Friday, October 30, 2009

Sinn Féin in the North demands answers and action on health cuts

Here is an article from this week's an Phoblacht addressing the issue of proposed cuts to the health service in the 6 counties.


DESPITE assurances from the North’s Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, that “efficiency savings” in the Department of Health would not impact on frontline services, he has approved proposals to cut hundreds of nursing positions, remove beds from hospitals and drastically reduce ambulance services.

There is growing anger among health and social care professionals, trade unions and the broader community as the cuts threaten to seriously erode the quality of care in the North’s healthcare system and attack the rights of health workers.

Trade unions are discussing plans to take industrial action against the cuts and Sinn Féin is urging everyone concerned about the cuts to join the public rally in support of the health service and workers in Belfast on Friday 6 November at City Hall.

The British Treasury in London has demanded that the Department of Health makes £700 million in cuts (so-called “efficiency savings”), over three years. The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announced by the British Government is ostensibly aimed at reducing bureaucracy and reinvesting funds into frontline services – but in reality it is simply cutting public funding to the health service.

The North’s six health trusts are currently bringing forward proposals to the minister on how they plan to achieve their saving targets. The CSR set a 3% reduction target in the North’s health department and has led to the recommendation that almost 3,000 jobs be cut in the Belfast area alone. On top of the funding cuts, the trusts face a combined end-of-year deficit of £76 million.

Speaking to An Phoblacht this week, Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Assembly’s Health Committee Sue Ramsey said several crucial issues had been raised by the proposals made by the health trusts and the department, including the impact on the health of the community and the livelihood of staff employed by the trusts.

“These proposals will lead to a crisis in the North’s health service, which is already under strain,” Ramsey said.“We are also concerned about the lack of transparency and consultation in the process through which the proposals have been made and approved.

“It is time for a clear policy change. So-called efficiency savings are affecting frontline services and local people’s health provision. We can no longer check cuts to health services through the current framework. It is simply not working.”


The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, the largest trust in the Six Counties and employer of 22,000 people, has been directed to cut 9% of its spending, or £130 million, by 2011.

When the CSR’s drastic proposals for cuts provoked a public outcry in 2007, McGimpsey insisted the proposals were not policy and that frontline services would not suffer. However, the Belfast Trust has brought forward many of the exact same proposals, which have now been approved by the minister.

Some of the cuts proposed include:–
1) An estimated 925 administrative jobs, 450 social services positions and more than 722 nursing jobs are to go by 2011 under the proposals approved by the Health Minister.

2) Ambulance provision across the North may be cut by 70,000 hours.

3) 152 beds are to be cut at the City and Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast next month.

4) The Belfast Trust last month suspended the referral of patients to the private sector for operations, which had previously been used to shorten waiting lists. The trust paid for 7,000 private operations last year and commissioned another 4,000 this year before the suspension.

5) Mental health provision beds are also coming under pressure, with one of four wards for older people in Knockbracken Hospital in south Belfast being considered for closure.

Other actions that have been proposed include a greater reliance on a ‘skills mix’ within the medical profession – that is, relying on less-qualified healthcare workers to carry out the work of nurses and midwives to cut costs. The Belfast Trust additionally plans to ban staff overtime and stop all use of agency nurses.

There is also a push to have patients stay in hospital for the shortest time possible, including those who have undergone surgery. Women’s health professionals have expressed dismay at the Belfast Trust’s plans that new mothers be released from hospital just six to 12 hours after they give birth.


Commenting on the proposals, Sue Ramsey said the Belfast Trust’s ‘efficiency saving’ proposals were “unacceptable and unsustainable”.

“These proposals are supposed to free up resources to be reinvested in frontline services but you cannot get more frontline than the ambulance service, the targets of the cuts,” she said.

“Similarly, the backbone of the health service are its nurses – cutting more than 700 nursing positions would not only impact on the quality of care provided, it will place enormous pressure on the remaining nurses.”

The Sinn Féin MLA argued that these proposals essentially try to shift responsibility for medical care provision onto the already strained community sector to cut costs.“While the community sector plays a vital role in health and social care, medical care must be provided by fully-qualified medical professionals.

