Friday, 20 October 2017

A Storm (Stormont) In A Teacup

A few days ago here on Starship Norn Iron the evening headline read, ‘power out at Stormont.’  This headline whilst referring to a power cut was one of the most honest headlines to have reached the press here in decades.  The electrical power cut occurred during Storm Ophelia which like most things that come here, bypassed Derry and went to Belfast.

Now, on the subject of bypassing Derry, a few weeks ago the Stormont Assembly met for the first time since the election for a total of 46 minutes.  This wasn’t to update the public on the progress of the ongoing negotiations, or lack of, no, this was to agree a £500 pay increase for themselves.  A £500 raise for MLAs at a time when most things are either cut or capped and days before Universal Credit was to be rolled out in the North starting in Limavady.

Universal Credit is the new combined benefit payment under Welfare Reform (benefit cuts). A method of payment which is proving problematic in pilot areas with many claimants having to wait extended periods for their benefit. The MLAs as with most issues remain relatively silent on this despite calls from charities such as Citizens Advice and the Trussell Trust to halt the further roll out of Universal Credit until the problems currently faced have been remedied. But then some elected representatives seem to do a better job of deflecting and dividing up slush funds than they do in finding solutions to real problems.

If the MLAs were subject to zero-hour contracts in the real sense of the definition they might then raise serious objection to the hardship being imposed upon ordinary working-class people here.  Or if they were forced to live within the confines of a household benefit cap, or wait more than six weeks to obtain the benefits they require to feed their families maybe then they would  understand what people are going through and why people are angry and frustrated. This frustration was witnessed at a recent public consultation in Derry into cuts to front-line health services. Frustration which was later condemned by local politicians.

At the forefront of this condemnation was the DUPs Gary Middleton. The same Gary Middleton who took part in an illegal flag protest on Derry’s peace bridge during the uproar over the union flag at Belfast City Hall.  I wonder if Gary was concerned about anyone feeling intimidated when he took part in his protest on Derry’s Peace Bridge, a so called ‘shared space’? Or is it a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do?’

Next up in the condemnation queue was Sinn Fein’s Karen Mullan.  With Karen relatively new to public life outside of her previous efforts within thecommunity sector she could be forgiven for overlooking Sinn Fein’s keenness to protest in the past.  After all Sinn Fein defended its protests at public policing meetings which had to be abandoned due the disruptive nature of their protest. In response to objections raised about their protests in a statement from Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty in 2003 he defended the behaviour of protesters who were accused of trying to intimidate people by chanting during the first meeting of the Omagh District Policing Partnership. In his response Doherty stated that the protesters had a ‘legitimate right to protest,’ much like the protesters Karen was quick to condemn.

Then to my surprise we had the mutterings of Mark Durkan SDLP who too condemned the behaviour of protesters which was surprising considering that Mark is the member of a party born of the Civil Rights Movement. A movement which was best known for peaceful, yet vocal non-violent protest. With the SDLP currently focused on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement now might be an appropriate time for them to revisit the fundamental principles of the movement and to get back in touch with their grassroots. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m a wee bit concerned at this
anti-peaceful protest stance being displayed here!!

Today in a statement from People Before Profits MLA Gerry Carroll he expressed agreement over Sinn Fein’s determination to bring forward and Irish Language act at any cost by stating, “Anything less than a fully funded, standalone, Irish Language Act will be considered a sell-out, and rightly so." Gerry then went on to state that he only accepts the average workers wage.  Now with no wish to be dismissive, what Gerry chooses to take from the wage he receives is a matter for himself, his party or if the case may be, his chosen charity. The fact is Gerry like the rest of the MLAs is in receipt of £131.00 per/day. If he was living on less than £10.00 per/day or reliant on food parcels and was accruing debt whilst waiting on his universal credit to be processed I suspect his priorities would quickly change from an Irish language act to the bringing forward of an anti-poverty strategy and lobbying accordingly.  But then an anti-poverty strategy wasn’t a priority for the last assembly so I doubt it will be for this one either given we still await a budget.

Let’s put the latest Stormont deadlock into perspective:

What started with the issue of a botched heating scheme and the literal burning of public money has ended up with more focus being placed on the introduction of an Irish Language Act. This in my opinion represents a major shifting of goal posts and is a potential play to a polarised gallery short of one seat.  Granted, an Irish language act would have its benefits, primarily the protection of an indigenous language, but why it bothers Sinn Fein more now than it did when they held the brief is questionable, particularly with so many other bread and butter issues impacting on people in our society. Surely now in this time of economic despair the primary focus should be addressing poverty which causes so many other problems and severe cuts to front-line services.

The endless deadlock at Stormont is nothing new with these latest negotiations again taking place behind closed doors.  Ask yourself, what good has ever come from backdoor dealing here? The Good Friday Agreement turned out to be a monumental con job. The St Andrews agreement (Annex E) gave MI5 supremacy over policing.  And with the Fresh Start Agreement, devolved welfare powers were handed back to Westminster for the rolling out of welfare reform (benefit cuts).

For the above reasons and in the interests of transparency and accountability I believe that the Stormont politicians should carry out further negotiations in the public arena as where better to show up the intransigence of the DUP if this is indeed the case.  Ultimately, if this mess isn’t sorted soon then we are facing another election or worse, a period of direct rule, where we can rule out both an anti-poverty strategy and an Irish Language Act. The best we’ll get here will be the implementation of more cuts this time with no mitigation or anyone to negotiate on our behalf (outside of the DUP) and the introduction of legislation to whitewash the state’s role in the troubles, as was the plan until interrupted with the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

Ruling by fooling!

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