Gemma Weir: We Need A Socialist Alternative

Gemma Weir is the Workers Party candidate for North Belfast

This election is unnecessary and will solve absolutely nothing unless people use it to pass judgement on all the parties in Stormont.

The two Executive parties in particular – the DUP and Sinn Fein – have been irresponsible, arrogant and contemptuous. Returning them to power to do the same thing again makes no sense at all.

People point to the RHI scandal and say that it sums up the problems with the Assembly – arrogance, greed and a lack of transparency. And they’re right, but that’s not the whole story. To make the new Assembly work there needs to be a root and branch reform of its structures.

At a minimum we need the introduction of arrangements for voluntary coalition or majority rule, the abolition of community designation requirements and the removal of the Petition of Concern mechanism. Those structural issues have allowed and facilitated the stalemate, the standoffs and the stasis that have marked out politics here.

As well as the structural changes that are required we also need to look at the deliberate sidelining of a several major political initiatives by successive Assemblies.

It is unforgivable that nearly twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement that Northern Ireland doesn’t yet have a Bill of Rights. Integrated education was identified as a political priority with the Assembly specifically instructed to facilitate its introduction. Instead successive Assemblies have deliberately and callously avoided their responsibilities and opted instead to bluff their way with the bogus concept of ‘shared education’.

What scrutinising role might a Civic Forum have had on the RHI and other scandals if it too had not been buried by the DUP /Sinn Fein coalition? And of course social policy remains in the dark ages.

The type of government delivered by the Assembly has direct consequences on the ground. There is still a threat from paramilitaries. I know that only too well in my own constituency of North Belfast.

Unemployment levels in Northern Ireland remain the highest in the UK. Academic selection remains a reality, as does the educational disadvantage it fosters.

More than 100,000 children here live below the poverty line. 50% of the population don’t earn a living wage and public services are being cut to unprecedented levels.

In the face of all those realities the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition has no viable economic plan, proposes to offer tax breaks to big business, plans the sell-off of public assets, fails to come to terms with the 11+, has made no impact on the levels of poverty and abdicates decision making on welfare to Westminster.

Unnecessary as it was to force this election it does at least offer a chance for people to consider a socialist alternative.

What’s the socialist alternative? It’s an alternative to political irresponsibility, arrogance and sectarianism. An alternative to the Executive’s agenda of welfare cuts, lower corporation tax, zero hours contracts, attacks on workers’ rights, social backwardness and of course privatisation of public services .

It’s an alternative based on public need not private greed and it’s an alternative which prioritises opportunity, quality of life and a publicly directed economy and public services. It’s an alternative which does not support or depend on tribal divisions to segregate and control society.

That is the message that the Workers Party will be delivering and the choice we will be presenting to the electorate.

There are few certainties in life but it is safe to predict that the Assembly parties will use this election campaign to trade on sectarian fears and tribal instincts to maximise their votes. We have seen what that produces.

They need to be told that they’ve had their day.

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  • file

    Given that integrated education was mentioned above, I see from The Irish News today that the DUP Minister Weir ‘forgot’ to spend £47 million this financial year on integrated education and that this money will in all likelihood return to the English Treasury never to be seen again. Yet another DUP Minister providing ample evidence that he is not yet ready for senior hurling.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “What scrutinising role might a Civic Forum have had on the RHI and other Scandals ?” Absolutely none as the last one was only a ‘talking shop” ! However I am not against the proposal of such a forum and would be interested to see proposals how it could be given teeth to really scrutinise government, not only MLAs but the Civil Service that goes along with it ? We badly need something injected into our political arena to try and interest 50% of the Electorate who have just given up on our current systems of politics in NI ?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Imagine a minister in England coming out with that line? He’d be hauled up in font of Paxman for a grilling, hounded by the press and forced to resign.
    But here? Not a whisper.

  • murdockp

    We do not need any more socialism in NI, have we not suffered enough.