“And while these so-called efficiency savings are supposed to be reinvested into frontline services, there is no guarantee or mechanism to ensure this is the case.”Discussing the impact the cuts would have on health workers, Ramsey said the Belfast Trust’s plans to stop recruiting new staff, ban agency workers and overtime would impact on the most vulnerable and lowest-paid health workers.

“Clerical staff on agency or temporary contracts are already without maternity cover, holiday leave or pension entitlements,” she said. “I want to know how this strategy has been assessed against the trust’s legal duty to promote equality.”

Ramsey told An Phoblacht there is also anger among the Assembly’s Health Committee and trade unions due to the lack of transparency and consultation on cutback proposals before their approval by the Health Minister.

“I have submitted questions to the minister about the Belfast Health Trust. When did they first know about the proposed cuts to staff, facilities and services? Who else knew about these cuts? Why did they not bring these cuts to the attention of the committee or others before they began to impose them?”


The Sinn Féin MLA said there are “undoubtedly” real efficiency improvements that could be made in the health service, such as addressing high levels of bureaucracy, top-heavy management and outside consultancy fees.

Sinn Féin has called for the comprehensive Investing in Health strategy proposed by Bairbre de Brún when she was Health Minister to be implemented as a way to strengthen the health service and integrate it with other departments and social agencies, such as housing and education bodies for example.

“This strategy has the potential to save millions of pounds in the health budget by taking a holistic approach to preventative health care,” Ramsey explained.“All Government departments, agencies, social partners and community organisations must realise that to invest in health will transform our society and cut down on expenditure on treating preventable illnesses.

“Ultimately, these proposals are being driven by the British Government’s agenda of privatising and attacking the public health service and other public services,” Ramsey said.

“Sinn Féin proposed during the first session of the Assembly that we should have tax-varying powers so that we could raise taxes if needed for essential services; however, all the other parties opposed this.

“The scale of the crisis being unleashed on the health service demonstrates sharply the need for decision-making powers about the economy to be in the hands of locally elected and accountable politicians.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why has Sinn Féin released no statement on the Postal Workers dispute?

XXXX Since this post went up the Sinn Féin national site has a piece on Martina Anderson visiting the striking workers last Friday. The statement can be read in the comments section. XXXXXXXXX

As of 11 O'clock today I have not seen any statement by Sinn Féin as to where it stands on the Royal mail postal workers dispute. Also in the last few weeks I have seen no mention of the dispute in Nuacht na nOibrithe in An Phoblacht. Why is this? Sinn Féin in the South have been very vocal and active in our support for workers in their struggles for jobs and fair treatment. Our support for Coca -Cola workers, Thomas Cooke workers and the Dublin dockers has shown clearly where we stand.

However, a major dispute is now taking place in the North and we have no statement or show of support for these workers. We are a major political force in the North and as such we should use that strenght to demonstrate to the Postal workers that we support their reasonable demands to be consulted on changes work practices and no compulsory redundancies.

Below is some information on the dispute and I would ask that party memebers contact the head office and ask for a party statement asap showing our support for the postal workers. Remember in an attempt to break this dispute the management are threatening to bring in 30,000 scab workers. This is a disgrace and must be opposed.

Belfast -

This info is taken from a leaflet available on the Communications Workers Union site and there is plenty of info there on the background to the dispute.


Everyone’s talking about modernising the postal industry and we want this too, but Royal Mail is refusing to negotiate change with our union, the CWU. Royal Mail management wants to dictate – we want a say in what goes on.

The company claims mail volumes are down 10 per cent, but also claims that staff levels are down by 30 per cent. According to its figures, we are working 20 per cent harder.

Despite doubled profits – up to £321 million from £169 million – Royal Mail management wants tocut even more jobs, set impossible work targets for remaining staff and put service delivery at risk.

We say no to any compulsory redundancies, fair work measurement and no cuts in service to you.

We’re fighting to defend our rights and your postal service.

Here is a video of a Postal Worker explaining why they are in dispute.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Future of the Irish Left - Videos of the main speakers at the 2009 Peadar O'Donnell Weekend in Dungloe

The 9th Peadar O Donnell Weekend took place from the 16th - 18th October . On the Sunday morning there was an excellent debate on the future of the Left in Ireland.
Below are a series of videos from the main speakers. These included Pearse Doherty (Sinn Féin), Veronica Cawley (Labour), Colm Bryce (People Before Profit), Daithí Mac An Mháistír (éirígí) and Eddie Glackin (Communist Party of Ireland).


