The Workers Party in North Belfast has called for the extension of the Glider service to cover the entire North Belfast community and for it to be funded from the money saved by ending segregated education and the removal of ‘peace walls’.
In its submission to the Department of Infrastructure the Party said, “Public transport services should target and address a range of social priorities. It must always be about much more than simply operating a bus route.
The consultation had proposed a choice between a Glider service along the Shore Road or a service on the Antrim Road. The Workers Party has added its own circular route option running clockwise and counter clockwise from the City Centre along the Shore Road to Glengormley, the Antrim Road back to the city centre with a further loop route along the North Circular, Ballysillan, Upper Crumlin, Woodvale, Shankill and onwards to the City Centre.
“The current consultation process must take the opportunity to look beyond the immediate, effectively addressing a transport strategy for North Belfast, ”it says.
The Workers Party has also criticised reactions to the consultation so far which they say have largely been based along tribal lines – each ‘side’ calling for the Glider on ‘their road’
“The proposal to extend Glider services to north Belfast is a once in a generation opportunity to transform public transport, not just in this area but for the whole city, open up access, develop social inclusion and deliver a safer, cleaner, greener city”, the Party submission says.
It has also called for the extension of the Glider service to the whole of North Belfast to be funded from the scrapping of segregated education which currently costs around £100 million per year and the removal of the so called ‘peace walls’ which each year cost a staggering £2 billion to maintain.
Childcare in Northern Ireland is in crisis. Costs here are the second highest in Europe, there are not enough places to cope with demand and one third of local parents say that childcare costs are their largest monthly outgoing, exceeding their rent or mortgage.
Parents are having to cut back on their hours, leave their jobs or make ad hoc and short-term arrangements.
And the response from the DUP/ Sinn Fein led Executive? Almost ten years after it first started to discuss a Childcare Strategy, unbelievably, it is still at the consultation stage.
‘Towards a Childcare Strategy’ was first drafted in 2012. The consultation period ended a year later in December 2013.
The Programme for Government (2011-2015) committed the Executive to publish and implement a childcare strategy with key actions to provide integrated and affordable childcare. That consultation ended in November 2015.
Then, the New Decade, New Approach agreement committed the Executive to publish the strategy and to “deliver extended, affordable and high-quality provision of early education and care initiatives for families with children aged 3-4”.
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen now promises to finally deliver the strategy, but, depressingly, says that this will involve re-engaging with key stakeholders on the objectives and priorities, feasibility testing and a public consultation. Don’t hold your breath.
Socialist countries, like the German Democratic Republic, pioneered comprehensive childcare schemes as long ago as the 1940s and 50s. Other countries are now belatedly addressing their childcare responsibiities.
Parents in England and Scotland can access 30 hours of free childcare during term time.
In Finland every child under the age of seven has the right to childcare and pre-school by law,
Sweden spends more money on its pre-school budget than it does on its defence budget. Each child is guaranteed a place at a public pre-school.
Nurseries in France are free and children aged from three upwards can attend
Since 2013 every child over the age of one in Germany has a legal right to a place in a public childcare facility.
The lack of available places and the cost of childcare remain major factors in discouraging women, in particular, from participating in the workforce. Many have no choice but to work reduced hours, enter casual employment or give up work altogether.
If women are to achieve equality in the workplace then child care must be a priority
In the absence of publicly run nurseries, the government’s go-to solution is to use tax-payers’ money as a subsidy to private nurseries through working tax credits, vouchers and a myriad of complex and complicated funding schemes riddled with caveats, exceptions and exclusion clauses. It doesn’t even kick the problem further down the road. The crisis remains and is getting worse.
Is it really such an earth-shattering demand to call for fully publicly funded, affordable, flexible nursery and childcare services?
If we are serious about gender equality, developing the economy, maximising the input of women and implementing a post covid revival plan then we must ensure that a flexible childcare network is available from birth and includes pre and after-school, and holiday care.
If we are serious about a first-class childcare strategy then we must guarantee quality of care through ensuring that all those working in the childcare sector are fully qualified, have training and development opportunities, a career path and are paid a real living wage.
And while we are at it, why should we not consider childcare as the major investment in the future that it unquestionably is? Why should we not rank it alongside other major social policy initiatives and make it free at the point of delivery?
Too often, critics dismiss socialists and socialism as always wanting something for nothing. Of course, a free at the point of use childcare system would cost money and it should be paid for.
We could start with collecting the billions of pounds of unpaid taxes, raising corporation tax in recognition of the benefits employers will reap from future generations or we could stop waging wars around the world. The estimated £40 billion plus spent on the war in Afghanistan would be a good start and a much better use of public money.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (right) has called on the EU to develop its own military capabilities – an EU Army.
