A Food Bank Free Future

Applauding the services provided by local foodbanks, Workers Party representative Nicola Grant said,

“There can be absolutely no doubt that emergency food parcels, provided by volunteer organisations in the Newry and Armagh area, continue to serve as a lifeline for many local families and children”.

“Figures provided by one of the largest local networks continue to show a significantly increasing need year after year: a 25% increase last year and an increase of almost 200% since 2018. There is also a marked increase in the number of families in rural areas depending on food bank support and as many as one in five people in employment having to rely on food banks to help feed their families”, Nicola said.

“No-one, regardless of their circumstances, should be forced to go hungry.” Nicola said. “Twenty six percent of children in the Newry and Mourne area are believed to be growing up in poverty – many from working families. We have also seen how many NHS staff are now relying on local foodbanks because they simply cannot make ends meet”.

“Food banks are a life line for many”, Nicola said, “but we must build a society where they are no longer needed, a society in which working people and their families are valued, rewarded and supported”

Thousands of working people have been forced into taking industrial action in recent months in defence of jobs, services, safe levels of provision and decent pay. While they stood on the streets, energy companies and transnational conglomerates raked up obscene levels of profits and paid out billions  of pounds to their executives and to their shareholders.”, said Nicola

“Food banks could be made unnecessary, almost overnight, with a major reform of the benefits system and if working people received the wages they needed to support themselves and their families.”

The money is there. Currently, it is just in the wrong hands”, concluded Nicola

Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

Workers Party representative Lily Kerr has told an all party workshop at Stormont that legislating against on-line abuse and holding social media companies to account is important, but that, on its own, it will not eradicate the problem of threats and attacks on women and girls.

“Misogyny is a societal problem and not confined to council chambers and seats of government”, Lily said .

“Of course we must condemn and counter abuse and attacks on public representatives but not at the expense of the thousands of women in society who are also daily subjected to abuse, discrimination, marginalisation, physical, financial and sexual abuse and murder”, she said.

“For many that could be an uncomfortable conversation but if we are serious about the abuse of women then it is one we need to have”, Lily added.

“The ruthlessness of zero hours contracts, the exploitative nature of much part time employment, the so called ‘glass ceiling’ and the continued marginalisation of women and girls and their exclusion from many aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life – is just as threatening, and should be met with the same outrage resolve, as online abuse and threats”, Lily added.

The #Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls workshop was organised by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in recognition of the growing levels of online abuse directed at female politicians and ahead of next May’s Local Government Elections .

Picture: Workers Party representatives Joanne Lowry (left) and Lily Kerr with Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton and Inspector Jane Brown.

Any New Assembly Will Still Need Major Reform

Health, education, transport, jobs, social policy, social care and the cost of living were all in turmoil before the Assembly was collapsed  – and they will remain in crisis if, pending a resolution of the Protocol problems, a new Executive is formed.

Sinn Fein and the DUP have failed to deliver on the expectations evident at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – not by mis-management, but by design.

Between them they have carved out and consolidated two sectarian power blocs.

There are many, including the supporters of both parties, who will not want to hear that. However, the evidence continues to stack up.

How else can the deliberate side-lining of integrated education and integrated housing be explained? Why is it that we have more walls dividing the community today than we had twenty five years ago? Why are the election strategies of both parties based on tribal confrontation? Why have cultural identity, tribal symbols and community background been given precedence over jobs, health and social progress?

The answer to all those questions is ‘because that’s how you build and maintain a sectarian power base’, and that is the strategy that Sinn Fein and the DUP continue to pursue.

The Good Friday Agreement was the only show in town at the time, but it was, and remains, fundamentally flawed because of the manner in which it structured the Assembly, and institutionalised sectarianism. Sinn Fein and the DUP have been exploiting that ever since.

If issues around the Protocol are resolved and the Assembly and the Executive restart, only major reform of the way it works will offer any chance of progress and the opportunity to pursue class politics.

