Prosperity, peace, stability, a better future for our young people – that was the sunny vista painted by the establishment in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, which paved the way for the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Yet, almost 15 years on, the very idea of a “peace dividend” is now a sick joke from the point of view of working class people. On every count, the sectarian politicians on both sides have absolutely failed to deliver, except for themselves and their cronies.
Since its inception, the Assembly Executive and all the parties within it have been wedded to a right-wing agenda of cuts and privatisation. In the 2011-2015 Budget, the Assembly politicians dutifully bent the knee to the Tory-led government’s demand that workers and young people should be made to pay the price for the capitalist economic crisis. They agreed to slash £4.3 billion from public services, threatening to destroy 40,000 jobs in the public sector alone. At the same time, they have ringfenced £10 billion to fund PFI/PPP privatisation schemes while maintaining and seeking more tax cuts for big business and the super-rich. Often with multiple salaries and juicy expense accounts, the politicians are totally out of touch with ordinary people.
Less than half way through the Assembly’s austerity budget and with the bulk of the cuts still to come, we’re seeing the fruits of the Executive’s economic policies. The economy has been in almost continual recession for four years. Public sector jobs are drying up while retails firms are dropping like flies – one in five retail units are lying empty, almost twice the UK average. Poverty in all its forms is mounting and the Welfare Reform Bill – which ALL the main parties allowed to pass – will be a slap in the face to tens of thousands of families who receive in-work and out-of-work benefits. Meanwhile, youth unemployment stands at almost 25%. Austerity has failed and it is young people who will suffer most.
The politicians are often quick to condemn young people involved in rioting – whether in Ardoyne or the Lower Newtownards Road – as nothing but thugs and enemies of peace who want to drag us back to the Troubles. But this is a generation failed by politicians who have overseen the continued destruction of jobs and services while carefully maintaining sectarian division. While they are determined to keep the Stormont gravy train rolling, sectarian politicians from both sides are happy to play the Orange/Green card when it suits them. It’s when they’re implementing attacks on both communities that they most loudly champion the interests of “their” community. They have a vested interest in whipping up sectarian tension to maintain their own support bases. Under their “leadership”, working class communities have become more divided than ever.
The recent flag controversy is only a glimpse of what the future holds in store if the right-wing and sectarian parties are not challenged. But there is an alternative! The vast majority of ordinary people – Catholic and Protestant – are opposed to any return to conflict. There is growing disillusionment with all the main parties. Last year, only 10% said they were satisfied with the performance of the Stormont politicians. As their onslaught on the livelihoods of ordinary people continues, anger will mount and opposition can be built. But this opposition must be given a political expression. We need a new party based on the common interests of workers and young people, Catholic and Protestant – a party which demands that the super-rich pay for their crisis, a party which takes on sectarian division.
If you agree, join the Socialist Party today!