Pearce Doherty - Sinn Féin

Veronica Cawley - Labour

Colm Bryce - People Before Profit

Daithí Mac An Mháistír - Eirigi

Eddie Glackin - Communist Party of Ireland

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Scarecrow and the Tinman - How Sinn Féin can fill a gap the Irish left ignored.

When Lyman Frank Baum wrote 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz', a fairy tale with many political undertones, he had in mind the hard-working farmer of the mid-west who like Dorothy's father toiled from day to night but never knew joy. Baum was a politically active man with a progressive agenda who wanted to see the scarecrow(the struggling farmer) unite with the tin man (the industrial worker) so that they could go to Emerald City (representing big business which is ultimately exposed as a fraud and sham) meet the wizard and solve their problems. Ultimately they must look to themselves if they are to achieve anything. The cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan the democratic presidential candidate who sought to push the eastern, financial interests (Emerald city) to move from the gold standard alone (the yellow road) to gold and silver so that the economic burden of the industrial worker and farmer might be eased. Unfortunately he failed to unite both groups of workers. Ultimately the tin man and the scarecrow; the industrial worker and the farmer, must look to themselves if they are to achieve anything

Interesting as this is as an insight into 19th century America and the desire to unite rural and urban worker into one common cause in that country the focus of this site is Ireland. So how successful has the agenda of making common cause between the scarecrow and the tin man in Ireland been.

Firstly lets consider the agri-sector in Ireland

A quick historical survey shows that as early as the 18th century the White Boys and Ribbonism were aggressively defending small farmers against the deprivations of landlords and tithe collectors. Its a radicalism that was later exported to American coal fields in the form of the Molly Maguires. JJ Lee, the noted historian, has commented that Fenianism built on and channelled this energy and radicalism. Later in the 19th century the Land League represented the first major reversal of British hegemony in the southern part of the country as Irish farmer agitation began to force the pace of change. Indeed Eoin O'Brien comments that when the industrial workers had become pliant it was the rural workers, the farmers, who were the cutting edge of radicalism in this state - a radicalism that would later see them take arms, as they had so frequently done in Irish history.

But this is not an eulogy to the rural workers. Instead its intended to consider whether the rural working class has been afforded suitable political representation in southern Ireland.

Fianna Fail established a dominant hold in the 1930s across rural southern Ireland that has not yet been broken. As other parties failed to move FF established its hegemony with the smaller farmers, those households who struggled from day to day in poverty despite supposedly being men of property. However it was shown in the 40s and 50s that those self-same small farmers were keen for better representation as Clann na Talmhan and Clann na Poblachta gave them a voice other than FF. The left had shown some interest in representing the small farmer but this faded. Indeed by 1981 it had faded so drastically that The Worker's party could write in 1981 that Irish farmers were practically delinquent, with western farmers the worst mind you, because they were choosing what to grow and how much despite having contracts with 4 sugar factories. Indeed the Workers party commented that if anyone had the right to complain it was the companies. Incredibly in 1981 the average Farming wage was 70% of the average industrial wage. What ideological fancy led the WP to condemn people earning less than the average industrial wage in favour of the sugar companies. Its clear that the man of property, that poor fool farming in the west with 35 acres, earning less than the average industrial wage could see no reason to vote WP or to vote left. He was effectively condemned to voting either for Fine Gael or Fianna Fail. Treated by the Workers party as if he were a 19th century landlord the small farmer earning one of the smallest wages in the south had no choice but to throw his lot in with the big parties.

Lets fast forward today to 2009. Unfortunately it appears that some progressive Irish parties make the same mistake as the Workers party with one of them commenting that the Govt. need to stop subsidising the rich and instead tax them. Amazingly it includes all farmers in this bracket along with investors and business owners. So are they right to say farmers are in the same league as business owners and investors?

