Energy crisis: profiteering drives up prices

We are in an energy crisis. Winter is around the corner and cold kills. For thousands of local families, single parents and lone pensioners, the immediate dilemma is whether to Heat or Eat.

On top of the 25% of homes currently in fuel poverty thousands more are destined to become a further grim statistic. Many media reports and commentators talk of a ‘global crisis’ as if this was a natural phenomenon and beyond anyone’s control. It is not. Fuel poverty is a class issue.

The price of gas, electric, petrol and home heating oil are being inflated by the privately owned companies which control the vast majority of the earth’s natural resources. They are doing what capitalist companies do. To claw back the effects of the downturn in energy use during the worst of the pandemic and lockdowns, they are now pursuing the maximum profit regardless of the consequences. World prices are deliberately manipulated upwards. Neither availability nor supply are the issues. Profiteering is.

What has been the response of The Executive, the Assembly and of MLA’s? Despite a first draft having been written over ten years ago we still have no Fuel Poverty Strategy to tackle the existing problems, let alone deal with the additional ones.

Cold does not discriminate but economics do. It is people and families on lower incomes and in poorer housing conditions who will suffer most and who will be least resourced to meet increasing bills.

The Workers Party has contacted the First and Deputy First Ministers’ Office and the Department of Communities to demand that the Executive formally acknowledges the current energy crisis and takes the following five remedial actions:

Confirm an initial emergency fuel payment of £250 for every household

Restore and secure the £20 Universal Credit uplift

Initiate a comprehensive home insulation scheme

Legislate for a Fuel Poverty Strategy to address current and future need

Prioritise renewable energies over fossil fuels

These are immediate and realisable actions which must be taken now to offset the worst effects of the immoral price hikes and to protect the most vulnerable.

The longer term struggles to protect and secure our environment, and ensure affordable energy for all, must focus on reclaiming the ownership of the world’s natural resources from private hands. It is here that the real battle for the environment must be waged. It is here that all our efforts must be directed.

Only when these resources are brought under public control and developed by a socialist economy will fuel poverty and a ravaged environment be a thing of the past. There are no compromises, there are no alternatives.

Fast-Track Protest Exclusion Zones

Legislation introducing ‘protest exclusion zones’ around healthcare facilities – particularly those providing family planning services and advice – must be fast-tracked through the Assembly, says Nicola Campbell, Workers Party spokesperson in Newry and Armagh

For a number of years now hostile, aggressive and intimidatory groups have been openly bullying women and girls as they attempt to keep appointments at clinics providing information and advice on abortion services.

“Many of these belligerent groups have adopted and copied the ‘in your face’ tactics employed by right wing American fundamentalist groups which include verbal abuse, stalking, photographing staff and members of the public entering clinics and posting video footage taken inside healthcare buildings. They also compare the provision of abortion services to the Holocaust”, Nicola said

“It is regrettable that the Executive has chosen not to act on this issue and that it had to take a Private Members Bill to highlight the issue and prepare the legislation.”, she added

The Bill is now making its way through the Assembly but faces the risk of running out of time before this Assembly mandate ends next April.

“No one accessing health care services should be forced to run the gauntlet of screaming zealots. Nor should healthcare staff who work there be confronted by a daily barrage of abuse and invective”. Nicola said.

“No one accessing health care services should be forced to run the gauntlet of screaming zealots. Nor should healthcare staff who work there be confronted by a daily barrage of abuse and invective” .

“This is not an academic argument”, she added. “If the types of coordinated and vicious harassment of women, girls and healthcare staff continue as they have done in recent months there is a real possibility that someone will be seriously hurt or worse. Several doctors, staff and members of the public have been murdered at abortion clinics in the USA. The incidents of deaths threats and violence there are rising year on year”.

“The Assembly must ensure that the legislation which is before it now is enacted into law with the upmost urgency. To allow it to fall would be to abandon vulnerable women, girls and NHS staff to the hands of the mob

A woman’s right to choose has been hard won. It must now be urgently defended and protected in law”, Nicola concluded.

