Which party *exactly* represents a practical challenge to the ongoing deprivations of west Belfast?

Here’s an odd little story, which may or may not tell us something about: a, the relevance of actual policy to the political discourse in Northern Ireland; or b the sheer emptiness of the political campaigning in our first fixed term Westminster elections.

For a long time the SDLP has been scathing of Invest NI’s (completely understandable) reluctance to ‘break new economic ground’ with regards to its inward investment strategy.

It’s an easier sell to get companies to come to areas with a record of high employment, and a motivated and skilled workforce. The converse of this of course is that areas like west Belfast where the opposite is the case routinely lose out.

So Alex Attwood was following a policy line the party had been plough for years when he said towards the close of debate on the Welfare Bill that…

If you have a situation in which, in this part of Ireland, long-term male Catholic unemployment is virtually unchanged decades after fair employment, where increasing numbers of Protestant male adults experience the same long-term, generational unemployment whereby nobody in a family — children, parents or grandparents — works, what do you do to remedy that? You invest to deal with that disadvantage. That means that you do not put FDI into south and east Belfast but protect industrial sites in west Belfast and try to move into those areas.

Well, what happens next is interesting, if predictable. The prospective DUP candidate for South Belfast Jonathan Bell and Sinn Fein’s Mairtin O’Muilleoir both try to nail the SDLP’s party leader and sitting MP, Alasdair McDonnell in unison and with the same lines…

Now this is very interesting. Mairtin was obviously confident that the SDLP will simply cowpe on the matter and fight the criticism the way it has been jointly framed by the two OFMDFM party candidates.

And he wasn’t wrong. Rather than pressing home the point, Mr Attwood this morning on Nolan admitted that he had misspoken.

And yet the party’s policy remains, but with no advocate willing to come out and go toe to toe on the matter of social and economic justice and as pointing out, as Mairtin’s own newspaper once put it, that:

…every time Sinn Féin gets together at another fist-clenching Stormont meeting (the 2008 equivalent of Long Kesh political lectures), we’re told that economic deprivation underpins the myriad social problems that are convulsing the West Belfast community. They hope nobody will think to ask whose job it has been for the past 20 years to get investment and jobs and to generate community confidence and optimism.

It wasn’t as if Adams didn’t have the clout and the contacts. A former aide of Tony Blair has been making frankly embarrassing revelations in a new book about how close Adams and Blair were. Adams was the Oprah Winfrey of Irish-America.

And what did we get? InBev gone and Visteon going. A huge investment conference that holds its nose as it swishes past West Belfast ferrying ministers and Invest NI suits to Hillsborough and Cultra.

Of course, Mairtin saw to it that that column was pulled immediately. [Well, no need to worry the voters about the actual consequences of casting their votes, is there? – Ed] You might say that, I on the other hand…

So here’s the problem in a nutshell. There were no figures, no details, no substance, just a matter of principal. And the shared OFMdFM party principle here appears to be keep on keep on ignoring the economic distress of west Belfast.

The SDLP is hardly helped by a press that rushes to sensationalise the flat earth politics of press release journalism, but in all of this, is it fair to ask: who exactly represents a practical challenge to the ongoing deprivations of west Belfast?

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  • chrisjones2

    “you do not put FDI into south and east Belfast but protect industrial sites in west Belfast and try to move into those areas.”

    Note to Alex.

    In Belfast we have these wonderful vehicles called buses. It doesn’t matter a damn where the factory or office is. Its generally accessible and the creation of jobs benefits all including the bus drivers mechanics and myraid suppliers. Hell, some people even commute from places like Lisburn Antrrim and Newry

    The concept of factories in oursuns area for ousuns people is deeply flawed if not jut sectarian

  • Old Mortality

    CJ2, you’ve reminded me of a documentary I listened to, probably on Radio 4, perhaps 20 years ago. It interviewed a group of young males from West Belfast who, when asked why they would not work elsewhere in the city, did not, as I might have expected, express fears for their safety but instead declared without a hint of embarrassment that it was the government’s responsibility to bring jobs to them and not their’s to go looking for jobs.
    If that had been heard by a prospective investor, I’m pretty sure West Belfast would have been immediately scored off the list of potential locations.
    Do such appalling attitudes still prevail? I suspect they probably do

  • T.E.Lawrence

    West Belfast has just developed into a one party constituency but I believe the People Before Profit Alliance with their excellent vote and election to Belfast Council Elections 2014 in the Black Mountain Ward is a possible opposition to SF not in a Westminster Election but would be interesting to see the PBPA run in next years Assembly Elections. SF will be banking on a return of 4 MLAs from the constituency but with PR and say a quota of 5.5K PBPA need to knock out the 4th SF running horse. With 3 court wards within the West Belfast constituency PBPA would need to run a good campaign within these wards and try and get a good 1st preference vote from this voting base of the constituency.

