“The death of Noah Donohoe has come as a terrible shock to the entire North Belfast community and all our sympathies must be with his mum, friends and extended family” Workers Party spokesperson Lily Kerr has said.
But she has condemned those who attempted to use Noah’s tragic disappearance to heighten community tensions with “stupid, hurtful and sectarian comments on social media”.
“I am appalled”, Lily said, “ at the way in which some individuals have attempted to hijack these tragic circumstances to further their own petty sectarian agendas and divert attention away from the efforts of the PSNl, the Community Search and Rescue Teams and the many, many local people who, through their efforts, demonstrated the true nature of community co-operation.”
“It is unforgivable that, as a young and talented teenager loses his life in these heart-breaking circumstances, there are people in this community who want to view everything through sectarian glasses, attempt to create division and as a result devalue human life in favour of their tribalism”. Lily said.
“As our thoughts are with Noah’s family let them also be focussed on those who would bring yet further despair and suffering on this community through their blind sectarian bigotry. Neither should be forgotten” Lily concluded
Only a full, open and transparent public inquiry into how Northern Ireland care homes were managed during Covid 19 can provide the answers to the many questions raised by the roles of the Department of Health and the RQIA.
The call comes in the wake of the recent resignation of all nine non-executive members of the RQIA inspection body.
Care home inspections were scaled back during the pandemic and the resignation statement claimed the Department of Health had made a number of “critical decisions” with no input from the board of RQIA saying that no information was made available in advance to explain the rationale behind them.
By the end of last month 380 (53.1%) of the 716 local Covid-19 related deaths had occurred in care homes. A number of care homes had reported deaths in double figures.
Given the long-term erosion of health and social care services and the dangerous consequences of underfunding of older and vulnerable people’s services, it is imperative that all recent decisions are now subjected to full scrutiny.
However, the bigger picture requires a fundamental change in our society. Only a socialist state committed to improving and advancing the living conditions of workers and their families can provide a sustainable solution.
The Workers Party has called for an immediate and sustained intervention by the Northern Ireland Executive to save jobs and secure associated skills, in the local aerospace industry.
The Party warned recently that the Covid-19 pandemic would be used by large companies to the detriment of workers. Bombardier Aerospace is the largest manufacturing company in Northern Ireland and one of the largest private sector employers with an estimated 300 local firms acting as direct suppliers to the business.
However, it is only days since the Canadian government signed a $105-million contract with Bombardier and now it has been announced that it has plans to axe up to 600 jobs here. These latest layoffs follow the announcement of possible redundancies of up to 500 staff at Thompsons Aero Seating which is owned by one of the world’s largest aerospace companies.
There must be an immediate intervention in the form of a taskforce to secure jobs, provide a future for the industry and to retain skills and apprenticeship opportunities, the Party said
Here is an opportunity to secure the future of the industry, maintain local skills and save the many jobs and firms which rely on Bombardier and Thompsons.
Although the Executive has a poor record on the creation of sustainable employment, failure to intervene immediately to protect workers’ jobs will undoubtedly lead to the collapse of aerospace production in Northern Ireland, with manufacturing moving elsewhere, and generations of experience, skills and know-how being lost forever.
Key industries of this nature should be taken into public ownership to preserve an industrial base.
In the meantime, however, an immediate injection of financial support for the aerospace industry would not only provide stability and job security, but could be a springboard for innovative research and development into new and greener technologies – with the opportunity to place the local aerospace sector as world leaders.
The death of George Floyd, while in the custody of the Minneapolis police department, has re-ignited the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and rightly sparked global outrage and indignation.
While racism in the United States has become the focus of international scrutiny, it should not be allowed to prevent examinations closer to home.
18th century Ireland had an honourable record of opposition to racism, prejudice and slavery. The Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League was established by Mary Ann McCracken and Martha McTier in the 1780’s. The moral case against slavery, racism and exploitation was set out in articles by Saintfield born philosopher Francis Hutcheson several decades earlier.
The strength of opposition to slavery and racism in those days can be found in an editorial in the Belfast Newsletter of 1796 which read, using the language of the time:
‘That the Africans are an inferior link in the grand chain of nature is a prejudice, which has been indulged in and propagated by Europeans, especially in modern times, from considerations peculiarly sordid and contemptible; the fact is that the mental faculties of the negroes are by no means of a subordinate description to those of any other men.’
However, sections of Belfast’s commercial and industrial base made vast fortunes out of the exploitation of slaves during the same period, at one stage even planning to set up a slave company in the city.
Less progressive and more racist
Modern day Northern Ireland is arguably less progressive and more racist than it was three hundred years ago.
A Life and Times survey conducted in 2017 found that 36% of people here wouldn’t accept an Eastern European as a close friend, 52% wouldn’t accept an Irish Traveller as a close friend and 47% wouldn’t accept a Muslim as a close friend. The overall figures were significantly higher in the 18 -24 year age group
A third of 18 – 24 year olds in the same survey said they wouldn’t even accept a Muslim as a neighbour in their local area.
At the time, Patrick Corrigan, the Northern Ireland Programme Director for Amnesty International, said “This scale of racial prejudice… should shock us to our core”.
The outworking of those levels of prejudice can be seen in the verbal abuse and racist attacks on ethnic minorities across the community. Cultural change, education and awareness are all necessary elements in overcoming racism, but so too is a strong legal framework.
Racist hate crime in Northern Ireland is not adequately or appropriately framed by legislation and we still don’t have a single Equality Act. Nor have we adopted the recommendations of reports like the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
In 2017, of the 1,062 racist incidents reported to the PSNI, 83% did not result in prosecution or even a warning. Every day that year, a citizen from an ethnic minority had their house attacked or they themselves were assaulted.
