With Northern Ireland’s political parties failing to reach a deal to restore power-sharing, News Letter reporter Stephen Gamble took to the streets of Coleraine yesterday to gauge opinion over the prospect of another snap Assembly election, direct rule or joint authority
Northern Ireland is constantly lurching from one political crisis to the next and the only viable solution is direct rule from London.
That was the view expressed yesterday by Coleraine man John Kirk, who claimed the Province’s two biggest parties have “repeatedly proven they are not capable of working in government together”.
“The DUP and Sinn Fein can’t agree on anything,” the 52-year-old added.
“Look at power-sharing in Scotland. They don’t always agree on everything but they get on with it and are making progress.
“From what I am hearing, these latest talks to save Stormont have been a farce from start to finish.
“People are fed up with Stormont constantly being in crisis mode. It is like being on a roundabout.”
As a unionist, Mr Kirk added that he would be “very much against” the idea of joint authority between the Irish and British governments.
And while he would prefer to see the Assembly restored, Mr Kirk felt direct rule is inevitable, adding: “The parties have repeatedly shown that they are not up to the task of running a stable government.”
Tommy Brennan, from Ballymoney, felt direct rule would be “a far better option” than devolution.
The 41-year-old said: “If the Assembly doesn’t come back then I say good riddance. All politicians here ever do is argue and act like children. People are sick of it.
“Just let London take over. At least then things will get done in Northern Ireland and we won’t have to listen to this constant squabbling.”
But Caroline Cochrane, a 38-year-old retail manager, felt it was important that devolution be restored as soon as possible.
She added:“I would be against joint authority or direct rule, as we need to have our own politicians making decisions rather than people in Great Britain.”
When asked what she thought of the prospect of another snap election, she added: “If there is to be another election I will be voting for the DUP, as I did last time.
“I still have trust in them and believe the truth will come out about Arlene Foster. She will be cleared of any wrongdoing over the RHI scandal.
“It was not Sinn Fein’s place to be calling on her to stand down and trying to dictate to the DUP who should and should not be first minister.”
Brendan Wilkinson, 69, a former youth and community worker from Londonderry, believes that in the event of another election, a “change is needed”.
He added: “We deserve whatever we get because it is us, the people, who vote these people in.
“If there is going to be another election then I hope that people vote the two big parties out and give the smaller parties a chance at running the government.
“They couldn’t do any worse than what has come before.”
Coleraine pensioner Brian Ross wants to see unionist unity at the polls and urged people to come out and make their votes count.
The 70-year-old said: “If there is going to be another election I think the unionist parties should work together, otherwise there is a chance that Sinn Fein could become the biggest party in Northern Ireland.
“I will be voting again, I always have and I always will. I believe it should be compulsory for people to vote actually.”
These comments were echoed by 64-year-old Coleraine woman Betty Craig, who said: “I would like to see the unionist parties come together to fight an election. They are too divided and I think unionism is better off sticking together.”
Winston Beatty, a 48-year-old lorry driver from Coleraine, said: “I would like to see the Assembly up and running again, otherwise we have no say in how our country is run.
“It is far from perfect, but devolution is our best option and it is worth saving.”
While the vast majority of people who spoke to the News Letter yesterday said they were frustrated that the parties had failed to reach an agreement by the 4pm deadline, most were adamant that they wanted to see Stormont back up and running.
Portstewart man Denis Ward felt the best solution was for Secretary of State James Brokenshire to extend the talks deadline for a few weeks to give the parties a better chance at reaching a settlement.
The 65-year-old said: “It seems to me that both the DUP and Sinn Fein are both just trying to score points, rather than actually focusing on getting a deal.
“But I think most people would agree that having our own Assembly and our own politicians is preferable to the alternatives.
“There are a lot of drawbacks to direct rule, such as no local input, and I don’t think joint authority would go down very well with a lot of people in Northern Ireland.”
One dog walker, who did not wish to be named, said there was “no appetite” for another Assembly election, but added: “I don’t want to see a return to direct rule.
“Having another election so soon after the last one is not what most people want,” he said.
“But if the other option is to hand the reins over to London, I don’t think that is in the best interests of Northern Ireland in the long term.”
However, one health service worker felt that another snap poll would be a “waste of time and money”.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “The last election cost £5m and it achieved nothing. So what is the point in throwing more money at another one.
“Our health service is on its knees, and our politicians only seem to care about themselves.
“If there is another election I will not be voting, that’s for sure. I am fed up and honestly wouldn’t care if there is direct rule or joint rule.”