The Assembly’s structures are no longer fit for purpose. Sinn Fein and the DUP have made sure of that. The starting point for effective devolved government has to be

Getting rid of the sectarian and inoperable structures that the two main parties, in particular, continue to use, abuse and hide behind.

A move from mandatory to voluntary coalition,

Abolition of the Community Designation requirements

Reform of the Petition of Concern to ensure that it can never again be used to veto social or equality legislation.

Then, and perhaps only then, can the sectarian power blocs be exposed and challenged and the Sinn Fein / DUP stranglehold begin to be loosened.

Of course, refusing to vote for them would work too!

Brick Walls, Sectarianism and Citizenship

Political, social and economic life here has come to an almost complete stop.

Twenty-five years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and its overwhelming endorsement by the vast majority of people on this island we are left facing a brick wall with little, if any, prospect of progress.

The Agreement offered new hope and optimism, but the vicious and deadly battles between British and Irish nationalism, played out on our streets for thirty years, is now being replicated in Stormont and the Assembly, characterised by the all too familiar debasements of negativity, tribal confrontation and, sectarianism.

Perhaps now is the time to review our relationships and seek a way out of the political cul-de-sac we have been forced down by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

More than fifty years ago thousands of people in Northern Ireland took to the streets campaigning for a better, more equitable, society. Their demands were not devalued by issues of cultural identity, community background or tribal loyalties.

Relationships

Perhaps now is the time to review our relationships and seek a way out of the political cul-de-sac we have been forced down by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

If there is no way through the wall then we must go around it. Not as Catholics, or Protestants, not as unionists or nationalists. Not as British, Irish, Northern Irish or any other origin. Those of us who believe that better is possible and who refuse to sit and wallow in the sectarian status quo need a basis, a platform, on which to progress and to move society forward.

The concept of socialist citizenship, based on class politics, working class unity and solidarity, would help to re-define our relationships and responsibilities to each other and to the institutions of government through clear and guaranteed relationships underpinned by a Bill of Rights.

Tribal positions

Of course, there will be those who will not want to avail of such an opportunity. There will be those who will actively oppose it in an attempt to tie the rest of us into their tribal positions. But the choice is there for those of us who want to explore the possibilities offered on the other side of the political brick wall that we have been facing for the last twenty-five years. Citizenship offers a way forward.

Unless we re-calibrate our relationships and understanding of each other we, and our children, will be facing this same brick wall in twenty-five and fifty-years time.

The Sinn Fein / DUP strategy has been to manipulate and manage sectarianism, rather than seeking to eradicate it. The failure to tackle sectarianism therefore has nullified much of the good intent contained within the God Friday Agreement.

Tackling sectarianism

We cannot afford to do nothing and hope that time alone will resolve this issue. Unless, and until, the issue of sectarianism is comprehensively tackled, we will never realise the vision of a new society which leaves behind the out-dated attitudes and prejudices which have been the cause of so much misery and despair.

Those of us who oppose sectarianism must organise as strongly and as stubbornly as those who promote and profit from it. The concept of socialist citizenship gives us that commonality and base camp from which to progress

Socialist citizenship is not a silver bullet. It is not a quick fix panacea.

However, it could form the basis for a constructive, respectful and forward looking society, as an alternative to backward, parochial ethnocentricity. Neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP can hold out that hope

Take Ferry Service Into Public Ownership

The collapse of the firm running the Rathlin Ferry Service proves, once again, that this, and other local ferry routes, should be  classed as public utilities and taken into public ownership.

To leave an essential service like this to the vagaries of the private sector is an outrage and today we have seen the consequences – islanders left isolated, supplies disrupted and travel to and from the island suspended.

The Rathlin Ferry service can and should be provided directly by the Department of Infrastructure in association with the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. Then and only then will a service be guaranteed for islanders, tourists and traders.

An Emergency, but No Accident

Our health and social care systems are under severe pressure.

