The Stormont Executive has been moribund for over two years. Most people have little to no faith that there is a possibility of a restoration of the local institutions in the short or medium term.
There is an understandable frustration at the stalemate on the part of working-class people. Health workers are being told that they must wait for ministerial sign off to authorise pay rises; the community/voluntary sector is unsure of its funding on a month to month basis; attempts to win abortion rights in Westminster are met with “it is a devolved matter”.
The desire for the MLAs to “get back to work” is an understandable one given all of the above. At the same time we do have to look at the record of those same parties while they were in Government and ask the question will the frustrations felt be addressed by the DUP and Sinn Féin getting back around the table?
The answer to that question is a resounding no. Contrary to the facade of permanent opposition presented currently by the DUP and Sinn Féin, they reached agreement when it came to the implementation of Welfare Reform, cutting back public services and intending to cut corporation taxes.
“Cosy” partnership of Sinn Fein/DUP”
The initial response of Sinn Féin to the outbreak of the RHI scandal which led to the collapse of Stormont was hesitancy. In December of that year they abstained on a motion in the Assembly calling for Foster’s resignation and were nervous about calling for an independent, public inquiry. It was only pressure from the public and their base which forced Sinn Féin to take a harder position.
The ensuing elections quickly turned to both parties stoking sectarian tensions in order to shore up their base. The DUP’s Paul Givan cut the Líofa bursary scheme for young people to attending the Gaeltacht by £50,000, although he was subsequently forced into a U-turn. Sinn Féin Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir suddenly decided to remove the Union flag from his department’s buildings, an emotive issue and a move clearly aimed at whipping up sectarianism.
The reality is that these parties base themselves upon the sectarian division that exists in society. While on the one hand they can reach agreement when it comes to attacking the conditions of working-class people, on the other, to maintain their support base they must rely upon stoking tensions. They offer no alternative, only a continuation of the status quo.
Build a cross-community Labour Alternative
Socialist Party members are standing in this election as part of Cross Community Labour Alternative to offer a working-class opposition to austerity, inequality and sectarianism. We also support left wing Labour Party members who are standing in this election as independents. Alongside trade unionists and other activists, we will also work to ensure that the broad labour movement presents the most credible challenge possible to the establishment parties. This means fighting in the council chambers but also crucially utilising those positions to assist the struggles of working-class people – whether that is fighting for better pay and conditions in the workplace, or campaigning to save our NHS from the Tory onslaught while building a socialist alternative to the misery of capitalism.
by Seán Burns