Health and Care a Human Right

Nicola Campbell

As health and care services across Northern Ireland become stretched beyond capacity, Workers Party Newry and Armagh spokesperson, Nicola Campbell, has called for an ‘immediate reversal of the policy of bed closures’

“In the last ten years the number of hospital beds in Northern Ireland has dropped by 10%. In the Belfast area, where all the major regional services are based, the figure is a staggering 20%”. Nicola said.

“Locally, the number of hospital beds available in the Southern Trust dropped to a low of 813 a few years ago. That figure has improved slightly but is still well short of the 997 beds available in this area a decade ago”.

“This did not happen by chance. It is the result of successive Ministers for Health and the Assembly cutting back on health service funding and investment. The outcome is that people are dying while they wait for inpatient treatment. In the past five years that figure is in the region of 22,000 deaths”, stated Nicola

“Everyone should have the right to treatment and care. It should be free at the point of delivery and should be centrally funded and centrally planned. These principles are being increasingly undermined and put at risk.

Health and care is a human right and the only way to ensure that our NHS is not run into the ground and then handed over to private companies is for the right to public health and care services to be enshrined in a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights that will provide protection and guarantees for the service, for staff and for citizens”, Nicola concluded.

Free, safe, legal, accessible and dignified

Services denied, services unavailable and open public harassment of women seeking abortion advice and support: that is the current reality for women in Northern Ireland.

Despite the introduction of legislation by Westminster almost two years ago abortion services and support are still not fully available to women in Northern Ireland.

With the Assembly again failing to meet its obligations to women, the welcome news is that the Secretary of State is to direct the Department of Health to commission free, safe and legal access to services by March 2022.

The continuing failure of the Assembly to deliver on women’s healthcare rights has continued to cause further hurt and trauma.

Previously, The Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) described the situation in which thousands of women and girls are forced to travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion as a ‘grave and systematic violation of their rights’.

Women have the right to control their own bodies, including their fertility, and to pursue all reproductive choices.

Abortion is a class issue and this requires the clear recognition of a woman’s right to choose and the provision of free and safe abortion in her own country. That must include practical facilities to support both women seeking an abortion and quality post-abortion care. 

The organised and ongoing harassment of women seeking to avail of abortion healthcare facilities here continues to be of major concern. 

We oppose these groups, their abusive activities and their vile attempts to stigmatise and demonise women who choose to have, or who have had, abortions. A woman’s right to choose is a human right and it must be protected and upheld.

Battle for a Bill of Rights is far from over

The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights is due to publish the result of its consultation process early next year.

This may well be just another step in a long, arduous and frequently dishonest journey that has been managing to avoid introducing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland despite the requirement of the Good Friday Agreement to do so.

In fact, the demand of a Bill of Rights goes back much further than that. The Workers Party has been campaigning to have the legislation introduced for over 50 years.

Restating the case

Given recent events this is a timely opportunity to restate the case for a Bill of Rights and raise many serious concerns that, just like the requirement to introduce Integrated Education, the Executive parties will, as they have done in the past, divert and dilute the debate to produce a statement of ‘nationalist rights’, and ‘unionist rights’ in place of a comprehensive Bill of Rights for all citizens in Northern Ireland.

The warning signs are already evident. Marches and rallies for ‘nationalist rights’ have taken place already, civic unionism sets itself up against civic nationalism – each pitching their own ‘rights based ‘agendas – and, before even a single local view had been submitted to it, the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights stated that “Some of the rights and protections that we have examined are issues around language culture and heritage”.

Direction of travel

Important as these issues are when the committee with the responsibility for the consultation process leads with these identity-based issues at the expense of civil, social, economic and human rights concerns, then the preferred direction of travel becomes all too obvious.

Taken together with the proposals announced this week which would effectively debar civil actions and deny inquests into Troubles killings alongside the end of any legal inquiries into Troubles related incidents, the case needs to be remade for a comprehensive citizen-based Bill of Rights.

Rights for All

When the Workers Party made its submission to the current consultation process we said,

The purpose of a Bill of Rights should be to establish and guarantee the relationship between citizens and the state. It must form the basis for democratic rights as the guarantor of the civil liberties of all citizens and of the political rights of all political parties, groups and individuals.

It must also expressly guarantee that everyone in Northern Ireland is equal before the law and has equal rights”.

That would mean that a Bill of Rights should provide a positive statement of the rights which each citizen can expect, and demand, of the state and also provide the means whereby those rights will be protected and enforced if they are infringed.

Social and economic rights

We also affirmed our belief that the protection of civil and political rights cannot be effectively guaranteed without a full programme of social and economic construction.

We are committed to a political system where the majority of the population, the working class, regardless of communal background, is properly and fairly represented in all aspects of political life. A Bill of Rights must reflect and underpin that ambition

A Bill of Rights must also address the rights of women and, in particular, family planning and reproductive rights, including the right to abortion, and the right of women to full and equal participation in political decision-making and public life. It must address the rights of workers and encompass core international standards of trade union rights.

Citizenship versus Sectarianism  

It is highly unlikely, in fact it is a near certainty, that the outcome of the consultation by the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights will not produce a citizen-based rights programme.

Two other outcomes are more likely. Either it will kick the can further down the road and beyond the life time of this current Assembly mandate or it will propose a set of rights for ‘the two communities’, removing the concept of citizenship from the debate and further compounding the sectarian division of this society.