    Socialism as a concept only exists when someone else pays the bills which has been the case in NI for far too long.

    Surely we have to stand on our own two feet be it under British or Irish Rule.

    Surely the Unionists can see that if we pay our way in the world our place in the Union is secure as we are no longer a financial drain on the British tax Payer and surely the Republicans can see if we pay our way in the world the ROI will be able to take us on?

    The unemployment statistics referred to are misleading in NI, lets apply some common sense here, if unemployment was so bad, why do we import labour from overseas to work in many of our industries. It is hard to find unemployed immigrants, but unemployed NI citizens seem to number tens of thousands, confused, I am?

    As for the cuts to public services, this is misleading as well, it is true that many departments have cut service delivery on the ground, but staffing levels remain stubbornly high and no meaningful reform has happened. We now have government departments stuffed full of staff the do literally nothing on the ground. Root and branch reform of public services is required something socialist parties will not do given their natural instincts is to protect the worker first, citizen second.

    Also the DUP thinks an extreme conservative government is going to pump billions into this sorry excuse of a state they are deluded and SF should be embarrassed that we still have to feed of the Westminster teat.

    Northern Ireland needs a centrist party that understands the importance of free trade and the private sector in our economy, improves our esteem in the word and help us to become more self sufficient.

  • Patrick Mac
  • Fear Éireannach

    In the face of all those realities the DUP / Sinn Fein coalition has no viable economic plan”

    The Workers party has no viable economic plan either, other than demand that London send more money.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Socialism as a concept only exists when someone else pays the bills which has been the case in NI for far too long.”

    You are obviously only familiar with Social Democrat practice within a mixed economy murdockp! The Wikipedia definition might help you grasp what socialism actually means:

    “Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production; as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim to establish them. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective, or cooperative ownership; to citizen ownership of equity; or to any combination of these.”

    If you check it out properly “social ownership and democratic control of the means of production” means that in a genuinely socilaist society we are actually paying our own bills as a community without someone else skimming off a slice which in our world “reformist” social democrats simply have to tax back to fund public services, etc. Remember that any excess of wealth taxed so is actually nothing but the “legally” alienated expression of someone else’s hard labour, and is not simply something which naturally happens to the clever and provident “rentier”………….

  • file

    Now he did not actually say that he ‘forgot’ to spend it, but he did NOT spend it in time for the end of the financial year and now it may be lost. As you well know, there is no accountability and no consequences for incompetence within ‘our great wee country’ – lack of talent among both elected representatives and investigative journalists explains a lot.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    As an ideological vagrant, is there no scope to combine the best/effective aspects of socialism and conservatism?

    For example – social housing – ultimately a GOOD thing when adopted as Attlee had intended (doctors, grocers and workers all living together on the same estate) but when handled in a ‘socialist’ fashion of just dumping poor people into a concentrated area, well, what do you think is going to happen.

    NHS – Good thing – But we abuse it and as such need overseers to remind us that chips & coke as a cornerstone of ones diet will lead us to requiring its services sooner rather than later

    Benefits – A lifesaver for many people but there’s really no call to be on them for 10 years (if you’re on benefits after 10 years then the best thing the government could do is buy you a bus ticket to a part of the country that has jobs going).

    Tax – Socialists go nuts when companies get tax breaks; would NI’s poor people really suffer if (for example) manufacturing was completely tax-free?
    I doubt it.

    In my experience ‘socialism’ always favours the sob story and as such our institutions are abused.

  • murdockp

    I agree with your points.

    However, many of our citizens fail the above tests as they do not contribute (by choice) to our society and have excused themselves from contributing to society expecting others to shoulder their burden.

    This is why the concept is and always will be a failure in NI. 20% of west Belfast in receipt of Disabled Living Allowance is wrong on so many levels, the culture seems to be get what you can off the state, even for people in work our productivity is amongst the lowest in Europe.

