The world has been well and truly rocked in the eight months since we held our last election to the Stormont Assembly. We have witnessed an incredibly divisive Brexit result and watched as Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, defying all odds (and reason) as he is inaugurated as the next US President this Friday.
We are now looking at the prospect of the most heated and divisive election since 2003. For Stormont and the main parties, this may be all about the DUP and the genius scheme to provide Lords and poultry farmers with free heating plus some drinking money. But for ordinary people the RHI debacle is just the latest in a long string of scandals, cutbacks and refusals to move into the 21st Century.
Stormont’s Cuts Run Deep
The RHI scheme has been running up costs of approximately £85,000 every day for over a year now, and is expected to cost the taxpayer the guts of £690m. As much as Stormont giving farmers and wealthy aristocrats money to burn is a disgraceful waste of public funds, it is also a very apt symbol for the economic plans pursued by the Executive from 2008 right up until the present day.
The DUP and Sinn Fein have both shown that they support cutting Corporation Tax to 12.5%. If ever implemented this could remove up to £500m from our block grant. The begging bowl strategy of the Executive will remove money from public services – services that are relied upon by the most vulnerable in society – to fill the pockets of the wealthy in return for some crumbs in the form of Foreign Direct Investment.
Dinosaurs Belong in Museums
There will be a lot of noise about this election being about DUP and the life support it has given to the RHI scheme. This would let a lot of parties off the hook…and we can’t be having that!
Stormont’s refusal to decriminalise abortion, forcing working-class women to be dragged through the criminal courts because they cannot afford a weekend journey to England, is criminal. There is no doubt that the DUP play their role in maintaining this toxic status quo for women, but it hasn’t been alone. During a Leaders’ debate on UTV last year, a debate that took place as a young woman was awaiting a court sentence for using abortion pills, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said “We [SF] are not a Pro Choice Party”, further stating “I totally disapprove of what she [the defendant] has done”. This was bizarrely followed by SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood’s declaration that “We should wrap our arms around women in distress”. Is this before or after you sentence them for the crime of poverty? Too many MLAs are insisting that women continue to be ruled by a piece of legislation that is older than the light bulb.
It doesn’t stop there, we are the only region across these islands that refuses to legalise equal marriage rights. The Communities Minister, Paul Givan (DUP), might want to be remembered on the doors as the minister who recently stated that LGBT sports players shouldn’t be afraid to ‘come out’. But people should remember him for the ‘Freedom of Consciousness’ Bill he tried to pass in 2015, which would have legalised discrimination of LGBTQ people.
Break Away From Green & Orange
Regardless of whether the parties are green or orange, they’ve shown their complete inability to cater for the needs of ordinary people. Paul Givan cut £50,000 from Liofra’s budget at the height of the RHI revelations. Givan eventually restored the funds, but the damage was done.
Givan’s actions will play directly into the hands of the main parties who intend to weather the storm of this election by playing to the tunes of sectarian division. As much as anger at the DUP for abusing the petition of concern amongst other things is at record heights, we shouldn’t use this as an opportunity to punish one party through tactical voting – ‘the big five’ have all shown that they deserve a punishment at the ballot box come March.
Enough is Enough!