'A change is needed': Lack of investment in NI and health waiting lists key issues for North Belfast voters

As the UK General Election fast approaches with voters heading to the polls on July 4, we are visiting each constituency in Northern Ireland to hear the issues which matter most to the public in the countdown to election day.

We visited North Belfast this week as part of our UK-wide 5,000 Voices project to meet the people voting in the constituency - Sinn Fein's John Finucane has held the seat since 2019.

On a sunny summer's day, we asked voters to tell us the main issues impacting them going into this election and what changes they would like to see. As well as this, we asked for their views on the current state of UK politics, and what they make of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour's Keir Starmer.

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Belfast North is a constituency with a nationalist majority. Historically, it had a narrow unionist majority, which has decreased over time. Those from a Catholic background (47%) now slightly outnumber those from a Protestant background (46%), according to the 2011 census.

It is one of the most deprived constituencies in Northern Ireland and is the area with the highest number of peace walls, reflecting the impact The Troubles had on the area. The constituency covers many areas synonymous with the conflict, including the New Lodge, Ardoyne, Rathcoole, Ballysillan, and Woodvale.

The main issues for the voters we chatted to in the constituency included healthcare and lengthy waiting lists, high childcare costs, and a lack of investment coming into Northern Ireland from Westminster.

One man said: "The big issues for me are health and education. I think people need to take more responsibility for themselves, the reason National Health is under so much strain is because we don't look after ourselves.

"There needs to be more focus on individual responsibility, but we also need to be recruiting more doctors and nurses. Educationally, we live in a divided society, and until that changes; it will continue."

On the issues impacting her most, one woman said: "I care about the price of insurance, my car insurance has gone up and is through the roof now, it's barely affordable. Another one is childcare, as soon as childcare costs can be reduced the better.

"Waiting lists in the NHS are through the roof, it's an absolute disgrace. I've got a mother who's waiting on a double knee replacement and she's looking between five and seven years [of waiting] - I think that would be a main priority to get that sorted."

As for what people think of current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, those we spoke to mostly thought he was out of touch with the public, and that change from Conservative government is needed in the UK.

One man said: "He lives in a rarefied world and whilst he talks about working class people, I don't think he's that close enough to them to know what that means."

Another added: "Conservatives sold us down the river, they sold everybody down the river on Brexit, they showed themselves to be I would say a bunch of charlatans. I think in this day and age there's not much difference between any of them, which is quite frustrating.

"But it's shocking how Conservatives have been in terms of caring for the most vulnerable in our society. They've shown they don't really care about us."

As for Labour leader Keir Starmer, those we spoke to mostly didn't mind him, viewing him in a more favourable light than the Conservative leader.

"I don't know the man but I think he gets a bad rap from the press, they talk about him being a bit boring," one man said. "You couldn't say that about Boris Johnson - but which would you rather have, a lying misogynist, or someone who seems to have integrity, and is maybe a bit less charismatic? I would go for the safe hands."

One woman we spoke to said: "I hope he delivers on what he says. I know people are saying he's maybe not charismatic, but I don't know if charisma is what it takes to be a leader - somebody needs to get to work and be able to change policies."

Another man added: "A change in government is needed, but I'm not sure about Keir Starmer either, I think he's maybe just Conservative light which worries me a wee bit. The issue is Labour is showing they maybe won't do much for Northern Ireland which worries me because at the end of the day the concerns are what's going to happen here in our future."

Voters we spoke to in North Belfast also highlighted more local issues they would like to see a change on. For example, the high operating costs for small businesses, the lack of funding for arts and community projects, the decline of the high street, and the issue of dog fouling.

Video by Belfast Live videographer Harry Bateman.

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