    The reason the German economy is so strong is there is a culture of contributing to society and there is pride in contributing, A made in German stamp almost guarantees quality whilst a ‘made in NI stamp’ does not have the same ring to it. how do we replicate that here I wonder?

  • Zorin001

    And will also impact the budget next year more than likely, in the Public Sector if you don’t spend it it must mean you don’t need it so expect to do more with less next year or the year after.

  • Zorin001

    “Tax – Socialists go nuts when companies get tax breaks; would NI’s poor people really suffer if (for example) manufacturing was completely tax-free?”

    I wouldn’t have any issues with tax breaks to manufacturing, the problem is in the Globalist world we have now there is little to stop a major company taking your tax breaks then 5 years down the line buggering off when they get a better offer in the far East.

    Even smaller local companies are at the mercy of their clients, should a cheaper supplier come along they are likely to be dumped (unless the quality provided is high.

  • Teddybear

    You make a good point.

  • But they can inject into the economy large quantities of counterfeit US dollars made in North Korea according to a documentary from a decade ago.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I fully agree that our community has been crippled by reliance on handouts rather than the management by the citizens of their own economy, but the answer to this is not more of others managing that economy either through a paternaiistic state or through private enterprise, but a genuine revitalisation of a community through the sort of genuine responsibility through self-rsepect which only a fully intigrated and genuinely socialist system can perhaps bring about. As long as someone else is managing the nature of our lives we must by definition remain infantalised, but I simply cannot see how any capitalist system can do other?

    Regarding Germany, was it not less than a century ago that the imaginary William Bloat sucessfully hanged himself with an sheet while conspiciously faiing to cut his poor wife’s throat?

    “For the razer blade,
    Was German made,
    But the sheet was Irish Linen….”

    “Irish” linen, note……perhaps an indication as to how local self-respect might perhaps start to be renewed!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well, true but i wasn’t even thinking that grandly, i was just thinking of all the handy chaps with workshops around the country who just need a little help on turning their interests into businesses, that would create jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

    Another idea (just off the top of my head); tax breaks for garages.
    Imagine all the truck fleets heading here for servicing (though it would have to be strictly monitored)?

  • On the fence!

    Truly shocking!

    Between private sector greed and public sector incompetence will the man or woman on the street ever get a fair deal again?

  • Zorin001

    Oh without a doubt, I do believe in helping out local manufacturing (or any local business) as much as practicable. For example I would seriously look into rates relief for business premises in the city centre and small towns around Northern Ireland.

  • On the fence!

    But to a lot of people the outworkings of socialism and conservatism together would be things like public-private investment partnerships (dare I mention the renewable heat incentive scheme!), and they haven’t gone so well in recent times.

    But maybe we only get to hear about the bad ones?

  • file

    Murdockp – this call to cut the public service is a danger. Yes there is a lot of dead wood in it, but here is the thing: if these civil servants were put on the dole, they would not be paying tax, and they would not be spending money in the economy. Given how many of them there are, this would be a disaster for this place. There is no way they would all find re-employment in the private sector here because there is no private sector here, really. You should look on the non-jobs in the civil service as government-sponsored job schemes, as government investment in the economy which, through the multiplier effect, creates more money in the economy. Basic Keynesian economic policy but slightly disguised here as it takes the form of public sector jobs that are not needed instead of investment in roads, infrastructure, etc.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The rate debacle is perhaps the greatest stiffler of out economy.
    But hey, at least we have lots of religiously divided schools, so it’s not all bad…

  • Zorin001

    Bad news sells better than good news unfortunately, otherwise the 6 o’clock headlines would be feel good stories about cute kittens and smiling children.

  • Croiteir

    “At a minimum we need the introduction of arrangements for voluntary coalition or majority rule, the abolition of community designation requirements and the removal of the Petition of Concern mechanism. Those structural issues have allowed and facilitated the stalemate, the standoffs and the stasis that have marked out politics here.” Not a chance – that would be straight to majority – i.e. unionist rule. And unionism has consistently proven they are incapable of wielding power properly.

