On Monday the Ulster Unionist and Conservative parties published their election manifesto for the north. The launch was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding comments by David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader in London, which have been interpreted as meaning that he is intent on cutting public services in the six counties.
His efforts to retreat from this position have only added to the debate.
Sensing a blunder the DUP went on the attack.
However, the fact is that there is no real difference between the approach of the Unionist/Conservatives and the DUP when it comes to the economy and politics generally. They are both cut from the same cloth.
Look at working class unionist areas and you will see the same issues of deprivation and poverty that exist in deprived nationalist estates. Poor health indices, low education attainment levels, inadequate community facilities and much more. Poverty is rampant in many of these areas.
Working class unionist neighbourhoods have long been abandoned by the main unionist parties. If cuts are not challenged they will reduce public services, particularly the health services, and destroy the social fabric and necessary protections for citizens.
Those who will suffer most as a result of these cuts will be working people. Jobs will go and under resourced public services will be slashed further.
Parents of children with disabilities, carers, ethnic minorities, women, the unemployed, young people and others who need the protection of a legislatively based Bill of Rights are being denied this by the two unionist parties.
Working people have nothing to gain from voting for parties which will not oppose cuts. While Peter Robinson and Reg Empey may take up populist positions on social or economic issues they are opposed to equality measures which would help working families in these difficult economic times.
Both unionist parties oppose the Bill of Rights. Their ideology is based on conservative values.
Peter Robinson is attacking Reg Empey because his party is in a Conservative coalition.
Yet the DUP is supporting a so-called unity candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone who has pledged his support for the Conservatives and who is committed, if elected, to taking the Tory Whip.
So, despite the rhetoric Peter Robinson has exactly the same position as Reg Empey. The DUP desire to disempower the people of Fermanagh South Tyrone is clearly greater than any notional differences with the British Tories.
Be that as it may if the unionist parties are really against cuts in public services, and more importantly if these cuts are to be stopped, then all the local parties need to unite agains the cuts which the two main British parties want to impose here.
We did it before when Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, working together, secured an additional £800 million for policing and justice.
What is required is a major negotiation with the British on funding. In the short term this is about an increase in the block grant. But in the medium term it must also be about transferring fiscal powers back to Ireland.
The people of Ireland can’t afford partition. Hundreds of millions of revenue are lost every year through duplication of services, agencies competing against each other, an absence of joined up infrastructure.
What people want to see is a programme to counter all this . What citizens are looking for is leadership.
There is a way out of the economic difficulties. There is an alternative.
The SDLP have pinned their flag to the British Labour masthead. The British Labour Party is also committed to cuts. The alternative to cuts is a united commitment to public services and particularly front line services and against cuts, no matters what London party wants to introduce them. So instead of making sectional politics – inter unionist politics – on this crucially important issue the DUP and The UUP need to join with Sinn Féin against the cuts. The SDLP need to do likewise.
Hunger Strike Commemoration.
Finally, mar eolas daoibhse, Sinn Féin in Belfast is organising a weekend of events to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike.
The hunger strike and the deaths of the 10 hunger strikers was a watershed in republican and Irish politics.
Take a quiet moment to yourself to reflect on the huge contribution of the prisoners, particularly the hungerstrikers. Or join any of these events if you are in Belfast. Or organise your own event.
Saturday May 1st:
11am Tour of Milltown with Tom Hartley and Pod Devenney.
12.30pm Wreath Laying ceremony at the Hunger Strikers graves. Gather at Milltown Gates
3pm: Andersonstown Social Club: Hunger Strike exhibition and panel disucssion for young people with hunger strikers Pat Sheehan, Mary Doyle and Belfast Chairperson Bobby Storey. Chaired by Charlene O’Hara.
Sunday May 2nd:
9.30am Bobby Sands walk/Black Mountain challenge. Meet at Caulfield’s car part at the top of the Whiterock Road.
8pm Bobby Sands Annual memorial lecture by Sean Murray in the Andersonstown Social Club
Monday May 3rd:
11 am: Fian John Dempsey Hurling and Football Tournament at Gort na Móna GAA. Assemble at Divis Drive
Wednesday May 5th:
White line pickets across Belfast. Gather at local Assembly points at 5pm.