‘Showboating and grandstanding’: Green Party’s new senator says Stormont engaged in acts of ‘symbolism’

Mal O’Hara said the Sinn Féin and DUP ‘joint First Ministers’ were involved in ‘carefully choreographed photo shoots’

The restored Northern Ireland Executive has been accused of failing to do more than engage in acts of “symbolism”. The Green Party’s new Senator Mal O’Hara said the Sinn Féin and DUP “joint First Ministers” were involved in “carefully choreographed photo shoots, picking the lowest of low hanging fruit”.

Mr O’Hara, who is the party’s leader in Northern Ireland, said symbolism is important in the North and shows the journey towards reconciliation. “But is a Sinn Féin First Minister standing for God Save the King and her DUP Deputy attending a GAA game the best we can do 26 years after the Good Friday Agreement?”

Addressing the Green Party national conference in Dublin, he claimed the Assembly merely debated non-binding motions. There is “no programme for government, no legislative agenda” the public finances are “perilous”, one in four people are on a health waiting list, one in 34 are homeless, and public services are at breaking point. But the Assembly only debates “a repeated series of non-binding motions. That’s not representative democracy. That’s showboating and grandstanding.”

He told delegates the Belfast Agreement promised peace, prosperity and reconciliation but “the areas of the North that were amongst the poorest in 1998 in western Europe remain so 26 years later”.


Describing Northern Ireland as “traumatised” with intergenerational trauma, he said “we spend less per head than any other part of the UK on mental health and wellbeing, we have the greatest levels of endemic poverty and our drug deaths amongst men aged 25-40 is the highest in Europe bar Scotland”.

And he told delegates that an anti-poverty strategy promised and mandated since 2007 has not yet been delivered. “Northern Ireland remains the poorest part of these islands. We have still not made the journey we all hoped for on reconciliation. Still so many of our schools and housings estates remain segregated and less than 10 per cent of our schools are integrated.”

Mr O’Hara is a former Belfast City councillor who lost his seat in last year’s local elections. While the party currently has five councillors in the North it also lost its two Assembly seats in the 2022 election. “It’s been a bruising couple of years for us,” Mr O’Hara said, urging party members to get out and canvass for local candidates as he pointed out that he lost his Assembly seat by 50 votes.

Earlier this month he was elected unopposed as a Senator in a by-election following the decision of former Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile to stand down for health reasons. Mr O’Hara said Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had described his predecessor as a great voice for Northern nationalists and he wanted to build on that foundation.

But since the agreement was signed in 1998 there had been “crisis and collapse” and since its return in February, there has been the “same old approach” despite a promise that “it’s different this time”.

The Executive he said, “refuses to discuss revenue raising and bemoans the state of public finances, all the while looking to the British government for additional finance. While austerity, a disinterested Tory government and historic underfunding plays a significant part, surely there is some culpability for those who have been in power on and off for 26 years?”

Local authorities in the North should have devolved powers, he said but despite the Greens calling for this “another all-island party voted it down – happy to control transport powers in Limerick, Cork and Dublin with Greens but unwilling to do so in Belfast. Is that a partitionist approach?”

On environmental issues he said the North had the highest emissions per capita in these islands, and ranked 12th worst in the world for biodiversity loss. “None of our 496 rivers, lakes and coastal waters meet a good standard and we have the biggest illegal dump in western Europe and there is no independent investigation despite the Assembly supporting one.”

Mr O’Hara, who took his seat in the Seanad last week, also warned that the Greens had ignored the constitutional question for too long and had paid the price. Pointing to the German Greens he said they were nearly annihilated in the 1990s because they were talking about the ozone while everyone else was focused on unification.