We see the evidence for this in the overcrowded A&E departments, patients lying on trollies in hospital corridors, ambulances unable to respond to emergencies and an acute shortage of community care packages to support people in their own homes.

We can see it in the overworked and underpaid staff trying desperately to provide quality and lifesaving services. We see it in the ever-lengthening waiting lists, in the targets that are missed month after month, in the chronic shortages of GPs and in the underfunded, but high demand, and outrageously neglected, services like mental health.

Everyone seems agreed that the NHS and its staff are on the brink, but there is far less agreement about why this is the case.

Underfunding

For the past two decades, at least, NHS staff and services have been severely and deliberately underfunded. This is not an economic issue, it’s a political decision.

From its inception in the late 1940’s the NHS has been targeted and undermined by those who wish to profit from a private medical insurance model. They have played a long game, but must now feel that they are perilously close to their objective. Not only are services and staff overstretched and under resourced, but the private healthcare lobby is in the process of securing its greatest victory yet.

It has convinced large numbers of people, many of them young people, that the days of publicly funded, free at the point of delivery health and social care are over and that the NHS, a great thing while it lasted, is now in terminal decline. 

It is now the received wisdom, and a repetitious media message, that the NHS has had its day and that a new, and profitable, model of care is required.  

Two Tier

We are very, very, close to a two-tier health and care system. Private, profitable, care for those who can afford it and an underfunded, under resourced second-class system for everyone else.

The deliberate erosion of our health and care system is part of a larger agenda which seeks to abolish concepts of community, solidarity, citizenship and collective responsibility.

Private healthcare, private insurance companies, investors and profiteers are waiting in the wings, emboldened by the crisis and the culture that they have been cultivating for years.

‘No Society’

The underfunding, under resourcing and privatisation of the NHS is an example of the right-wing agenda which says that everyone is an individual and should only look after themselves – a mantra articulated by Margaret Thatcher in 1987 when she claimed “…there is no such thing as society”. The out-workings of this doctrine are also clearly on view in calls for an end to welfare benefits and the withdrawal of the right to strike.  

The deliberate erosion of our health and care system is part of a larger agenda which seeks to abolish concepts of community, solidarity, citizenship and collective responsibility.

Principle

Can we afford a fully funded, fully resourced NHS? Of course we can. Is the principle of a national health and social care service worth defending? Of course it is.

The NHS’s founding father, Nye Bevan, was well aware of the intentions of the private profiteers and the lengths to which they would go when he said “…there will always be a cradle to the grave Health Service free at the point of use, as long as people are willing to fight for it”

We owe it to the generations of front-line workers and support staff who have developed and delivered one of the best healthcare services in the world to defend it against those who would sell it off to the highest bidder.

For now, a concerted effort will keep the NHS afloat, but only in a socialist society can it be guaranteed to achieve its full potential.

New Year Message: ‘Working People Desire a Society Free from Misery, Exploitation and Oppression’

In his New Year’s Statement Workers Party President, Cllr, Ted Tynan has highlighted exploitation, inequality and injustice, environmental degradation and imperialist war as the key global issues of the past year and the cost-of-living crisis the lack of secure affordable housing, timely access to appropriate healthcare, childcare and support for children with additional educational needs as the standout issues at home.

In both States we are plagued by poverty, a housing crisis and economies based on precarious, part-time employment, low wages, zero hours contracts and eroded workers’ rights, the Party President said.

On international issues, Cllr. Tynan re-iterated the Workers Party assertion that the working class of Ukraine and Russia are paying the price for the competition between imperialist blocs, and once again called for an end to the war.

He also spelt out our continuing opposition to the Israeli dispossession and disempowerment of the Palestinian people and to the brutality of the Iranian government.

He further pledged the Party’s continuing support for the immediate and unconditional lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States.

“Today, across the world, working people desire a society free from misery, exploitation and oppression – a society where the means of production is owned by the workers and the wealth of society is the common property of society as a whole”. he said.

