Rear View Mirror: a brief look back at the week that was


Last week’s figures tell us that, not only is the Coronavirus spreading – but more importantly that it is being spread.

We are in unprecedented times. Even as the vaccine programme is rolled out, infection rates continue to rise, the number of deaths increases and health services and hospitals are stretched to their limit. In these circumstances everyone has a responsibility to follow public health guidance and government has a responsibility to call on all and every resource available to it to help overcome the pandemic and its consequences.

Public Health Agency Advice:

Universal Credit

Around 14,000 families in Northern Ireland, many of them in employment, rely on Universal Credit payments. The £20 ‘top-up’ payment introduced last year has provided a life line for many as they cope with the additional financial pressures of the pandemic. However, it is currently due to end in April.

While it is important that the we protect ourselves and others from infection it is also essential that we protect everyone’s mental health and well-being with financial support, educational resources, business and employment relief packages and full and proper recognition of all the members of the essential work force who have been ensuring that services and supplies were retained throughout.

Universal Credit payments are a key component of that. The “top up “payment must not only be extended it must be made permanent.

Mother and Baby inquiry

The announcement that the long overdue report on Mother and Baby homes in Northern Ireland – it was completed in February last year – is soon to be published comes as welcome news. However, it is unlikely to address all the issues or provide all the answers.

There were more than a dozen Mother and Baby homes here. The last one closed in the 1990s. Some 7,500 women and girls gave birth in the homes run by the main churches and religious organisations.  Many women suffered arbitrary detention, forced labour, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of their babies.

Only a public inquiry can fuller reveal the extent and causes of the suffering. The victims deserve nothing less

Domestic Violence

Welcome news last week that, as part of updated legislation on domestic violence, coercive control will become an offence in Northern Ireland for the first time

Coercive control includes psychological and financial abuse as well as non-violent intimidation.

Figures released last October showed  that domestic abuse crimes were running at record levels in Northern Ireland . They have risen by 12% in a year to 17,251, the equivalent of 47 per day. Five women lost their lives from March of last year in in domestically motivated murders.

In conjunction with the planned introduction of anti-stalking legislation, covering physical and online abuse, last week’s initiatives can contribute to overcoming the marginalisation of women in Northern Ireland society but only a radical class driven restructuring of society can guarantee full rights and equal standing for women.

1974 shooting of Patrick McElhone

The McElhone family from Pomeroy deserves praise for their fortitude and persistence over more than five decades as they fought to vindicate their son as a totally innocent victim of a murderous act.

An inquest last week ruled that Patrick McElhone, a 24 year old farmer, shot dead by a soldier near his home in Limehill, Pomeroy, County Tyrone in August 1974 was an “innocent man shot in cold blood without warning when he was no threat to anyone”.

He was described in the inquest ruling as an “innocent man shot in cold blood without warning when he was no threat to anyone”.

Academic Selection

Finally, as it was announced last week that the vast majority of grammar schools here will not use academic criteria to admit pupils in 2021 it once again raises the question why there is a need for academic selection at all. But we probably know the answer to that already.

Time to tackle Hate Crime

The news that a deliberate fire has practically destroyed the Belfast Multicultural building in South Belfast should bring shame to us all. The centre is a vital space for Northern Ireland’s many minority groupings to come together.  

The fact that Muhammed Atif from the Belfast Multi Cultural Association now says that this attack will prevent them opening a community centre at the building demonstrates clearly that this is an attack on the entire community, not just those minority groups using the centre. 

Regular incidents

The PSNI and political representatives in the area must be asked if more could have been done to protect the centre, given the regular racist and Islamophobic incidents that the centre and its users have been subjected to. All hate crime – whether it is racism, sectarian, homophobic or any other – is completely unacceptable and we all must stand in solidarity with the centre users and those managing this space in what must be an extremely worrying and distressing time. 

The people involved in this hateful attack offer nothing to the people of Northern Ireland, and do not speak for us. 

Education and legislation

It is time for empty condolences to end. Hate crime is on the rise and Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without specific hate crime laws – this must be rectified immediately. Scotland, for example, has recently introduced new robust hate crime law which allows stricter sentencing for those involved in hate crimes. The bill also allows prosecution of those who intend to ‘stir up hatred’. While the specifics of that term continue to be ironed out by the Scottish Government, there is no doubt it would have been useful here in Northern Ireland, given the campaign of racism that many ethnic minorities suffer, including the Multicultural Association.

