The latest debate at the Northern Ireland Executive, on restrictions to tackle Covid 19, lays bare every contradiction that has marked the strategic direction of the Five Party Mandatory Coalition.
They have turned the health and safety of our citizens into a set of negotiations between the two big parties.
Follow the science
The health and wellbeing of Northern Ireland should not be a matter for compromise. At all times we should be following the science.
It was notable that during the Assembly debate one MLA stated that the Government couldn’t be expected to pay the wages of workers indefinitely. That is in sharp contrast to that same Party position during the RHI debacle, when ‘Fill your Boots it’s Free Money’ was the flavour of the day. Mind you then it was businesses and a large multi-national company and political cronies who were the main beneficiaries.
Poverty and child care
It was also notable that poverty and child care were flagged up as major concerns, as were education and life chances for our children, as well as the pressure on our health and social care services. The blatant hypocrisy of these issues being used to curb restrictions is jaw dropping given the lack of any strategy over the past decades to deal with these issues.
The First Minister said in the Assembly that poverty can be a killer, but so can unemployment. Well we have been telling them that for years, yet despite promising an Anti-Poverty Strategy for over a decade, in various new start agreements, nothing has been done. Calls for an Economic Forum to include all sections and sectors of our society, to develop a cohesive plan to create manufacturing and sustainable jobs have been ignored too.
There has been no discussion or mention of affordable child care, which is fundamental to allowing women to enter the work force. Nor has there been any acknowledgement that it’s not possible to have equality of opportunity in the workplace without a Child Care Strategy.
In relation to education there has been a complete failure to tackle educational underachievement of working class children. Instead we have a blatant policy of shoring up the status quo. Money is being poured into shared education, whilst ignoring the commitment in the GFA to promote Integrated Education.
The debacle in relation to the exam results is indicative of how little this Executive cares about working class children’s futures. The health and social care services which have been to the forefront in saving lives and providing services, have continued to be underfunded and subjected to fragmentation and privatisation.
Vast sums of money public money are paid to provide agency staff, because permanent posts have been cut in order to balance the books. This has been deemed more important than dealing with health inequalities.
It’s clear that only a socialist agenda that puts the health and well-being of its citizens up front and centre can make the changes needed in our society.