Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis launched his Heenan-Anderson Commission at lunchtime. The co-chairs – academic Deirdre Heenan and businessman Colin Anderson – were announced nine weeks ago and together an expert panel will examine the reasons for economic marginalisation and deprivation in Northern Ireland and provide recommendations to address the long-standing issues and improve opportunities for those who “currently have no stake in the economy and are at the margins of their communities”.
With expectations being actively managed downwards around the set of talks up on the hill, and the Secretary of State’s Twaddell panel has yet to be revealed, it’s good to see some effort being put into other issues that affect communities right across NI.
Submissions are encouraged from individuals as well as groups across the civic, voluntary, business and political sectors. The panel plan to report their recommendations by early March in time to influence the Labour manifesto.
Co-chairs Deirdre Heenan and Colin Anderson spoke at today’s launch.
Northern Ireland has made enormous strides in my many years as a business leader. But not everyone has benefitted from the progress that has been made. Looking at ways to increase skills and aspiration for people across Northern Ireland will bring a new lease of life to the economy. (Colin Anderson)
Too many of the young people I work with want to leave Northern Ireland to work abroad. Many more lack hope and opportunities, and do not have the option to leave. This leaves them open to exploitation by paramilitaries and sectarian mind sets. Our commission will find innovative ways to bring a peace dividend to everyone in Northern Ireland. (Deirdre Heenan)
Politics continuously makes a difference – positive or negative – in people’s lives and pockets.
Listening to those affected by economic inequality along with those who feel that they can reduce it will at worst do no harm, and at best form a set of cohesive recommendations that local parties as well as the next UK government can adapt.
And if Labour do end up in power – or leading a coalition – and Ivan Lewis becomes Secretary of State it will give him a set of plans to advance in parallel with any leftover threads from the Haass and Villiers talks.
No one approached refused to sit on the unpaid expert panel: Alan Crowe (Co-Ownership Housing); Andy McMorran (ex-principal Ashfield Boys School); Derek Birrell (Social Policy and Administration at Ulster University); Fedelma Harkin (The Talent Tribe); Glyn Roberts (NIIRTA); John McMullan (Bryson Charitable Group); June Trimble (YouthAction); Lisa McElherron (NICVA); Patricia O’Hagan (Core Systems); Peter Dixon (ex-Phoenix Energy Holdings); Peter Bunting (ICTU); Séamas Heaney (Old Library Trust); Siobhán Fitzpatrick (Early Years); Stephen Kingon (retired from PWC).
Reading the short biographies in the pamphlet handed out at this morning’s launch, it is clear that there is a mix of knowledge and understanding on the panel: growing businesses from scratch, youth and education, previous experience in community work, big business, economics and academia.
The commission is a Labour Party initiative and today’s launch event was funded by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) with administrative assistance to the Commission coming from Deloitte. Colette Goldrick from ABPI explained the pharma industry’s involvement highlighting their existing funding to reduce health inequalities as well as desire to continue growing companies in NI.
It’s hardly surprising that the NI Conservative Party’s spokesman Johnny Andrews was quick to dismiss the Heenan-Anderson Commission as “patronising nonsense” in a piece of political point-scoring that conveniently ignores the Conservative’s own history in the development of Northern Ireland’s economic situation.
Labour can form as many commissions, composed of as many left wing academics, as it likes. The fact remains that it will never have any credibility on Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland issues until it stands candidates here. Asking for views but not votes is deeply patronising. It also illustrates a party which is bereft of ideas and is struggling to come up with any meaningful policy.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.