Along with a wider public education plan around bigotry and hatred, stricter laws would be a vital tool in preventing further crime. 

Real hate crime figures

In the last PSNI annual report on hate crime from October 2019 to September 2020, there were 881 hate related incidents or crimes. This is a completely shameful number of incidents. PSNI and other police forces also accept that reporting numbers in hate related crimes is low, so the true number is likely to be much higher than this. Much of the reason for this is due to distrust of the criminal justice system, given the lower conviction rates for hate crimes, compared to other crime. 

Rebuild and relocate

It is also vital that the executive takes the lead on publicly proving its opposition to Hate Crime. The Department of Communities should immediately step in to secure funding for a rebuild of the Belfast Multicultural hub, and in the meantime, alternative premises should be secured to allow the Multicultural Association to continue its work.   

This is not the time for words of condemnation, that are not followed up by robust and clear actions. We must all show very clearly that we are strongly opposed to any form of hatred and come together with all victims of hate crime. 

All parties in the executive must unequivocally condemn those involved in this fire, and tell them loud and clear that neither hatred nor bigotry is welcome in Northern Ireland.

Sign the statement of support for the Belfast Multicultural Association


Mel Corry

a staunch defender of workers’ rights

It is with great sadness that we hear of the untimely death of Mel Corry.

The Workers Party extends its sincere condolences to his wife Fiona and to his family, friends and comrades in the trade union movement and the Communist Party.

Mel was well known and well respected in the labour movement. He was deeply committed to the anti-sectarian cause and his work in political education, employment advice and his determined opposition to sectarianism in the workplace will be long remembered. His work with Trademark will be a lasting legacy to him.

A staunch defender of workers’ rights, Mel Corry will be sadly missed by us all

Party offers support after fire at Multi Cultural Association

South Belfast Party Chairperson, Paddy Lynn offers support to The Multi Cultural Association

Paddy Lynn has contacted the Multi Cultural Association in the wake of last nights devastating fire at their premises on Donegall Pass, Belfast.

“On behalf of the Workers Party (South Belfast Branch ) I would like to commiserate with you and your colleagues following the devastating fire at your premises”, Paddy said

“While we understand that the cause of the blaze has yet to be established, nonetheless, we are very aware of the series of racist attacks and hate crimes which preceded this fire and offer you our support and solidarity in tackling and overcoming these attitudes and actions”.

“Belfast has a justifiably proud history as a welcoming and inclusive city. We must re-establish and sustain that reputation on behalf of all our citizens” Paddy concluded.

A brief look back at the week that was

Academic Selection: The real discussion this week on Transfer Tests should not have been about whether they went ahead as planned or were postponed – it should have been about why, 11 years after the end of the 11 Plus, academic selection continues to reinforce privilege and disadvantage .

It was obvious that Education Minister Peter Weir’s original insistence that they take place , was a clear case of prioritising academic selection over public health protection.

Street Signs: The decision by Belfast City Council to proceed with a scheme to erect multi lingual street signs beggars belief. It has not been adopted to help make Belfast a more  inclusive and cosmopolitan city. Its intention and its consequences will be to further consolidate sectarian division, demarcate ‘territory’ and prop up the myth of ‘two communities’.  The four parties supporting the scheme Sinn Fein, SDLP,  People Before Profit and the Alliance party are looking to their narrow constituencies and ‘liberal credentials’ respectively – not the consequences of their actions.

Those who are genuinely interested in promoting the Irish language as an inclusive cultural project, which is to be commended, should look to integrated community based initiatives rather than antagonistic gimmicks likely to hinder the development and growth of a language open to all those who wish to learn and speak it.

Covid 19: Lockdown is a difficult time for many, many, people. From the disruption to schooling for young children, to parents coping with child minding issues, people working from home, people of furlough, the many thousands trying to cope with lockdown on benefits, right through to the elderly, the lonely and the vulnerable. But Lockdown is essential if we are to buy sufficient time for the C19 vaccines to be administered and take effect.
Too many people, including a number of mainstream media outlets, seem more determined to spend their time and efforts looking for loopholes, exceptions, and get out clauses than in supporting the measures necessary to overcome this virus. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all those  who have been keeping society functioning throughout this pandemic – ignoring public health guidelines is no way of showing it.

