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.