  • Croiteir

    “Integrated education was identified as a political priority with the Assembly specifically instructed to facilitate its introduction. Instead successive Assemblies have deliberately and callously avoided their responsibilities and opted instead to bluff their way with the bogus concept of ‘shared education’ Integrated education is there, it is prioritised in law, it is failing due to lack of parental interest.

  • Croiteir

    “What scrutinising role might a Civic Forum have had on the RHI and other scandals if it too had not been buried by the DUP /Sinn Fein coalition?” Not sure what civic forum will be in your understanding of it, however we have a representative democracy and have no need for the great and good who cannot/ will not get elected to have a say greater than anyone else.

  • Croiteir

    “Academic selection remains a reality, as does the educational disadvantage it fosters.” Again it is the will of the people, SF tried to impose its demise – that went well.

  • Croiteir

    “More than 100,000 children here live below the poverty line. 50% of the population don’t earn a living wage and public services are being cut to unprecedented levels.” So long as we are afterthoughts attached to an English economic cycle that will continue.

  • Croiteir

    “What’s the socialist alternative? It’s an alternative to political irresponsibility, arrogance and sectarianism. An alternative to the Executive’s agenda of welfare cuts, lower corporation tax, zero hours contracts, attacks on workers’ rights, social backwardness and of course privatisation of public services .
    It’s an alternative based on public need not private greed and it’s an alternative which prioritises opportunity, quality of life and a publicly directed economy and public services. It’s an alternative which does not support or depend on tribal divisions to segregate and control society.” After half a column of what you see is wrong it is disappointing that you have no detail at all on how you want to fix the perceived faults. You are asking us to buy a pig in a poke.

  • Croiteir

    You too had your day – it was in the late sixties – you were not wanted then and are not wanted now. That is why you consistently fail at the polls.

  • Croiteir

    Tell me – is this in addition to the 1/2 Billion from the failed talks that SF had on Flags, Marches and the Irish Language last year?

  • Croiteir

    Why is this ringfenced for integrated education, what is ringfenced for gaelic language education and special needs education, which, if you think on it is integrated too? What is ringfenced for the other sectors, how is this amount calculated?

  • hgreen

    A list the daily heil would be proud of. You’ve got your facts the wrong way round. In my experience it’s always businesses that are looking for handouts from the govt and moaning for tax breaks when they already have huge competitive advantages compared to other countries.

    Tax free manufacturing? Laughable.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    NI has very little on the way of manufacturing so it’ll hardly be a big tax loss (decreasing every year I think).

    If it keeps skilled people in the country and creates jobs then whats the down side?

    Note, i don’t mean bending over backwards to big companies, rather just support small and medium size firms that can’t set up shop else where but perhaps might not survive much longer in the current economic set up.

  • On the fence!

    That was me as a small struggling dairy farmer just over fifteen years ago, looking to add on a wee sideline to help keep the ship afloat.

    The hassle I had to get planning permission for a change of use on a very small part of a farm building that was there anyhow was just ridiculous.

    So you could add that to your wish list!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Exactly the kind of business I had in mind.

    As for dealing with planners and ministry men? Oh, they’re on the list alright…

  • On the fence!

    See now I’m getting visions of the captured German captain in Dad’s Army and his “list”.

  • On the fence!

    Curry Engineering outside Garvagh is a good set up.

    They took on a lot of good “old school” engineers when John Crane (formerly Flexibox) in Ballymena shut down a year or two ago. But they are struggling to see who will be doing the skilled work in another 10-20yrs.

    They would like to be in a position to be able to take sixteen year olds straight from school and train them, but it costs a lot of money and they operate on very tight margins as is.

    Rating or tax breaks allied to apprenticeships in traditional all encompassing skills would be very appealing to many local businesses and would also be very beneficial to the workforce as a whole.

