magee who read out a poem he penned entitled 'Stormont is Dormant'

Organisers of the Newry 'We Deserve Better' event. From left: Jim McDonnell, Anne-Marie Blaney, Sarah Devlin and Bronagh McAtasney. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Organisers of the Newry 'We Deserve Better' event. From left: Jim McDonnell, Anne-Marie Blaney, Sarah Devlin and Bronagh McAtasney. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Bronagh McAtasney speaking at the event explained how it has been 589 days since a government has been in place: "Today marks 589 days without government in Northern Ireland. Certainly not a record to be proud of. That’s 589 days without decisions on the issues that matter to all of us every day. Legislation and policy papers lie on desks untouched. Budgets not signed off. It is affecting our lives in so many ways. Without a doubt, we deserve better.

"So tonight in Armagh, Portrush, Bangor, Banbridge, Ballyclare, Portadown, Enniskillen, Strabane, Ards, Dungannon, Derry, Newcastle, Warrenpoint and here in Newry we are calling on our MLAs, the political parties and the Secretary of State to sort it out and get back to work.

"It is estimated that £9 million pounds of taxpayer money – our money – has gone into the pockets of MLAs over the last 589 days, not including MLA pensions or expenses. They even got a pay rise!"

Ms McAtasney spoke of how the campaigns want all parties to return to talks immediately with an independent facilitator appointed by the Irish and UK governments to get politicians and parties talking and working together effectively for the betterment of everyone in Northern Ireland.

While they want a return to Stormont,they don't want a return to business as usual, rather "a return to rational and mature politics, which lay the foundations for a positive, progressive and prosperous future for all."  In the event of MLA's unwilling or faiing to return to talks the campaigners believe their wages should be significantly reduced.

Singer songwriter, Finbar Magee reads out his poem Stormont is Dormant at the We Deserve Better protest in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Singer songwriter, Finbar Magee reads out his poem Stormont is Dormant at the We Deserve Better protest in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Ms McAtasney also pointed out ways the stalemate is affecting our everyday lives "We are heading blindly into Brexit without any leadership and Northern Ireland is going to be hit by leaving the EU arguably more than anywhere else. Experts say there could be catastrophic consequences for our healthcare system.

"£1 billion of infrastructure work is on hold as it cannot be signed off. The safety of our roads is jeopardised and people are dying because action is not being taken to resolve this. We cannot tackle organised crime as effectively and matters of peace and reconciliation are much more fragile. Many public service workers suffer with low or no salary increase, while the cost of living rises rapidly. Because of the Stormont stalemate, many are angry that equality issues like women’s and LGBTQ rights are being ignored, and the possibility for passing legislation to create a more equal, safer, tolerant and open society remains something people can only hope for. Vulnerable people are not getting the support they deserve – cuts to funding and a lack of investment are affecting: the elderly who need quality care, and the homeless who need safe places to stay. Issues like domestic abuse and human trafficking are not being investigated and supported by our local government. Our vibrant arts scene and cultural events are not given the investment and focus they deserve. Because Stormont has been dormant, our children, our future, are going into their THIRD school year, in a country that has no functioning government."

Rod O'Hare speaking at the We Deserve Better rally in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Rod O'Hare speaking at the We Deserve Better rally in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Acknowledging  the dedicated work MLA's give to their communities Ms McAtasney added  "It is important that we understand and acknowledge that there are many MLAs who, like us, want to get Stormont back up and running as an effective government - but have little power to do so. Let’s encourage them – we want their voices to be louder!

"We also acknowledge the dedicated work many MLAs give to their local constituencies. But this doesn’t outweigh our joint need for the Assembly to be restored for the good of all people.

Proclaiming  'We Deserve Better' at the protest in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Proclaiming 'We Deserve Better' at the protest in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

"And let us add how disappointed we are that our Secretary of State for Northern Ireland seems to be doing so little to help the situation. She has the powers to reduce their pay – she hasn’t. Karen Bradley – we deserve better than what you are delivering on our behalf!

"We also ask of the Irish Government as a joint guarantor of the Good Friday agreement to also seriously consider what it is doing to help the people of Northern Ireland in this time of need."

Organisers have asked supporters to write to their local MLAs and demand answers. "Ask them what they are doing personally to bring resolve to this stalemate. Ask them what their vision for change is"

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