PRESSURE is building on the DUP to return to power-sharing almost two years after they withdrew from Stormont amid rows over post-Brexit trade rules. But even if the devolved institutions are restored, many in western counties feel they will continue to be forgotten, Denzil McDaniel writes.
“East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” wrote Rudyard Kipling. That was back in 1889 and he was referring to the differing cultures in Asia as opposed to Europe and the Americas.
But it’s a very apt description of the divide in Northern Ireland and it’s no exaggeration to say there’s considerable resentment, even anger, in the west at the alienation and neglect of border areas by what people believe is a Belfast-centric decision-making process.
A civil servant friend who worked in the east of Northern Ireland recalls a mindset from an elected representative in north Down when discussing improving health services in the west who said: “Those boghoppers choose to live there.”
While the changed political map of Northern Ireland shows a domination by Sinn Fein in “the greening of the west”, the social problems common to all rural communities have resulted in all sides feeling they’re a forgotten people.
During a recent discussion I was involved in, a man from a unionist background said: “There’s all this talk about Stormont getting back”.
“I couldn’t care less; we got nothing from them anyway. The unionist parties aren’t selling the benefits of the union, so we should look to Dublin to help border regions like ours, whether it’s educating nurses, building our infrastructure or investing in our hospitals.”
Reflecting on the centenary of partition last year, another recalled how Protestants in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan felt a sense of betrayal when their fellow Ulster Unionists abandoned them on the “wrong side of the border”.
“It’s happening again. Fermanagh has been pushed to the edge of the jurisdiction and they’re doing nothing to improve the lives of our people,” he said.
It’s remarkable that a unionist described Northern Ireland as “a failed entity.”
There’s a sense that Northern Ireland is broken and people in all areas are suffering the damaging effects of a lack of government at Stormont. Even if somehow a political deal is put together to get the Executive up and running again, the acid test will be if the parties can actually work properly together to tackle the real everyday problems.
Belleek in Fermanagh is the furthest point west in the United Kingdom and about 110 miles from Stormont. It may as well be a million miles as far as the connection to government goes. And when it comes to the shambolic way the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen is being managed it’s no wonder people feel their worries and voices aren’t being heard.
There’s a case to be made all along the border for the region to be treated as if there was no border as regards health co-operation.
There are many serious issues in isolated communities along the length of the border, including the roads infrastructure. The A5 is a live issue and the call years ago to improve the A4 from Dungannon right through to Sligo has long been abandoned.
The plan for an Enniskillen by-pass is as stuck as the town’s traffic.
Small schools are closing, there’s a perception that Invest NI favours the east in job creation and the much-trumpeted broadband rollout hasn’t been the promised game changer.
The irony is that there are vibrant, resourceful communities in the west and many of the young people who leave there to find employment could be drawn back with some imaginative investment.
But it seems the wise men (and women) from the east who make the decisions believe the boghoppers in the west are irrelevant. And never the twain shall meet.
Denzil McDaniel is a former editor of The Impartial Reporter @DenzilMcDaniel