Journalists face threats and death

In recent weeks a number of vigils have taken place to remember the journalist and investigative reporter, Martin O’Hagan, and to protest at the failure to secure prosecutions following his murder in 2001. Journalist, Lyra McKee, was shot dead while observing rioting in April 2019. Veronica Guerin, a crime reporter, was shot dead in June 1996. Journalists at home and abroad have suffered intimidation, threats, physical assaults and death simply because they are journalists.

These assaults on journalism have not been confined to the actions of organised crime gangs and paramilitary organisations. Many journalists have suffered the same fate at the hands of the US, UK, NATO and EU governments and their right-wing allies such as Israel, Turkey and Middle Eastern theocracies.

While these states are happy to point the finger at other states, they attempt to disguise their own role in information suppression and control.

They are happy to ignore the “disappearances” of writers and journalists in Argentina, Chile and throughout Latin America with the active collaboration of the CIA and NATO’s deliberate attack on a Belgrade TV station in April 1999 during which 16 workers were killed and 19 injured – a murderous attack which Tony Blair declared was justified.  

They are also happy to ignore the US government’s current unrelenting pursuit of Julian Assange for having published disclosed documents that included possible war crimes committed by the US military. In addition to the outrageous attempt to extradite Julian Assange, the US government, for all its pretence concerning the right to freedom of expression countenanced attempts to kidnap and assassinate him.

John Pilger, the award-winning journalist, war correspondent, author and filmmaker, also revealed a leaked secret British Government file which sees investigative journalists involved with the propagation of WikiLeaks’ source material as a threat to be neutralised by various means.

Of course, we must also insist that journalists are not co-opted by the system, preferring to sanitise uncomfortable truths and to glorify and justify state propaganda.

As Pilger has pointed out PR terms such as “pacification” and “collateral damage” became common currency in recent wars and words such as “invasion” are studiously avoided and the brutal realities of bloody conquest and destruction obscured or denied. rnalists


Party Slams Integrated Education Bill

The Workers Party’s Lily Kerr has condemned the draft Integrated Education Bill as ‘not fit for purpose’ and has attacked the integrated education record of the main political parties.

In her party’s submission to the consultation process Lily said,

“It is an appalling indictment of our society, and of our political processes, that, 40 years after the opening of Northern Ireland’s first integrated school and 23 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, only 7% of our pupils are taught in an integrated setting and that we continue to maintain separate teacher training colleges.The main political parties have denied their responsibilities and connived to set back the integrated education project through disingenuous schemes such as the ‘shared education’ ploy”.

“The stark reality”, Lily said is that, for as long as the Northern Ireland Executive is run by two major and competing sectarian power blocs, no progress will be made on integrating the education system, or indeed any other aspect of society.

Click below for theParty’s full submission

Benefit Cut means ‘Heat or Eat’

The Workers Party spokesperson for West Belfast, Conor Duffy, has accused Executive Ministers Deirdre Hargey and Conor Murphy of ‘a callous disregard for low paid workers and people in receipt of benefits’ as the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit payments comes to an end this week.

“It is simply unacceptable that the Communities Minister and the Finance Minster sit on their hands while over 135,000 local people face additional financial hardships with the withdrawal of the Universal Credit uplift introduced to help offset the additional costs of the pandemic”, he said.

“We are still in the grip of Covid and many thousands of workers are facing uncertainty and insecurity as the furlough scheme also ends. More than one third of Universal Credit claimants are working but their take home pay is not enough to cover the basics. As energy costs soar and the £20 lifeline is withdrawn many thousands of people across Northern Ireland will be faced with a ‘heat or eat’ dilemma”, Conor said

“The Workers Party has always said that the Universal Credit system was not fit for purpose. It places unacceptable burdens on people, adds to their financial pressures, adversely affects claimants’ health and wellbeing and is seen by many as deliberately punitive. Now that is going from bad to worse”

“In the past eighteen months food bank usage has more than doubled, thousands of people on low pay and those on benefits have incurred rising debts and the already shocking levels of poverty and social deprivation have been compounded”, said Conor.

“The withdrawal of the Universal Credit uplift payment will hit families, children and many single parents particularly hard. The Executive parties must act now, not simply to secure the current level of benefit payment, but to prevent further increases in food and fuel poverty, social deprivation and the resultant effects on physical and mental health”, concluded Conor.