How many more reports? How many more ruined lives?

How many more reports? How many more ruined lives?

To the questions ‘how many more reports’ and ‘how many more ruined lives’ can be added a third query: ‘How long can they get away with this?’

The ‘this’ in question is the myth that Northern Ireland’s education system is fit for purpose and is maximising young people’s talent and potential. The ‘they’ refers to all those with vested interests in perpetuating their own advantage and privilege and in maintaining division in  this society.

Report after report, study after study has identified the damage which academic selection – or the 11 Plus exam – can cause to young people, their opportunities and their futures.

It’s the same story for integrated education. Vested interests, political and religious, have combined to ensure that the requirement set out in the Good Friday Agreement to promote integrated education, has, to this day, been successfully sidestepped.

Privilege and disadvantage

Against that background, ‘How long can they get away with this?’ is a real and critical question.

The recent report produced by the Ulster University’s Education Centre identifies the impact and longer-term effects of academic selection at age 11. They say that it’s traumatic for many children and damages the life chances of a large proportion of the school population. Previous reports have highlighted the reinforcement of “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to help in reversing educational disadvantage.

Integrated Education

Add to that the contemptuous disregard shown by the Assembly for the development of integrated education, in the face of increasing community support and it is undeniable that the education system in Northern Ireland is not fit for purpose.

Opinion research conducted recently by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) found an approval rating for integrated education at over 80% of all respondents. Yet, the main Assembly parties have not only done little to develop integrated education, they have deliberately diverted the focus to their invented, and meaningless, concept of ‘shared education’.

Like so much in Northern Ireland, these issues are frequently presented in simple sectarian terms. Radio phone-in programmes and many political commentators seek to reduce both issues to examples of community division. How often do we hear that ‘unionists support academic selection while nationalists are opposed to it’ or, that ‘both communities want their children educated in schools reflecting their own community background’?

But the reality is that many of the shortcomings in our education system are class-based issues.

The supporters of academic selection, and all the problems that causes, are neither nationalist nor unionist: they are Northern Ireland’s middle classes determined to secure their, and their children’s, social advantage, even though that is gained at the expense of less advantaged children.

So too with integrated education. The imperative to maintain and sustain the dangerous and divisive ‘two communities’ model takes precedence over all other considerations.

How long will they get away with it? As long as they are allowed to, and for as long as they go unchallenged.


Programme for Government

The Workers Party has submitted its views to the Northern Ireland Executive’s on its draft Programme for Government setting out a number of priorities for working people across a wide range of social, economic and political concerns.

Of course, the Programme for Government will inevitably fall far short of the expectations of a socialist party which requires the complete transformation of our social system and society but it is important, particularly in the context of the pandemic, to make concrete demands at every opportunity for the provision of social and economic measures to meet the needs of working people.

In its opening remarks the Party submission states that “The adoption and roll out of this Programme must be seen against the current and historical realities of life in Northern Ireland, as lived by many thousands of citizens”.

The Party submission then highlights a number of those areas

Hospital waiting lists and many other aspects of healthcare provision are in crisis. They have been for many years and pre date the Coronavirus pandemic.

Public housing provision has fallen dramatically in the last decade and an already unacceptable crisis continues to be exacerbated.

Levels of child poverty represent a scandal which none of us should be prepared to accept. It’s reporting in statistical averages masks specific areas of inordinately high deprivation and the endemic and long-term nature of the crisis.

Our education system, in addition to its failing of working-class children, continues perpetuating division, legitimising sectarianism and propping up the phoney ‘two communities’ model.

The current pandemic has helped to identify a number of social and economic issues and has brought back into focus a number of others. Chief among these has been the impact which Coronavirus has had on women in particular.

These additional pressures and problems are compounding the daily difficulties faced by women and young girls in Northern Ireland. A Programme for Government must plan for a strategic response and the implementation of a comprehensive raft of legislation, initiatives, funding, supports and cultural change to radically improve and secure the position of women in this society.

Northern Ireland’s economic strategy is based on a low wage economy and a foreign direct investment model which thwarts the development of an indigenous skills base leaving workers and their families at the mercy of multinational companies as they shut up shop and move on to locations of higher profits and lower wages.

Securing, in legislation, the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland continues to be an unnecessarily long, arduous and uphill struggle. This Programme for Government must use the opportunity to comprehensively re-dress that significant and damaging deficit.

It is against these strategic imperatives that the Workers Party has responded to the Programme for Government consultation.

Read the Party’s full submission here:

Tunnel Vision

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating. Almost all of public life in Northern Ireland is assessed and evaluated in terms of Orange or Green. Or is that an exaggeration and an unfair generalisation? – asks Workers Party South Belfast representative, Patrick Lynn

It’s certainly true of education. We maintain and sustain two entirely separate systems from primary through to secondary level. It’s also true of housing: 90% plus of public housing developments are exclusively either catholic or protestant.  Community development projects are designed and funded on the “two communities” model.

Even what should be strategic infrastructure developments are plagued by the perceptions that “they” might be getting more out of it that “us”. Factor in sport and culture as further examples and its almost a full house

The hysterical reactions to the announcement of a feasibility study into a permanent link with Scotland is further proof of how ingrained and accepted sectarianism has become. Whether a bridge or other form of link across the Irish Sea is a good thing or not is irrelevant in the face of the reaction it has generated.   

