Rear View Mirror

­Fortress Europe and the criminal legacy

It was a week which witnessed 27 more asylum seekers drown as they attempted to cross the English Channel, yet another report condemning the lack of progress on integrated education and further claims that childcare is in crisis.

In the first nine months of this year, almost 1400 migrants (men, women and children) died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. A further 1400 died similarly the year before.

Last week 27 asylum seekers from the middle east, north Africa and Afghanistan drowned when the dinghy they were in capsized in the English Channel. They too were fleeing the consequences of wars and conflicts prosecuted by western governments and the European Union

The influence of right-wing parties, particularly in Italy, France, Hungary and Britain along with the political line pursued by governments in the EU, has led to a vicious and irrational populism against immigrants irrespective of their circumstances. The cruelty of Fortress Europe is clear as yet again bodies are being washed up on beaches.

The blatantly racist narrative that we are being swamped by asylum seekers, migrants and refugees is simply not true. Last year the UK received just over 36,000 asylum seekers. France settled three times as many and Germany almost four times as many. Turkey is now home to more than seven million displaced persons.

The thousands of people seeking security, shelter and a new life in Europe are victims of the wars pursued by western governments in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Libya. The criminal warmongering that has overthrown governments, destabilised countries and left thousands of innocent people dead or seriously injured now has its legacy in the trail of refugees forced to flee their homes. In turn, they fall prey to yet another criminal conspiracy in the form of human traffickers relieving them of their last resources in exchange for a place on an overcrowded dinghy.

These tragedies can be stopped. Not by patrol boats, repatriation, imprisonment or detention centres, but by governments accepting the consequences of their actions, facing up to the humanitarian crisis that they have created and by declaring that Refugees are Welcome.

While the long-term solution requires radical systemic change, that approach can contribute to putting the human traffickers out of business, ending the daily death and misery and give dignity and a future to the thousands of victims of war and aggression.

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Read the Party’s submission to the European Communist Initiative this weekend:

Childcare Crisis

Alarm bells rang last week over the crisis in childcare provision.

It would have been nice to think that it was because costs here are the second highest in Europe, that there are not enough places to cope with demand and that one third of local parents say that childcare costs are their largest monthly outgoing, exceeding their rent or mortgage. But no. Crisis has been reached because 70% of childcare providers are reported to be making a loss or just breaking even.

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.

Socialist countries, like the German Democratic Republic, pioneered comprehensive childcare schemes as long ago as the 1940s and 50s.

We have a lot of catching up to do, and fast. The answer lies in publicly funded, affordable, flexible nursery and childcare services.

Integrated Education

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

How many reports will it take to embarrass the Northern Ireland Assembly into implementing an integrated, and secular, education system?

Yet another, produced by Ulster University’s UNESCO Centre for Education, says that a lack of political will has left the divided system untouched and unchallenged. 

The Assembly and Sinn Fein and the DUP, in particular, have done everything in their power to successfully side step their responsibilities on this. They have repeatedly ignored the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement, they have promoted diversionary strategies such as ‘shared’ education proposals but basically, they have blatantly and unashamedly turned their backs on integrated education.

It is very clear that the political and religious vested interests which keep children separated and contribute to the perpetuation of division in this society will not yield that power voluntarily.

It must be the task of all progressive forces, teachers, parents, educationalists and of everyone who understands the necessity for a fully integrated secular education system to maintain the pressure and continue to call out the Assembly for its contempt and derision of this fundamental building block.

The Crisis in Childcare

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.