  • chrisjones2

    …and the same in the East and North.

    I remember once offering a job in South Belfast to a guy from the Shankill.

    “Its too far away” he said.
    “Theres a bus” I said ….”it goes from the end of your street straight across to the Malone Road”
    “I dont do buses” he said

  • Tacapall

    People before profit otherwise known as the workers party, how many times can a party be rebranded, dont be betting your house on him being elected again next time around he’s been missing since the day he was elected except for demanding that a post office that went bankrupt be reopened. West Belfast while under British rule will always be an economic black spot, its called collective punishment for not being good British people. Sinn Fein take advantage of that and can point to the disadvantages we face it gets them votes while they feather their own nests and create jobs for the chosen ones who in turn stick their heads in the sand when the wealth of those in power is exposed. Its also a good source for young cannon fodder to carry on the mantle of being puppets of MI5, the ingenuity of those who have been targeting their fellow Irishmen lately rather than their supposed enemy is puzzling, who exactly are their enemy. I used to listen to all the bullshit about loyalist paramilitaries demanding protection money from all and sundry but when I walk down the Falls I see nothing but bars and clubs, the odd cafe, solicitors offices and nothing much else to talk about but drive up the Shankill or down Sandy Row and you see the diversity of businesses, all sorts of shops selling all sorts of things its obvious there is something not right with the narrative we have been led to believe.

  • Guest

    PBP are not a rebranded Workers Party, they are a Socialist Workers Party front group. Massive difference

  • mickfealty

    Yes Tac, research and plan, don’t just shot from the hip, please?

  • chrisjones2

    “West Belfast while under British rule will always be an economic black spot”

    I thought SF were in power for most of the last 10 years so you cannot logically blame the Brits. Silly me. It couldn’t be that SF hate West Belfast so they must just be incompetent or uncaring or have some other motive.

    “Its also a good source for young cannon fodder to carry on the mantle of being puppets of MI5,”

    If one analyses that its meaningless

    “nothing but bars and clubs” many boarded up

    ” solicitors offices” – when you gotta claim you gotta claim unless you are seeking a Public Inquiry

    So what do you expect. The place is a basket case and its been created and nurtured as such by its leaders as it keeps the sheep in the pen.

  • chrisjones2

  • Tacapall

    Mick you kinda know from who does the canvassing as to who’s who it started off as a workers something and then boom all sorts of breakaway groups called workers something different, its just a front like all political parties in this part of the world. That seat Carroll won was down to collective animosity at that particular time he has no chance of reproducing that same result, Sinn Fein will win that seat just like the DUP will win back east Belfast. Whats up Mick do you not appreciate the truth ?

  • mickfealty

    Yes, but you were wrong Tac. I also note that you had to skip the content of the post to make that ‘connection’.

    What interests me here is the disconnection between politics and policy. How committed are the SDLP if they won’t stand and make a fight over what they say is their own policy? How committed are SF to west Belfast if they say one thing there and the opposite next door?

    Or is this just PR STV making fools of all of us?

  • Gaygael

    That patently unfair on Gerry Carroll and PBP. I am not a party member, but have known Gerry for years as an activist and habpve been watching him with interest. I actually called his breakthrough at council back in may. I don’t think I saw anyone else call it.
    He was elected in may. Who was at the forefront of the gaza rallies throughout the summer? Yup, PBP and Gerry Carroll. I think he spoke at them all and organised many. Including calling to march on the American embassy a week later, at the rally outside the bbc.
    Since then, the party has knocked every door in black mountain at least once. He has also been training and familiarising himself with duties as a councillor, and fundraising to open a centre on the peace line at Lanark way. He has been campaigning against austerity, cuts and including on the shankill road. The centre has recently opened.
    He is now running for Westminster.
    Fair do to him, I expect bigger things to come. I think pbp will outpoll or come close to the SDLP in may. And this should position him for a great punt at assembly.