The issue has been around for some time but now there is increasing pressure for a formal military structure. Not that it was mentioned much by the Remain lobby during the referendum debate. They were obviously keen to avoid the subject.
All the evidence points to the EU wanting to extend its power and influence and formalise its empire. An EU flag, an anthem, a common currency and the final piece of the jigsaw an army of its own.
An EU army will, unquestionably, lead to interventions in other countries. The press release will claim humanitarian motives or bringing an end to ‘tyranny’ but the reality is that it will be about extending the EU’s influence and markets. The grimmer reality is that hundreds, if not thousands, of young working-class men and women from across the continent will be used as commercial cannon fodder and the peoples of countries subjected to “intervention” will be the victims of the devastation and horror of destruction and war One other thing is certain – Ursula van der Leyen will not be in the firing line.
The prospect of an EU army raises very serious questions for the Republic of Ireland and its record on neutrality.
What kind of pressure will the EU Commission bring to bear on the Republic of Ireland to join an EU army? Don’t expect a principled stand from Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or from Sinn Fein, all of whom have shown that they will bend over backwards to curry favour with Brussels.
There will be others who would welcome an EU army. The armaments industry, its suppliers and associates will profit massively, at public expense from the formation of such an army let alone from its “interventions”.
An EU army will have nothing to do with peace, peace keeping or making the world ‘a safer place’. It has everything to do with the contradictions between the capitalist states, the development and consolidation of the capitalist system, the pursuit of profit and the exploitation of working people to deliver it.
Workers Party West Belfast representative, Conor Duffy has reacted angrily to the announcement that no public housing is to be built on the former Mackies site on the Springfield Road.
“Well over a year ago I warned that despite West Belfast having one of the highest public housing waiting lists in Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council was proposing to develop the 25-acre site as a park and green-way amenity area”, Conor said
Those fears were confirmed at a meeting of the Council earlier this week.
While I am symapthetic to the need for such ammenities, the priority remains that there is currently a need for more than 2,000 publicly owned, affordable homes in West Belfast.
The waiting list figures here are amongst the highest in Northern Ireland, yet the council has opted to use the land for what amounts to an environmentally friendly ‘peace wall’ rather than an integrated public housing development stretching between the Springfield and Ballygomartin areas.
“It is inconceivable that the former Mackies site, which is public land under the ownership of the Department for Communities, is not being earmarked for a major public housing project
Sinn Fein, in particular, owe this community a public explanation of their position, why they voted against a proposal for public housing and why their Minister in the Department of the Communities did not support a public housing development on the site” Conor concluded..
The recent reforms to social care in England should pose serious questions closer to home. Changes and reforms to health and social care all too often get hung up on bricks and mortar at the expense of focussing on the quality of care.
In particular, the dominant perception of care services for older people has become synonymous with institutional care provided by private companies.
That raises a number of fundamental questions, not least of which is whether institutional care is the best option for the care of a growing elderly population
Clearly it is not. If all we can offer an ageing population is to put them in a home then we need to re-evaluate our approach.
Given the opportunity, the majority of people would prefer to be supported in their own home, if that is possible. Once we accept that principle, we need to ensure that not only is that service provided but that it is provided to the highest possible standard in the most innovative, flexible and inclusive manner possible.
To achieve that, NHS staff should do what they do best – provide care. While the fundamental responsibility for resourcing and providing social care rests with the state, there are many additional aspects to supporting people to live in their own homes and communities than can and should be provided by a combination of voluntary and community groups, social enterprises and families.
Issues of social isolation, mobility, access, contact, involvement and the pursuit of interests are all part of the care requirement and need to be planned, structured, funded and delivered as an integral part of the care of older people at home and in the community.
Communities, and all that they comprise, have a social responsibility to older people. A number of European and north American cities have developed Older Aware environments in which entire communities – social, cultural, educational and recreational organisations, voluntary, community and religious groups, businesses and statutory bodies undergo training and awareness and work together to help provide a community which understands, empathises and actively supports older people as active and involved citizens.
Supporting older people to live in their own homes and communities should be a social care priority. It must be resourced and supported with research and best practice and is provided by a workforce which is trained, well-paid, has a clear career path and is encouraged to excel.
Older care in the community must never become a cliché or a soft option. It is neither. Trusts and trust staff must seek to provide not just good care but the best care. We can and should become an exemplar for the design, and delivery of the care of older people – primarily in their own home for as long as that is possible.
Hospitals and the medical model still dominate our health and social care thinking. That cycle, and the vested interests which it serves, needs to be broken.
