Dear Politicians of Northern Ireland,
You have failed this country.
We deserve better, and that we even includes you – it is time to wake up!
Yes, you have failed this country, but that does not mean you cannot make it better. We are all trying to heal from years of incredible pain and suffering. Trying to lead the country through this can be no easy feat, especially when you are also trying to make sense of years of psychological and social turmoil. But here’s the thing – each and every one of you chose to try and bring this country into a better tomorrow. It is your job, and the thing is you are not only failing at your job; you are now not even turning up to work.
This was always going to take a long time, but 18 months ago you got stuck, leaving the nearly 2 million people you are supposed to be serving with no government. In the midst of a country traumatised from years of violence and segregation, doing its best to come together and process what has happened, in the midst of a recession and now the great uncertainty that is Brexit, you have abandoned each and every one of us. Your people are suffering, your people are dying, your people are hurting, your people are being let down over and over again. Even those you think you are helping, in many ways in the long term you are not.
What you are trying to achieve is complicated. We get that!
Each and every one of you is also human. You are all carrying your own psychological baggage, hurt, anger and fear due to years of being caught up in a sense of identity that has been taught to you that you have become embroiled in. It makes you feel like you know what is right and what is wrong; it has you caught up in defence mechanisms that you do not always understand.
This is okay! This happens to us as well, it is part and parcel of being human.
But here’s the thing – as leaders you have a responsibility to be able to sit and reflect upon your own individual self, be as honest as you can with yourself about your prejudices, the parts of yourself trapped in a cycle of historic divisiveness and the idea of right and wrong being some kind of clear-cut process. As leaders you become role models to so many, solidifying long-standing belief systems and behaviours. This is a great responsibility. You are supposed to be here to guide us, all of us, to become better people, compassionate, open minded and brave enough to move forward from our own defence mechanisms and unhelpful psychological patterns. To let go of the idea that we have to hold onto our cultural identity with all our might for fear of losing it, of the fear that there is not room for all of our identities to exist at once, and even evolve together into something more progressive and collective.
It is your job to show everybody that there is a different kind of future waiting for us, one that we can hand down to the next generation which is more loving, tolerant, accepting and equal, released from all of the anger, rage, fear and divisiveness of the past.
Here is what we would like you to understand. The consideration of cultural identity and religion within politics is a double-edged sword. What we need is for you to stand up for our individual identity in a genuine and compassionate way, in a way that stands up to all misuse of cultural traditions to intimidate, oppress, exclude, incite or cause violence. We need you to do this continuously, consistently, equally and inclusively. Instead what you often do is use it consciously or subconsciously, as a way of excluding “the other”, limiting the possibility for us to grow into a society focused on our common humanity rather than our differences.
Sometimes you do this for what you believe is right, other times it is purely for political gain and populism. So instead what we often get is this incessant continuation of a defensive narrative, holding onto cultural perfectionism and control. Resulting in the tit-for-tat exchange and blame game that has led to our current and continuing impasse.
We have came so far in the past 30 years, and we have all had to make a lot of compromises and try to look beyond the hurt and anger for the greater good, for a better future for the generations that come after us. During the peace process politicians and the people of Northern Ireland were able to move on from the all-encompassing defensive position of saying ‘No’. Letting go of much pride, stubbornness and resistance to move forward, they were able to compromise, requiring an increasing need for a mutual shift to ‘Yes’ on both sides.
Saying ‘Yes’ can make you feel vulnerable; as you have to look past your previous positions and question your own strongly held beliefs regarding what your people really need. It opens up negotiations and the fear of coming across as weak.
Yet, it was actually the strength of politicians during the peace process to do just this that has allowed many of the young people in our country to grow up in a safer and less traumatic society than we ever had the opportunity too. We were shown that people could change their minds and compromise, and the country did not fall apart, it was not weak. It was courageous and as a country we became healthier and stronger.
Saying ‘Yes’ can lead to constructive and creative acts. We need that from you now. People may no longer be dying and being injured by bombs and shootings, but they are dying due to mental and physical health, from not been provided with the preventative and reactive societal infrastructure required to make sure people get what they need. People are suffering every day unnecessarily as you put issues that you think are more important before what is actually important.
It is WE THE PEOPLE that are keeping this country running, working day and night to look after its infrastructure, its people and each other. Building bridges with our communities, seeing our common humanity and respecting our cultural traditions. We are doing all of this as you the people who are supposed to be leading us cannot even sit down together with open and compassionate hearts, to figure out how you can get back to doing what it is we are paying you to do – run this country!
WE DESERVE BETTER
Dr. Kristine Abercrombie
Clinical Psychologist / Health and Wellbeing Blogger
P.S. Your immediate reaction to the We Deserve Better Campaign only goes to demonstrate further what is written above, greatly highlighting the need for you to enter the process of honest reflection towards yourselves as individuals and as political parties.
* This letter is most specifically directed towards the DUP and Sinn Feinn, however parts are applicable to all politicians across the UK and Ireland