John Lowry on Left Unity
The recent political haggling between the DUP and Sinn Fein, played out at Hillsborough Castle over 3 weeks laid bare the shortcomings of the Good Friday Agreement.
Never has the cementing of sectarian division in the institutions of government been more transparent. Never has it been more obvious that while we are in a much better place by virtue of the ending of terrorist campaigns, at the same time so little has changed in the political life of Northern Ireland.
At the very time when multi national companies were laying off thousands of workers, the priorities for the top dogs of unionism and nationalism were parades and policing.
After weeks of haggling at Hillsborough during which the smaller unionist and nationalist parties hung around as if they too were deeply involved in these farce negiotations.
A much over hyped and over sold agreement has been reached on the devolution of policing and we are still unclear as to what has or has not been agreed on parades.
Yet the truth is that in the past few years parades and policing have not been the contentious issues they have been previously. Putting them at the top of the political agenda says more about the continuing sectarian shadow boxing of the Stormont Parties than it does about the real concerns of people on the streets.
One billion pounds of taxpayers money has been promised by the British and Irish Governments to fund this farcical agreement. One billion pounds of taxpayers money which surely would be far better spent on funding frontline services in the health and education sectors, creating badly needed sustainable employment or helping those in danger of losing their homes because of the greed and recklessness of the finiancial services sector.
It seems the green and orange Tories up on the hill don’t think so. As we approach a Westminister election in May and elections to the new local councils and the Stormont Assembly next year sectarian communal politics remain the order of the day.
Yet more and more people are asking if we are getting anything out of those we have sent to represent us at Stormont? Where are the new, innovative and different policies devolution promised to deliver?
What we have had is the continuation of the very same anti people policies pursued by the Northern Ireland Office civil servants.
Unionist and nationalist ministers have delivered privatisation in health and education, followed economic policies which do nothing more than assist the business community and have stalled as long as they can before they introduce water charges.
And all the while sectarianism and division are more firmly rooted in society than ever. Hardly surprising given that the whole architecture of the political institutions are themselves grounded in and perpetuate that very sectarianism.
Changes to the rules governing the running of the Stormont Assembly are certainly needed. But change far greater than that is also required.
There is no socialist voice in the Assembly. There is no one who articulates a clear and unequivocal socialist agenda. Northern Ireland has a proud labour tradition and a trade union movement which has played its part in bringing Peace to Northern Ireland.
The May Day parade in Belfast every year is a wonderful and colourful gathering of literally thousands of socialists marking labour day and articulating socialist demands for the present.
Yet this significant political constituency is not represented in Northern Ireland politics. It is long past time it was. All those who describe themselves as being on the left or as socialists have a responsibility to do something about this.
The Workers Party at its Northern Ireland Regional conference held every October in Belfast have always extended a broad invitation to those on the left to participate in discussion of matters of common interest to socialists.
Over the years representatives of The Socialist Party, British Labour in NI, the Irish Labour Party, individual trade unionists and the PUP have all been in attendance. It is time to intensify the search for co operation on the left in Northern Ireland. None of the Stormont parties represent the interests of workers and their families from a class perspective.
Workers and their families cannot afford for the left to be idle, whilst the dole queques lengthen, couples lose their homes, health and education go into further decline and sectarian politics dominates the agenda.
What is needed is a political force which is neither unionist nor nationalist, Protestant nor Catholic but socialist. Are we up to the challenge?