Our socialist principles, our internationalism and our vision for the future, will guide and determine all of our positions in our daily struggles. We look to the future with confidence! Cllr Tynan concluded.

The £600 Energy Payment Scheme

Most of the details of the £600 Energy Payment Scheme, and how it will work, have been announced, finally.

The Details:

  • The electricity supplier you are with on with on 2 January will be responsible for distributing the £600 energy support payment.
  • There is no precise date for receipt of the payment, yet, but they could begin by the second week in January, providing the scheme goes according to plan.
  • The scheme will end on the 30 of June 2023.
  • The £600 is being made available to help with energy bills but can be used as people see fit.

How you will get the £600

Direct debit electricity customers will have the £600 payment paid directly into their bank accounts.

People paying quarterly or using a pre-payment meter will receive a voucher in the post. The voucher can be redeemed for cash or paid into a bank account.

The voucher will be valid until until 31 March.

This means that vouchers must be cashed by then unless they are lost or damaged, in which case replacements will be issued up to 31 March with a final expiry date of 30 June.

For further information, advice and support on the Cost of Living and the Energy Payment Scheme follow the links below:

NI Direct Website: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/winter-fuel-payment

Cold Weather Payments: https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/cold-weather-payments-triggered-parts-northern-ireland-temperatures-drop

Advice NI: https://www.adviceni.net/

Age NI: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/northern-ireland/

SVPSociety of St. Vincent de Paul: https://www.svp.ie/northern-ireland/

Salvation Army: Debt Advice and Assistance: https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/budget-and-debt-advice

For the full, detailed Energy Payment document click the link: ebss-ni-direction

Held Back and Dragged Back

It is now well over fifty years since citizens in Northern Ireland took to the streets demanding change, a better, fairer and more accountable society and civil rights for all.

We are now approaching the twenty fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, signed at the end of over thirty years of murder, bloodshed and terror.

Today, we have families that cannot afford to heat their homes, children going hungry, queues at foodbanks, part time, precarious employment and a culture of zero hours contracts. We have working people depending on benefits to top up their wages, thousands of workers on picket lines in defence of jobs, services, pay and conditions, and we have large companies and corporations posting the most obscene levels of profits and making huge payouts to their shareholders.

Yet we continue to elect, in large and increasing numbers, political parties whose response to these crises is to sustain  and develop existing divisions, promote culture and identity wars, build on their tribal bases and all the while support the very social and economic system that lies at the heart of all our problems.

In sixty years we have gone backwards. We have been dragged backwards, firstly by armed gangs on our streets and violently competing nationalisms, British and Irish, now by political nationalisms, British and Irish that sees flags, community identity, language and symbolism as more important that the lives and prospects of working class people. We are not in that camp.

The coming year will be a telling one in the battle for the dignity of working people, the preservation of our public services and the advancement of the socialist alternative. We are up for that challenge.

Striking Workers not to Blame

With Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refusing point blank to even discuss nurses’ pay claims and the Department of Health’s Permanent Secretary claiming ‘catastrophic consequences’ if there are more days of industrial action there are concerted efforts to blame nurses and other workers for the rise in inflation the cost of living crisis and the difficulties faced by the NHS.

Nurses aren’t responsible for unsafe staffing levels, nor are workers’ wages responsible for inflation. The absence of an Executive is Stormont isn’t helping but the NHS has been in serious trouble for years from decades of underfunding, cut backs, privatisation and, quite frankly, poor workforce planning and mis management at Departmental level.

As well as nursing staff, ambulance workers, customs and immigration staff, bus drivers and postal workers are all taking industrial action this month. They have been forced to take to the picket lines in defence of jobs, public services and pay and conditions.

Working people cannot and must not be demonised and scapegoated for the failings of a capitalist system which rewards the wealthy by exploiting and penalising those who produce the wealth, deliver the services and keep our society functioning.

This is a struggle working people cannot afford to lose.