The battle for a Bill of Rights is far from over

The demand for equality and democratic rights is not the property or the preserve of any one political party or tribal grouping. Its ownership should rest firmly with citizens as citizens. Only on that basis will progress be made and citizenship flourish.

Workers Party’s submission to the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights

Victims, survivors and their families cannot be disregarded

“Any attempts to bypass and forgo full judicial scrutiny of legacy murders and other serious crimes of the Troubles are designed to cover up and excuse the excesses of state and terrorist actions”, the Workers Party has said.

” Such proposals totally disregard the needs of victims, survivors and their families. Whatever process is finally adopted it cannot and must not provide an escape route for murder irrespective of those responsible.”

Every Day’s a Segregated School Day

The political power bases which have been secured and developed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement depend absolutely on a divided and segregated society.

The inescapable reality is that integrated education is being deliberately side-lined by the Assembly. MLAs from the DUP, Sinn Fein and other parties continue to go to great lengths to find reasons why children should not be educated together.

Last week’s debate on a private member’s bill to progress integrated education exposed the real differences between the rhetoric and the reality.

Of course, everyone thought integrated education was a good idea…. but not now and not here.

The Education Minister, the DUP’s Michele McIlveen called the bill ‘unwelcome and unhelpful’, Sinn Fein said the bill needed ‘serious and significant changes’. Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, himself a former Education Minister, spelt out what some of those changes might involve when he claimed ‘The identity in it (integrated schooling) is not neutral – in many of them it is British.’

The Good Friday Agreement placed a statutory obligation on the Executive and the Assembly to facilitate the development of integrated education. They have not only singularly failed to honour that requirement, they have collectively connived to avoid it.

The political power bases which have been secured and developed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement depend absolutely on a divided and segregated society. That’s the basis of both the DUP’s and Sinn Fein’s joint electoral and political strategy.

‘The DUP / Sinn Fein Coalition has deliberately sought to, not only side-line the principle and practice of integrated education, but to substitute and promote a ‘shared’ education agenda which is little more than a political fig leaf to justify the continued segregation of our children into religious and political tribes and offers no alternative to those parents who want more for their children

Last week’s debate demonstrates, if further proof were needed, that both these parties have taken a decision between themselves to carve up Northern Ireland into two sectarian camps and feed off the fear, mistrust and ignorance that it generates.

When voters opt for DUP, Sinn Fein and similar candidates at the polls this is what they are voting for. Intentionally or not support for these parties is support for segregation, division a denied future, and all that that involves.

Food Banks: part of the’ ‘new normal’

Food Banks: no sign of political outrage or indignation at the Assembly

It is only a few years ago that the concept of Food Banks as we currently know them, was almost unheard of.

Now there are estimated to be more than 30 foodbanks in Northern Ireland. Last year the Trussel Trust alone prepared and distributed around more than 78,000 emergency food parcels; in excess of one and a half thousand every week.

Many other foodbanks run by local charities and churches also provide support and help. Demand for foodbanks rose by 80% last year alone.

They have become so much part of routine life that donating items to them is seen as an act of good citizenship, and of course it is. However, the better citizenship is to make a donation but also to challenge why Food Banks are needed and why well over 30,000children a year depend on them for their meals.

Food banks exist, and demand for them grows, because people and their families are hungry, because they have no other way of feeding themselves, but as with many pressing social issues there is no sign of political outrage or indignation at the Assembly.

There are no imaginative plans to end food poverty, no political commitment to ending the indignity of Food Bank queues and no guarantees that all children can look forward to a healthy and consistent diet.

There is an absence of all of these. It is almost as if the silence amongst Assembly members suggests something distasteful about addressing these problems.

Perhaps the German poet and playwright, Bertlot Brecht, had the measure of the five main parties at Stormont when he said:

Amongst the highly placed
It is considered low to talk about food.
The fact is: they have already eaten’

You MUST register to vote

The electoral register is being updated and everyone over 18 (or who will be 17 by 30 November) needs to register to make sure that they can vote at future elections.

It doesn’t matter if you are currently on the electoral register – you still need to re-register to secure your vote.

More important than ever 

Voting is always important but never more so than now. At the last Assembly elections more than 80% of people voted for parties that traded on sectarian tensions to win seats, they voted for parties that failed to develop the local economy to the advantage of ordinary working people, that didn’t robustly oppose welfare reform measures, that didn’t implement  integrated education, that didn’t provide universal and accessible childcare, that didn’t tackle child poverty or educational under achievement.

More than 80% of people here voted for parties that continuously divert attention away from the harsh economic and social realities of life by substituting those issue for diversionary arguments about flags, culture and identity.

All the more reason that it’s important that everyone who believes in a better socialist future is registered and votes for that at future elections.

Important things to know and do:

  • Voter registration – or the Canvass as it is also known – is open from the start of July
  • You must register to have a vote at future elections
  • You can register on line at
  • You will need to provide:
    • Your National Insurance Number
    • Your Full Name
    • Your Date of Birth, and
    • Your Current Address
  • Hard copy forms will be posted to all voters over 75 and can be down loaded also from the Electoral Office website or by calling the Electoral Office Helpline on 028 9044 6680

You Must Register : You will lose your vote if you don’t

Further information is available from