Stormont talks: What issues are affecting people in Northern Ireland?

  • By Sara Girvin
  • BBC News Ireland correspondent

Image caption,

Dr Emma Walker is a lecturer but is left with less than £100 per month after bills are paid

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsed the power-sharing institutions in early 2022 in protest over post-Brexit trade rules.

It was hoped an agreement to restore Stormont could have been reached before parliamentary recess on Tuesday.

But a DUP spokesperson said on Monday that the party would not be “calendar-led”.

So what are some of the big issues affecting lives in Northern Ireland as it remains in political limbo?

‘I have no money’

Dr Emma Walker is a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast.

She and partner Alison pay nearly £2,000 a month in childcare for three-year-old twins Ivy and Jonah.

“Last month I ran out of money,” she said.

“My father had to help pay for me to get the train to work. I don’t think people quite realise, it’s embarrassing to have to do that.

“That is literally where I’m at. I have no money.

“Once I give all my childcare and pay my bills and my transport to and from work, I’m left with about £80 a month.

“If I struggle in my profession, in my line of work, I can’t bear to think about how other people cope.”

Dr Walker hopes a new Executive will change that.

“The chokehold that’s over this country – there’s no prosperity, public services, everything has ground to a halt.

“You’re voted in by people and you’re letting us down,” she said.

“It is so frustrating and I just wish, and I hope, that when they do get back up and running that they can see from stories like us what it’s really like to be a citizen here and that they try to improve our lives. That’s what they’re paid to do.”

‘I’ve been left on a shelf’

Hazel Smith from Whitehead lives with chronic pain.

She’s been told she will have to wait up to three years to be seen at a pain clinic.

Image caption,

Northern Ireland’s waiting lists mean patients like Hazel are waiting years for treatment

“On a good day my levels are an eight out of ten,” she said.

“On a bad day, they’re an eleven out of ten. It’s as if someone is injecting acid into you.”

Hazel said she was “saddened and angered” to be told how long she would have to wait for hospital treatment.

“I feel like I’ve been left on a shelf, like many other disabled people,” she said. “It’s like you have to wait and they’ll deal with you when they get around to it.”

‘The system is crumbling’

Liam McGuckin, principal of Greenisland Primary School in Carrickfergus, is due to retire at the end of the year.

“I’ve been teaching just over 35 years and I have to say that, unfortunately, the system is crumbling,” he said.

“Teachers, classroom assistants, school leaders are demoralised in Northern Ireland. We don’t have the support we need, our children are not getting the education they deserve.”

Image caption,

Headteacher Liam McGuckin is set to retire before Stormont is restored

Mr McGuckin said it’s time for the institutions to be restored for the future of education.

“Our politicians have been at fault for this so they need to take action now and get back to work, and they need to get our schools back on a firm footing for the next decade.

“Our teachers and school leaders do a brilliant job but schools in other places get more funding and they do better. We can do better.”

‘Demand has doubled’

Sharon Caldwell runs Antrim’s baby bank which supplies basic items to new parents like nappies, clothes and buggies.

She said demand has doubled over the past few months alone as people continue to struggle with the cost-of-living crisis.

“One of the things I’ve seen is more people come who normally wouldn’t have found themselves in this place,” she told BBC News.

“More people who are working, more people who would normally think that they could make it themselves.

“So many people are struggling to make ends meet,” she said.

Image caption,

More people are turning to schemes like Antrim’s baby bank due to rising costs, Sharon says

Sharon had a message for politicians in Northern Ireland.

“Parents should always be at the forefront of government’s thinking because I think it’s very important that not a single child goes without their basic essentials.

“I wish the need wasn’t there but it most definitely is. I know there are other baby banks popping up across the country because people need them.

“I would just love us to be in a place where there is no child that goes without,” she said.

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