A wide range of factors impact upon dependency levels as people grow older. Housing, employment, education, lifestyle and diet throughout our lifetime will all have an impact on our level of dependency as we grow older. Investment in our environment, our opportunities and in our awareness and understanding of health and well-being can have a massive impact on the type of older people we will become and the level of dependency we display. Health prevention resources and culture are still not in sync with that reality.
We are still too happy to wait until people become ill and then seek to cure them. Similarly we wait until people become old and dependent before we start to address and plan for their care. We need to rethink almost everything we know about care for older people.
We need to challenge our own assumptions and contest those of health and social care planners and policy makers. We need to recognise and support the fact that people want to remain as long as possible in their own home and their own community.
We must design and deliver services best placed to achieve that. We need to align all the resources of our society and channel them to that end. That approach is not only desirable – it is achievable.
While there can be doubt that the Northern Ireland Protocol is causing unnecessary difficulties, politically and economically, the solutions are not to be found in brinkmanship, political posturing or in threats to collapse the Assembly.
As with most things in Northern Ireland politics, reactions to Jeffery Donaldson’s announcement have been based largely on an ‘us and them’, or a nationalist / unionist basis
The European Union’s negotiation strategy throughout this process has been, and remains unnecessarily belligerent and punitive: something that its local political fan club refuses to accept. The British government is not without blame for its approach either.
However, the reality is that beyond the tribal responses, there are issues which need to be addressed. Of course, it is possible to ensure the integrity of the EU single market by some of the means already proposed by the local business community amongst others.
Only goods which are at risk of onward travel to the Republic of Ireland pose a potential problem. Northern Ireland consumable goods do not. Workable solutions are available.
The bigger political picture however, is that the Protocol issue is being used to electioneer ahead of the Assembly poll next May. The DUP are trying to secure their position and make up ground while other parties are more than happy to do the same.
The Protocol is being used to further polarise this society, increase community tensions and consolidate the two major sectarian voting blocs. It cannot and must not be used as an excuse to, once again, bring down the Assembly.
Our current situation demands the delivery of high-quality public services, a health and care service fit for the 21st Century, secure well-paid employment, a cleaner safer environment and a guaranteed quality of life for all. There must be no avoiding those responsibilities, no pulling the plug on the Assembly and no use of the Protocol, or any other pretext, to divert the focus away from those goals.
“The threat being levelled by big pharmaceutical companies to cease supplying a range of essential medicines to Northern Ireland has to rank as one of the lowest forms of immoral blackmail and will impact directly on the ill, the vulnerable and the long-term sick”, says Nicola Campbell, Workers Party spokesperson in Newry & Armagh.
“It is outrageous that the health and well-being of some of the most medically vulnerable in society, can be held to ransom in the pursuit of grossly inflated profits”, she said
Delivering up to 1,000 types of prescription medicines has been declared “commercially unviable” when the current exemption from the EU’s Northern Ireland Protocol expires in January.
This raises two major issues: the politics behind the Protocol and the power of the big pharmaceutical companies.
The border in the Irish Sea does not need to be there. The EU’s insistence that it remains is punishment for having had the audacity to leave and is being used to exert political pressure by disrupting trade, frustrating everyday cooperation and now by interrupting essential medical supplies.
It is impossible to ignore the manner in which the EU has and continues to conduct its negotiations. It is a bully and continues to intimidate. Its unilateral block on Covid 19 vaccines coming into Northern Ireland earlier this year is but one example.
Strange then that there is not common cause amongst the major parties in the Assembly. Sinn Fein, in particular, seem more comfortable jeopardising the health of children, the vulnerable and the long-term ill than they are in challenging, or even upsetting, the EU they so admire.
“The big pharmaceutical companies exist to make profits. They do not primarily function for the wellbeing of the world. Their refusal to make life saving drugs available to Third World countries typifies bother their morals and their motives”, said Nicola.
It is also past time that the research, development, manufacture and distribution of medicines was brought into public ownership. Major corporations making in excess of a 40% profit on life saving and life sustaining drugs is, at best, immoral.
“Almost £4 billion of public money every year goes to fund drug research by private companies. The NHS spends in excess of £20 billion a year to purchase those medicines for patients. We are paying twice over and on terms dictated by multinational drug companies”, Nicola added
The Protocol obstacles may yet prove easier to overcome than the financial stranglehold that these companies have on our health service and on our lives.
The Workers Party has added its voice to the chorus of sympathy evoked by the passing of Mikis Theodorakis the internationaly renowed and talented composer and life long member of the Greek Communist Party KKE.
Mikis Theodorakis used his talents in the service of the working class.He wrote folk songs, symphonies, operas, ballets, film scores, music for the stage and music of protest and resistance.
His music was of and for the people.It transcended national borders and was known across the world for its vitality and spirit, it was music for the working peoples of the world.