  • hgreen

    Rather than more tax breaks for legacy “manufacturing” businesses it might be better investing in skills development and training to support the next generation of enterprises.

    Like many on the left I’ve absolutely no problem supporting small businesses and start ups with for example a reduction in taxes and business rates. Reducing corp tax for big business and a race to the bottom should be resisted.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Please see On The Fence’s response for what I was getting at.

    I never mentioned corporation tax.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Zigactly! A great example, thanks!

  • Annie Breensson

    Belfast linen in the version I heard on Radio Ulster some years ago

  • Annie Breensson

    Would those naked apes have survived to become the dominant species on the planet without some form of socialism all those centuries ago?

    Of course, if you believe the earth is no more than 6 millenia back …

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You’re probably right, as I’m quoting from memory rather than from a text. I’m old enough to even remember the Linen Houses still just about active in their final years, too, so my memory sometimes requires access to my half dozen filing cabinets and my extensive library to be fully accurate…….

    But I still rather like my last line……….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Both Darwin and Kropotkin pointed out that “survival of the fittest” implied a fitness for social co-operation primarily, rather than the simplified Gordon Gekko version of winner takes all. But as you say, these short time frames that are so “popular” here do not encourage genuinely evolved human beings…..

  • Annie Breensson

    I’m about the same vintage as yourself Seaan, and my memory banks could do with a bit of reorganization. Now that I think about it, the line that I half-remember may well have used the words Ulster linen.

    But whatever – it certainly was not British linen!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’ve just checked out two printed versions (one rather brilliantly illustrated by a fine local artist…..what am I doing still working at this ghastly hour of the night?) and both say “Belfast Linen.” You rightfully win the laurels……

  • file

    This is from a budget specifically for integrate and shared education. there was £50 million available from the Treasury in London this financial year – he spent £3 million. There is no guarantee the unspent £47 million can be rolled over into the next financial year and, indeed, the opposite is usually the case. What talks are you on about?

  • file

    Don’t be blaming socialism on the mess that is Venezuela. Blame corruption and drug gangs a bit. And putting all your eggs in one basket.

  • Croiteir

    The talks last year when SF were shafted. I welcome that this money was not wasted on Integrated Education, at last a bit of commonsense. Pity it was not spent on the other sectors that need investment.

  • file

    It cannot be spent on other areas – it is ring-fenced. What is wrong with integrated education? that is what we have in our universities, you know?

  • Patrick Mac

    Fool.

  • file

    Thanks for that; always good to have an intelligent conversation with no dismissive or derogatory remarks. Are you in the DUP at all?

  • Patrick Mac

    That’s no problem whatsoever. Unfortunately intelligent conversation is not possible with liberals.

    Therefore, in order to avert the usual ping-pong, back and forth argumentativeness that liberals (like yourself) present as legitimate debate I thought best to cut you off, for your own benefit.

    Oh, and calling someone a fool is not derogatory.

    Finally, do you wear your underwear on the outside:

  • file

    I am not a liberal in the modern sense (which is liberal towards all opinions so long as they are the same as yours). And as for calling somebody a fool, here is what the Bible says about it: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

  • hgreen
  • Croiteir

    I am supportive of parental choice What I am not supportive if is the bias, preference and deference shown o the integrated education movement over other forms of equally valid education. I have two children in an integrated educational environment which have to endure substandard premises, and so too do other schools due to lacks of funds. Yet we have 50 million set aside for these elite who cannot spend it. This is just discriminatory and wrong. But because it has the support of the NIO and fits in with the letsgetalongerist agenda its privileged position is protected. The fact the money was not spent is shameful, But not because it was not spent on integrated education, but because it was not spent on education.

  • grumpy oul man

    the eugenics movement was born out of a misunderstanding of Darwin and Wallace’s work on evolution.
    Even today some apparently educated people don’t seem to realize that the “fittest” doesn’t mean the greediest or strongest but the best suited to ensure the survival of the group and that means in a great many cases cooperation!