In one instant in January 1994 my life was changed forever. Up until that moment I had lived relatively unscathed by the violence that had consumed our society for centuries. Many before me were not so lucky: now my time had come to join them. UFF gunmen entered my family home in the expectation of assassinating my next door neighbours: tired of waiting they decided that I would do just fine. ‘Yabba dabba doo, any taig will do’. I woke up two days later. The volley of shots had ripped my body apart. I was going to have to get used to the disappointment that my new wheelchair could not take me to places where I could previously go without a moment’s thought.
The current situation at Stormont is just another example of the long history of disappointments that the inhabitants of this part of the world have had to endure. Has it ever delivered anything for the ordinary Joe since it was first built in the 1930s? The building itself is now just a glorified vaudeville theatre which plays host to a perpetual hokey-cokey pantomime. One party rule, nationalist abstentions, discrimination, internment, Sunningdale, ‘Workers’ strikes, shutdown, Good Friday, Stormontgate, decommissioning, letters from America and vengeful bloodlust are all part of the in/out saga.
The shaky foundations upon which Stormont was first built are now held up with ugly scaffolding. The edifice is crumbling. The leaking roof needed fixing. In-house saboteurs are throwing spanners in the works; some are downing tools; whilst apprentices jump up and down and throw their toys out of the pram. The interim stand in First Minister cum purse holder guards against rogue renegades whilst the boss calls a wildcat strike.
We are told that there will be no more business as usual: that is, unless that business involves the ‘business’ of the DUP. The full contingent of the DUP clocked in on time last month to discuss ‘business’ matters at the Committee for Finance and Personnel. They couldn’t possibly throw a sickie that morning; the boss would be watching closely on CCTV. Business as usual that day.
The petty stuff can wait we are told. Petty stuff like legislating. Legislation that will mean something to the ordinary Joe. One example would be the long awaited Private Members Bill that would enable people who were seriously and permanently injured during the troubles to receive reparations in recognition of their suffering and ongoing hardship. We are told that the DUP Bill is all ready to go but alas we must wait until the shop steward of the Unionist Union of Democratic Party Workers gives the nod and lifts the farcical and absurd work to rule strategy that has brought about this Autumn of Discontent. This Workers Union will fight long and hard to secure their pay rises and pensions but the rest of us can wait. “We need to look after the Union first and foremost” is the campaign slogan.
Time runs out for people like me. I would qualify for the proposed Special Pension as would hundreds of other ordinary Joes who got caught up in the violence which filled previous political vacuums. As a member of the WAVE Injured Group which lobbied the MLAs at Stormont for the past four years to bring this proposal to the fore there is a sense that the pension will disappear into the current political vacuum. The Bill needs to hit the floor of the assembly now or it will not pass in time. Time that many of the injured don’t have. ‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting’. This ageing population of blinded, paralysed, limbless cripples can no longer wait on this macabre pantomime to come back from this lengthy intermission. We need to see all of the actors back on stage, reading from the same script and singing the same song: a song that we ordinary Joes can understand, ‘We can work it out’.