Political Inaction Democracy in action

This article by John Malloy was first published in the 30 September 2023 issue of Unity, the national weekly publication of the Irish Communist Party.

AT the end of last week thousands of workers across the North took to the streets as part of 48 hours of industrial action across a range of sectors. 

This was in response to Westminster’s long-term lack of investment and the consequent negligence that has delivered staffing/funding/delivery crises across our public services. 

Though a member of a political party that has spent decades of its existence talking of how unions must reach balloting thresholds to stay within the law, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris is able to operate without a single local vote cast in his support.

Using such licence, he has decided to replay the “punishment budget” card by instructing his civil servants to launch consultations on “revenue raising” measures for Stormont. 

It is suggested this would be the prelude to the introduction of water and prescription charges as well as increased university tuition fees. 

This approach seeks to fulfil two purposes – the first is to incentivise the DUP to participate in a devolved Executive i.e. “if you don’t like it, change it”. 

The second is that it reflects the long-held prejudices of the Northern Ireland Office that, while the demands of imperialism may have necessitated a financial commitment to the expedient political entity of Northern Ireland, beyond the ‘money no object’ applied to a garrisoned security apparatus, post–conflict monies are not to be wasted on the ungrateful natives, who were spoiled in comparison to their “mainland” counterparts.

The shopping list, therefore, of what we may be asked to pay for in future has long been on such an agenda. 

This current stasis is living proof of two wrongs not making a right. 

Firstly, the budgets with which local politicians are expected to operate are wholly inadequate. 

They do not meet immediate needs of our society and also expose the UK government’s longstanding failure to deliver a Peace Dividend. 

Civic society are therefore right to reject the idea that MLAs merely going back to work without a new economic settlement is enough. 

Secondly, however, the DUP should still do what they are overpaid to do and form an Executive to at least attempt some collective mitigation of Tory cuts. 

Instead, thinking only of electoral self-preservation, they do nothing to materially protect even their “own” community. 

Pro-union commentator Alex Kane has suggested this may represent a wider Unionist move away from the Good Friday Agreement altogether.

This, he argues, would be based on a sense of betrayal stretching back as far as the proroguing of the original Stormont in 1972. 

Whether this is accurate or an overly pessimistic assessment the question is where will it lead?  It describes a mindset always finding self-pitying reasons for inaction and viewing every move away from a mythical past as imminent Lundyist surrender to an imagined Sinn Fein plot. 

In this way the leaders of Party Political Unionism, whose own personal incomes are well insured against material loss, have decided to take their lead from the rejectionist forces that never accepted power-sharing in the first place and retain the supremacist belief that equality and its institutional outworking are perpetual defeats. 

With a shrinking electoral base and the imperial puppet-masters, including ERG veterans such as Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker no longer needing loyalist cover for internal Tory Party machinations, loyalists who vote for this defence of a “last frontier” are again on a road to nowhere. 

The direct democratic expression that the strikes represent and the general population’s support for them offers a glimpse of a different, class based fight for a better future. 

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