The source of both the support and of the objections is largely predictable, and almost guaranteed. Probably the largest, and certainly the most expensive, proposal since the HS2 rail link and by far the biggest construction project effecting both Northern Ireland and the Republic has been reduced to an argument over whether it is being used to strengthen the Union or a device to fend off a united Ireland. It is tunnel vision at its worst.

Had the proposal come from Dublin the arguments would simply have been reversed. Much of the opposition is based on a growing and emboldened anti-British sentiment on this island. Much of the support is an almost knee jerk reaction to the opposition.

It is of course easy to point the finger exclusively at the man and woman in the street and blame then for all our ills, but that would be to let the architects of tunnel vision off the hook.

Sectarianism is the life blood of the main political parties here. They would deny that, but it’s hard to refute. Their electoral appeal is fashioned on it, their votes are headcounts based on it and their politics are tribal tirades designed to sustain it. They are not alone. They are joined and legitimised by media commentators many of whom extend influence without responsibility. Many of them find regular outlets in our newspapers, television and radio programmes.

Collectively they fulfil a number of important tasks in Northern Ireland life. They articulate and sustain division. They would deny it but, again, it is hard to refute. They perpetuate fear of the ‘other’ and they divert our attention away from reality.  Most importantly of all they provide a smokescreen – in orange and green – behind which lies the real class nature of this society.

The economic and social system we live under is based on the accumulation of capital, relentless production and the unending pursuit of profit.  The main political parties here, in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland support and manage that system to the detriment of ordinary working people.  Its not really that complicated. That’s how it works.

One of the many devices used to make that process easier is to create and sustain division. Sometimes it’s based on ethnicity, sometimes it’s based on gender and sometimes it’s based on cultural differences – but always it’s based on class. In Northern Ireland our local variation is religion and community background – but the purpose and the effects are the same.

“While the political parties and the tribal spokespeople continue to deride or admire the latest project through sectarian lenses, they dig this society deeper into the mire than any tunnel could and they build no bridges, but they successfully keep the spotlight off the class nature of our society and the misery, deprivation and dead-end despair that it brings”, Patrick concluded

International Women’s Day: ‘Women and the Pandemic’

in the real world, working class women are left with little to celebrate

“At a time when celebrities and the media attempt to take over and trivialise International Women’s Day, it is important to point out that, in the real world, working class women are left with little to celebrate”

Announcing the launch of the Workers Party event to mark this year’s International Women’s Day, Party spokesperson Joanne Lowry said,

“Beyond the commercialisation, the glossy magazine features and the celebrity photo opportunities lie the women, mostly working-class women, whose daily routine is a struggle against the inequalities and oppression visited on them by the capitalist system”

“The theme of our event this year ‘Women and the Pandemic’ will be an opportunity to explore the myth that we are all in this together and address the fact that women in particular are disproportionately affected by poverty, domestic violence, precarious and low paid employment and the responsibilities of caring”, Joanne said.

“We will also be discussing the Mother and Baby scandals and looking at how women continue to be abused by systems of power, social and political institutions, misogyny and at how that continues even through to the outcome and the reaction to the recent reports”.

“Today’s discussion and debate will underscore our firm conviction that women must be at the forefront of the struggle for a socialist society. Only a socialist, secular society can deliver the equality that women need to achieve their full potential as citizens”, concluded Joanne.

Email for the Zoom link

Women and the Pandemic: panel and speakers

Chair: Nicola Campbell, Workers Party Newry / Armagh


Maura McKenna – Trade Unionist

Joanne Lowry, Chair Workers Party Women’s Committee

Anne Finnegan, Workers Party Dublin

Maureen Consideine, University College Cork

Catherine Coffey, Workers Party Cork

Workers Party International Statement







The importance of the NHS

Health and social care staff, and all those who work in the NHS here, have been congratulated by the Party’s spokesperson in Newry and Armagh, Nicola Campbell.

“More than half a million people here have received their first Coronavirus vaccination jab and thousands more will be vaccinated by the end of July”, Nicola said.

“Although we are not out of the woods yet, frontline health and social care staff, against all the odds, have held the line against the pandemic and have helped to ensure to that we are on course for the return of some sort of normality”, she added

“There can be no argument but that these successes have been achieved by virtue by the dedication and professionalism of all those involved in the planning and delivery of the vaccination programme and in the treatment and care of Covid positive patients.

Nor can there be any doubt that this was made possible by a centrally funded, centrally planned health and social care service”, Nicola said.

We would not be where we are today if our health and care relied on private medical insurance or privatised hospitals”.

“For now, and for the future, the lessons are clear and telling”, said Nicola. “The NHS must be prioritised, strengthened and properly funded. The staff who deliver its services must be supported, developed and paid the wages they deserve. It’s not just the NHS that’s unsafe in private hands – its also the elderly, the vulnerable, the ill and all those in need.

When we eventually emerge from this pandemic those are the priorities and the principles that need to be secured in the face of any attempts to turn a public health service into a private one under the guise of reform and restructuring“, “Nicola concluded.