Supermarkets, trade and EU regulations: Stories of food shortages, trade crises and delays have dominated this week – however, many of them have been difficult  to substantiate. Nevertheless, the mainstream media and spokespersons for pro-EU parties  blame the act of leaving the European Union rather than the terms and conditions which EU negotiators set as part of the withdrawal agreement. The real source of any problems lies with the inability of two competing economies to harmonise their working relationships and of the failure of many private companies to cope with change.

Capitol Hill: One of the many ironies of the events in Washington DC this week was that the politics and mindsets of many of those who tried to storm the US Congress mirror exactly many of the ‘opposition forces’ which the US has supported, financed and armed across the world as they orchestrated the overthrow of democratically elected governments and engineered intervention, both covert and military, in the affairs of sovereign states.

This policy is not restricted to US Republicans. It has also been an integral part of the Democrats’ approach as well. Remember Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, to name but a few.

Academic Selection at 11 – a ‘brutal and archaic system’

Research confirms that academic selection reinforces privilege and disadvantage

The question is not whether transfer tests for admission to grammar schools should be postponed or go ahead this weekend – but rather why are they being held at all.

The headlines will focus on the potential Covid consequences, but the longer-term issues concern the fundamental principle of academic selection at 11. The 11 Plus was officially scrapped in Northern Ireland over twelve years ago but effectively became a private exam thanks to a clause in the St Andrews Agreement – signed by all five major parties.

Research and reports, like those undertaken by the United Nations experts and by educational specialists at Queen’s University and Stranmillis University College have repeatedly confirmed that academic selection reinforces “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to help in reversing educational disadvantage.

The original insistence by Education Minister Peter Weir, that schools returned as planned after the Christmas break, has to be seen as a measure designed to protect the selection process rather than public health.

It is encouraging, therefore, to hear The Newtownards and Comber Primary Principals Association openly criticise the transfer tests system as a “brutal and archaic system”.

There are many issues to be addressed in our education system, for example how it is structured and the results it produces. The continued use of academic selection at 11 is just one of them.

All those opposed to academic selection – parents, teachers, trade unions and others – must reignite this debate and pursue the complete and final abolition of this “brutal and archaic system”.

Border Poll calls divisive and unnecessary

In a joint statement, Councillor Ted Tynan of the Party’s Cork Region and Hugh Scullion from the Northern Ireland Region have set out the divisive and potentially dangerous consequences risked by calls for a border poll.

“Increasingly, almost every issue in this country is viewed myopically through sectarian glasses with orange and green lenses”, they say

“So it is with the growing clamour for a Border Poll on a united Ireland, driven largely by Sinn Fein, and now supported by a number of new organisations, some academics, a variety of media commentators and other nationalist parties, north and south, desperate not to be left behind this wave of manufactured urgency” the statement says.

The Border Poll argument is cynically presented as a ‘done deal’ based on a simple and dangerous concept of territorial realignment. It is, we are being told, only a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

Setting out the Party’s position the pair say, “…[we have] always pursued and remain committed to the objective of a unitary socialist state on this island. We have long recognised that is a long term and onerous project and it can only be built on working class unity rather than the territorial unity of a united capitalist Ireland which offers no solution to the urgent problems facing working people, north and south.

“When the rhetoric is stripped away, when the concrete realities are exposed, then the border poll campaign becomes an undisguised all-class alliance designed to promote the policies of Sinn Fein and benefit the aspirations of some sections of the professional middle-classes, north and south”.

What the border poll campaigners don’t want to consider, and don’t want raised, is the necessary discussion on the fundamental restructuring of Irish society to ensure that working people control their own destinies.

“There is a real risk and potential for sectarian violence in the aftermath of a border poll – irrespective of the outcome. The people on this island, and particularly in Northern Ireland, have witnessed more than enough bloodshed, intimidation and death – but that has been the outcome of belligerent nationalism, British and Irish, for decades”.

These are real and ominous possibilities which border poll campaigners seem content to ignore or disregard.

The unity of the working class and a fundamental transformation of our social, political and economic system remain an absolute and non-negotiable prelude to the creation of a single unitary state”.

It is incumbent upon all progressive forces in this country, on all socialists, trade unionists, democrats and anti-sectarian forces to challenge and oppose the ill-conceived clamour for a Border Poll, expose it for the shallow, sectarian scam that it is, and to continue to build the basis of working-class unity as the only secure foundation for the people of this island and beyond.

Read the statement in full here: