The Progressive Unionist Party launched its manifesto this morning. The party is now led by Brian Ervine who is standing for the Assembly in East Belfast while another eight candidates are running for seats on councils in Antrim, Belfast, Castlereagh, Derry, Larne and Newtownabbey. (I posted an interview with Brian Ervine back in March.)
Speaking at the launch, Brian Ervine had an upbeat message.
The PUP has emerged stronger and more resilient as a consequence of the crisis of 2010. The party that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and showed the way forward in Northern Ireland is still alive and kicking.
Later in the speech he referenced author Mark Twain who had disappeared for a few days and after his obituary was published in the New York Journal commented ‘the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated’. Brian Ervine suggested:
Many people have written this party off. Some have written it’s obituary. I can only echo Mark Twain. Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.
He claimed that “the fears and needs of working class unionism have been shamefully neglected by the main parties and they have not benefited from the comparative peace that Northern Ireland has enjoyed for the past decade. We will strive to improve the health, education and quality of life for all in a shared Northern Ireland.
In his speech he reinstated the five core principles of Progressive Unionism …
- Respect for Northern Ireland’s place in the UK
- The material and spiritual wellbeing of the Northern Irish people
- The right to peaceful opposition and protest
- Civil, religious and cultural liberty for all
- Equal access to education
… and set out the party’s position on a variety of topics including health, the elderly, education and the economy.
The party’s leftist politics are clearly on show throughout (at least the economic aspects) their manifesto. While I couldn’t find mention of the PUP pro-choice policy (which Brian disagrees with), there are a range of ideas that I haven’t found in other parties’ proposals. For such a small party, it’s an impressive brain storm of content. While some of the notions may not stand up to prolonged scrutiny, at least the PUP are injecting some fresh ideas into the political system. Perhaps the best will be pinched by ministers and committees in the coming months.
Certainly if Brian Ervine (unexpectedly) wins an East Belfast seat, there could be a slew of interesting private members bills!
- A more balanced economy where the less well-off share in the benefits of wealth during the good times and don’t suffer the majority of the pain when times get tough.
- Greater access to integrated education across Northern Ireland. Educating out children together is vital to creating a society where fear, bitterness and hatred are replaced with friendship and trust.
- Greater powers for credit unions … The PUP will lobby for credit unions to expand their range of products to also include mortgages, credit cards and competitive current accounts. [When is a bank not a bank?]
- A new, nominal text message tax to generate revenue to be spent on Northern Ireland’s public services. Almost £25 million could be raised locally with a 1p charge on each text message. This fee would be levied on the mobile phone network operators and they would have the choice on whether or not to recoup it from their customers.
- The creation and promotion of a ‘Presidential trail’ across Ulster. With over one-third of US Presidents having family ties to Northern Ireland we have a unique selling point to attract American visitors.
- Building a full size replica of the Titanic to remain docked in Belfast harbour … feature hundreds of hotel suites, restaurants and bars, a museum and conference facilities … Who could turn down the opportunity to stay overnight on board the world’s most famous ship in the very harbour where it was originally built? [Last time I looked, the nearby Odyssey entertainment complex wasn’t so busy or financially stable.]
- A successful resolution to the City Airport planning dispute … The PUP will do everything we can to reach a compromise that reduces noise pollution for neighbouring residents whilst allowing the people of east Belfast to benefit from any potential jobs boost.
- Encouraging Northern Ireland’s Nationalists that they are better off in the UK. As the Republic of Ireland faces decades of economic struggles, emigration and unemployment, it’s fair to ask what benefit Irish unity would be to the people of NI.
- Harsher penalties for anyone convicted of sectarian attacks in NI. Religiously motivate crimes are an ongoing problem for NI society. Orange halls, Protestant churches, GAA clubs and homes on either side of interfaces are regular targets for sectarian attacks.
- Joint British/Irish cultural events. Northern Ireland is luck to have two rich cultures currently flourishing in the country … The recent joint parade with the Orange Order and Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians Group is testament to what can be achieved when forward thinking people cross the divide.
- With a rising number of suicides – especially among those in deprived communities – it is essential greater investment is given towards the detection and prevention of stress, depression and other serious mental illness.
- The return of matron to Northern Ireland’s hospital wards.
- Changes to prescription packaging and charges to generate much needed funds for frontline services. Enforcing plain packaging for all prescription medication in NI and a £2 levy per prescription for those who are waged. (Those chronically ill or on benefits would be exempt.)
- The creation of new neighbourhood watch schemes. “One recent survey found that 75% of pensioners feel afraid in their own homes. We believe in tougher penalties for those who offend against the elderly.”
- Financial incentives for parents to enrol their children into integrated schools.
- The expansion of the Dickson plan currently being used in Armagh … We want to see selection changed to age 14 across Northern Ireland … In reality, this will need a gradual transition from the current system.
- Means testing for university grants … Free university education for all is not realistic in the current economic climate but we should be giving financial assistance to those who cannot afford to fund four or five years of study themselves.
- Access to further and higher education for mature people in working class areas in local libraries. With the closure and threat of closure of dozens of libraries we need to broaden the range of services offered to increase their usage. Evening classes for mature students and the unemployed would make better use of these vital public buildings.
- A pay rise for frontline troops … Continued recognition for the hard work and sacrifice of our young men in the British armed forces … Better post-conflict support and treatment [for soldiers].
- The PUP propose a ‘three strike’ rule where tenants in social housing causing a nuisance are given a written warning for a first offence, a final warning for a second offence, and if anti-social behaviour persists the third offence will result in them being removed from their home and having to rent privately.
- Funding and support to improve adult numeracy and literacy.
- It is vital that NI has the best infrastructure in place to help manage the cross-over from petrol and diesel [to electric powerd vehicles] … We believe the thirteen ministerial cars should be replaced with electric vehicles when the current fleet needs renewed.
- Greater respect between the two main cultures within Northern Ireland … We look forward to a time when Unionists feel at east taking part in St Patricks Day celebrations and Nationalists feel equally at home watching the Orangefest celebrations every July.
- The retention of 108 MLAs in the Assembly … A mandatory coalition … Compulsory voting … Sanctions against abstentionist MPs.
Ideas may not be enough to ensure electoral success. In East Belfast’s Assembly seat, as well as the council races wider afield, perceptions about the PUP’s ideology and its continued relationship with the UVF – I can’t see a single mention of the UVF in the manifesto, though the organisation is in the news again – may prove a bigger swing factor than raw ideas. But it would be a shame if having launched such a distinctive collection of proposals the manifesto sank without any of the ideas being rescued.