Three hundred years on from the founding of the Belfast Women’s Anti-Slavery League and the campaigning of progressive forces at the time, this is the reality of racism in Northern Ireland today: a reality that has been reinforced by the European Union’s ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality and a social system based on exploitation which places profit before equality.
Racism needs to be exposed, confronted and eradicated – at home as well as abroad, and that struggle is inseparable from the struggle for a united working class.
Covid 19 figures hadn’t even peaked when the phrase ‘the new normal’ started to enter daily usage. Was anyone really sure what it meant other than, somehow, our lives were to be very different in the future?
Social distancing and stringent public health measures are likely to be around for some time, but what has remained unchanged is the social and economic system under which we live, and which shapes and dominates all of our lives like no other factor.
When the capitalist system starts talking about ‘the new normal’, three things are clear: it won’t be new for them, suddenly we are notall in this together and working-class people and public services will be bearing the brunt of paying for it.
It was that way when capitalism crashed in 2008. The banks and other financial institutions were bailed out with public money, all while people’s homes were repossessed, jobs lost, wages frozen, social security budgets slashed and health, education and other public services robbed of funding.
Will it be any different this time? Of course not.
Capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit eclipses all other considerations. The talk of ‘heroes’ and ‘community spirit’ will soon be replaced with warnings that we must ‘tighten our belts’, ‘re-balance the economy’ and ‘make sacrifices for the common good’
These messages won’t be coming out of nowhere. They may start somewhere else but, we’ll be hearing them from Sinn Fein and the DUP along with all the other major parties. Media columnists will be rehearsing them. Journalists will be repeating them. We, will be bombarded with them until they are accepted as the unchallenged ‘new normal’
It’s true that capitalism never wastes a crisis – and the Covid pandemic will be no different. The detailed plans of global conglomerates, multinational firms, business organisations and governments are already written and waiting to be implemented.
We can expect a further major shift towards the privatisation of utilities and public services through the introduction of water charges, toll roads and a levy on bin collections. There will be proposals for additional costs for the care of the elderly, upfront payments for GP and A&E appointments. University tuition fees will rise, and prescription charges will be reintroduced.
Income tax will be raised, and social security payments lowered. Jobs will be lost and the cost of living will increase as capitalism seeks to recoup the profits it lost during the pandemic.
The list of people, newspapers, radio stations, commentators, TV programmes and ‘experts’ repeatedly telling us how unavoidably necessary this all is, will stretch further than a queue for toilet rolls in the early days of the pandemic.
The state, which stepped in to underwrite wages, house the homeless and support business and employers, will soon be overseeing a sustained attack on the living standards, prospects and quality of life of the very people it hailed as ‘front line heroes’.
To argue that economic cutbacks are needed to get over the cost of Coronavirus is simply not true. Government borrowing is four times lower now than it was at end of World War ll when massive publicly funded infrastructure and reconstruction projects were undertaken, and just a few years later the publicly funded National Health Service was introduced.
Money can always be found for wars. Moderate estimates for the cost of attacking Afghanistan, Syria and Libya come in at around £240 billion. Replacing the Trident nuclear submarine fleet will cost over £40 billion and of course the costs of our own segregated education system and managing sectarianism runs into additional billions of pounds each year.
Add in the billions of pounds of avoided tax that never makes to government coffers and the costs of re-booting the economy look a lot more manageable.
The role of the state
The role of the state in the funding, central planning and co-ordination of our response to Coronavirus demonstrates the social, political and economic advantages of a centralised and planned approach.
While capitalism will insist on being supported and bailed out by the state when it thinks it will lose money it is a lot less keen on state management at other times. The coming months will show that clearly.
The reality, however, is that capitalism is a self-serving, profit driven, ruthless and ultimately anti-community system that is both unwilling and incapable of delivering, whether in a crisis or not.
Only a socialist system is capable of, and committed to, harnessing and directing the resources of all for the benefits of all.
Stormont’s vote on abortion services had no power to change current legislation but it signaled the strength and depth of social conservatism here and the need to defend and develop existing abortion legislation.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the Party’s Northern Ireland Business Committee which re-affirmed the Party’s position that women have the right to control their own bodies, including their fertility, and to pursue all reproductive choices
For DUP members and others to criticise legislation passed at Westminster saying it “treated Northern Ireland with contempt” while attempting to deny women autonomy over their own bodies is the height of hypocrisy.
Any barrier to reproductive rights for women is also a barrier to full social, economic and political life including workplace equality. It is a woman’s human right to have autonomy over her own body.
Those rights need to be defended, secured and enshrined in Assembly proof legislation for as long as local conservative forces find common cause against the rights of women.
A few months ago no one would have made a connection between academic selection at 11 and a world pandemic: but now they are firmly linked.
A number of grammar schools in Northern Ireland have announced that because of the restrictions brought about by Coronavirus that they will not be using the GL and AQE transfer tests to select pupils this year.
Numerous reports and studies by bodies ranging from the United Nations to the recent Iliad Report (Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation), undertaken by experts from Queen’s University and Stranmillis University College in Belfast – repeatedly confirm that academic selection reinforces “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to reverse educational disadvantage.
Despite being officially abolished in 2008 the 11 Plus and academic selection has lived on through the transfer test system. Only now has it been halted in its tracks – not because of the educational disadvantage it creates, but because it is not safe to sit the tests.
If it is not needed this year, it is not needed any year.
All those opposed to academic selection – parents, teachers, trade unions and others – must reignite this debate and campaign for the complete and final abolition of academic selection at 11.