As parties meet today at the beginning of a fresh talks process, NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh has said that politicians must take this opportunity to restore the Stormont government and deliver for young people in Northern Ireland.
He said, “This election saw a huge increase in the number of young people and students choosing to come out to vote and have a real say in their future. Northern Ireland’s political landscape has significantly changed, and the public has sent a message that they will no longer accept political stalemate. The best way that parties in Northern Ireland can show that they are listening to what young people have to say is by approaching the next round of talks positively and getting Stormont up and running.
“The return of a Conservative majority government means that strong representation from Stormont is more important than ever. It is now likely that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal will be passed and we will leave the EU on 31 January. Northern Ireland will be at the forefront of any impact from the Brexit negotiations, so it is right that we are at the forefront of the debate.
“The student movement has campaigned to remain in the EU as we recognise that the best deal possible is the one that we already have, as members of the EU. In the weeks to come we will be working to ensure that students are protected, including our cross-border mobility, access to international programmes, and the rights of EU national students and apprentices currently in Northern Ireland. We will also be working to protect the Good Friday Agreement which is vital for the future of peace and stability.
“Northern Ireland has now been without a devolved government for almost 3 years. In that time our public services have been allowed to deteriorate and are now at breaking point. Our healthcare system has been so starved of resources that healthcare workers have been forced to take industrial action to call for safe staffing levels. Our education system is so under funded that schools are having to fundraise for basic supplies.
“Only a third of students from Northern Ireland who graduate in England, Scotland or Wales return after their studies. If politicians want to build a society where young people can see a future, they need to restore devolution and engage with civic society to bring about real change.
“NUS-USI wants to see power sharing restored in a reformed assembly. We should never have been put in the position to make the choice between civil rights and local government.
“We want politicians to recognise that education is a public good and build a fully funded tertiary education system in Northern Ireland that addresses the systemic underfunding within higher and further education. We want guarantees that Northern Ireland will not lose out as a result of Brexit and that current levels of funding received through EU structural funds are not diminished. And we want politicians to recognise that our healthcare is in crisis and invest in mental health services and healthcare students to reduce healthcare inequalities and make our NHS sustainable.
“A future assembly must respect the law and not act as a blockage to fundamental rights. This will involve looking carefully at the role of the petition of concern; making sure that the both same-sex marriage and abortion law reform are implemented, as guaranteed in the Northern Ireland Act; and ensuring that the rights of Irish speakers are protected in an Irish Language Act.
“Now is the time for politicians to come together and put the needs of people in Northern Ireland above their differences.”