Eamonn McCann: It was the Unions wot won it…

So, we are still none the wiser after yesterday’s dossier (the absence of figures or a balance in the correspondence therein meant it crashed out of the headlines last night) exactly why Sinn Fein pulled that reverse ferret on Welfare Reform.

In the Irish Times, Eamonn McCann has what looks like a credible theory (€): the Union day of action tomorrow:

The prospect of being at loggerheads with the unions has dismayed many in Sinn Féin. The party’s ardfheis in Derry last weekend heard an address by Ictu president Jack Douglas, extolling its adherence to the union cause. To the delight of the party, Siptu general secretary Jack O’Connor chose the occasion of the Labour Party conference in Tralee a fortnight ago to hail Sinn Féin as a potential friend of Labour in government.

The party will be acutely aware that many of those who march tomorrow are likely to have voted Sinn Féin in the past.

This is the first time trade unions have opposed a Stormont deal. On every previous occasion, they have hailed the outcome as a welcome contribution to the consolidation of peace.

Sinn Féin will also have been aware that, despite chaotic disagreement between the two main parties as to what was actually agreed, some past statements on the Assembly record are damning.

Responding to claims that the party only discovered last weekend that its Executive partner was interpreting the agreement to mean that “top-up” payments would not apply automatically to all present and future recipients of disability living allowance, the DUP has repeatedly quoted its Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey in the Assembly on February 14th:

“The disability protection scheme . . . involves making a financial payment to those DLA claimants who are unsuccessful in their claim for personal independence payment and who subsequently appeal the disallowance decision . . . A financial payment should be made to those claimants and continue until the appeals service has made a decision on the claimant’s appeal.

“[Another] element provides support for those claimants who receive a lower level of payment under the personal independence payment . . . This will involve a . . . payment that will continue for a specified period depending on the date when the claimant is reassessed for personal independence payment.”

The DUP argues that it is inexplicable in light of these and a number of other apparently unambiguous statements that Sinn Féin can have believed what it now says it believed.

That’s all true. And as Tom Kelly noted earlier in the week, sudden reversals are part of the Sinn Fein toolkit. And, of course, it may be that driving in reverse gear takes them a lot further forward than going where they actually say they’re going.

McCann wryly adds:

The fact that Sinn Féin is now opposing at least some of the cuts which most observers see in the agreement has been welcomed by claimants’ organisations and community and union groups. But the fact that the party has taken such a long and winding road to reach this point has not encouraged confidence that the way ahead will be straightforward.

Quite so Eamonn. And given that tomorrow involves GMB, INTO, NIPSA, Unison, Unite and others right across the public sector, the loss of control over the budget brings little certainty in future rounds of negotiation over health, education and transport.


  • chrisjones2

    ” the loss of control over the budget ”

    I disagree. There is a cash limit on the budget. The fight is over how it is divided among the Ministries but what is absolutely concrete is how much cash there is to spend

  • Joe_Hoggs

    How much is there to spend?

  • OneNI

    All in all a disgusted spectacle. Public sector Unions
    prioritising the protection of their jobs over public services such as health
    and education.

    Also SF really struggling with Basic political realities.
    The overall public expenditure framework for the UK is set by the Westminster
    government – Stormont has to accept that.

    SF can have no qualms about that cos A. they accepted the
    Sovereignty of Westminster when they agreed to and operated the Belfast
    Agreement and B. they, through absentionism, have absolved themselves of any
    input into the decisions on the overall level of public spending – if they
    wanted to they could state that they will back Labour and turn up at
    Westminster but they don’t!

    The Coalition has a mandate to do what it is doing on public
    spending. Both the Conservatives and Lib Dems were elected on a platform of
    dealing with the deficit and ergo cutting public spending.

    Almost uniquely this Government had the votes of the
    Majority of the electorate in 2010 – 59%. This included over 100,000 people in
    NI who voted for candidates standing in support of David Cameron and the
    Conservative manifesto.

    In contrast the DUP have 0.6% of the UK vote – as do SF. The
    NI Unions have no mandate – electorally and a very shakey one for these strikes

    So SF and DUP have to suck it up. If they want to maintain
    the old discredited British welfare system they have to find the money from
    elsewhere – chiefly health and education budgets

    Likewise the Unions have choose – they cant have jobs for
    life, high welfare benefits and high spending on public services

  • chrisjones2

    Ask the Treasury – and it may change (downwards) next week

  • Mick

    I may have mentioned the trade unions protests over cuts to departmental budgets…

    But I wouldn’t necessarily characterise this as a ‘win’.

    Without agreement on welfare reform there will still be cuts to the budgets. And further re-imbursement to the UK Treasury from the NI Block Grant to pay for our more expensive un-reformed welfare system.

  • barnshee

    “The party will be acutely aware that many of those who march tomorrow are likely to have voted Sinn Féin in the past.”

    All those (British) taxpayer funded employees voting SF– surely not?

  • Dan

    Is there anyone with a titter of wit who watched Bumper Graham on Nolan’s show last night and thought he had anything to offer NI apart from strikes….

  • smeeho

    ‘Likewise the Unions have choose – they cant have jobs for
    life, high welfare benefits and high spending on public services’

    To be accurate, that’s not actually a choice.

  • Reader

    Eamonn McCann: This is the first time trade unions have opposed a Stormont deal.
    The deal moved money from departmental budgets to propping up Welfare payments. Once the unions and Sinn Fein each accept that there is no more money to be had, they will realise they are on opposite sides as to what to do with the limited money available.
    The Sinn Fein leadership probably wants to maintain the smokescreen for as long as possible, and that is where Eamonn McCann is right. If he thinks there is the potential for actual common cause, then he is wrong.

  • El_Commi

    Is there anyone with a titter of wit who watches the Nolan show?

  • NMS

    I was speaking to a UNITE official earlier in the week, who said it was the SF effort to sell it as a “victory” which really got up their noses. One wonders what more “victories” Gerry, Martin & friends have to tell.

    The balancing of the Northern Ireland budget is only starting. Wait for the squeals!

  • barnshee

    Well its the closest to “give my head peace” and the “hole in the wall gang ” that I can find– so I`ll probably keep watching it until they come back

  • Mirrorballman

    If Bumper Graham is the best the Unions can put forward they have serious internal problems. The man is terrible every time he appears in the media. The Alex Maskey of the unions…..

  • Kevin Breslin

    To be fair excluding those not directly related to Stormont House such as teachers it’s not their jobs being lost, it’s the jobs of those made redundant and the jobs that will get removed.