Well some farmers would fall into that bracket. However today the small farmer is much worse off when compared to the average industrial wage. Indeed today the farmer's average income has fallen to about 50% of the Average Industrial Wage. The Socialist Party may consider the farmer in the same league as big business but with an average farm income of €19,687 in the southern state the small farmer would be excused for wishing it were so. Indeed our western farmer so roundly condemned by the Worker's Party would today be living a fine life on his average income of just €11,463. But what about the EU farm subsidies? Well, the bottom 68% of Farmers
received a Single Farm Payment of €4,057. How they must have lived it up in the Celtic tiger years on such largess?

It would appear that elements of the left have made a terrible mistake when it comes to viewing the position of Irish farmers. Almost as big a mistake as if we were to argue that because a senior manager in Tesco may make multiples of the average wage that s/he is the same as the minimum wage stacker of shelves. They are all retail workers so should we regard them as all the same. Should it not be argued that yes indeed some Farmers belong to the rich but most dont and many of them, numbering the tens of thousands, are in a worse financial position than the average industrial worker.

Imagine a state with manual workers who earn less than the minimum wage, who work longer hours (up to 60 hours a week) than most other industrial workers and who are by far the most militant block of workers in that state - regularly coming out in force, defying the political establishment to express its opinion, loudly protesting on streets and at public gatherings and blocking and fighting large companies that are seeking to make them price takers rather than price makers. That state is southern Ireland. Those people are natural voters for the left you would think. However the smallest and poorest of them are politically poorly represented, forced to work with the representatives of parties like FF and FG who instinctively look to largest of farmers who needs the least support. The small farmer has no choice. Who else is fighting their corner.

Its been years since Labour last had a policy paper on farmers. Will the small farmer vote for Labour? The Socialist party thinks that all farmers are fat cats. Will the small Donegal farmer, with his €11k each year vote SP?
So how do we fit in. Are we in a position to become the left wing party that stands for the small farmer. Are we the left wing party who recognises that in south Ireland 70% of the population live in predominantly rural areas. Can we be the party who recognises that a man earning 11k needs to be represented and damn the nonsense of calling him a man of property as if he were a landed aristocrat.

I recently took the time to read Martin Ferris' report on the future of farming and fishing in the west. While its a depressing document in that it highlights how this state is failing so much of the west, and with McCarthy's cuts its going to be worse, it also focuses the attention on how this party is defending those small farmers and rural workers who are really hurting. Its a good document and having read it I am proud that this party is willing to fight for the small guy, rural and urban. Pearse Doherty also did a very thorough document on social and economic inequality in the the west.

The unnatural alliance whereby small farmers are forced through lack of progressive representation to ally with the biggest farmers and vote for Fine Gail and Fianna Fail, parties which fail them every election and condemn them to lower and lower wages must end.

Sinn Fein can split the small farmer and fisherman, struggling to survive, away from the big parties. Sinn Fein can represent the worker in the towns and factories but it can equally represent the worker in the countryside.

Sinn Fein is going to get a lot bigger in both countryside and state. If we have the courage of our convictions then we can unite the small farmer and the urban worker. The 19th Century US democratic party failed to unite the oppressed farmer with the oppressed industrial worker. But then they weren't Sinn Fein.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Councillors are part of the vanguard of our movement

Below are parts of a piece from this weeks An Phoblacht and it is written by CLLR PÁDRAIG Mac LOCHLAINN, Chairperson National Councillors’ Forum.

To me this is an important article given the internal debate going on about the development of the party in the South following the last local elections. For me this article points the way forward for the party. It agrees with Treasa Ferris when she talks about a need to focus on local politics and it agrees with her that local councillors are vital to getting the message of the party out to the people. However, it also mentions the need for those councillors to be getting out the left republican message and for them to receive the correct support in doing that. To me this is vital. The party should focus on supporting our local representatives and building our local base, rather than overly focusing on attepts to get high profile individuals on a national scale. If we get the representation at local level, then national representation will follow.

I believe working on a local level is the way forward for the party as it will allow us to build the links with other groups on the left, who are so unwilling to do so on a national level. Also it will help us get around the obvious media bias that exists against us on a national level.


THE Sinn Féin National Councillors’ Forum is the collective voice of 232 elected representatives across 31 of the 32 counties.

Of that total, 120 represent communities across the 26 Counties. To state the 26-County figure is not to be partitionist but to highlight it to republicans so that they remember it the next time they read or listen to the prattling of a ‘neutral’ commentator or journalist about how the 26-County state is some sort of a political desert for Sinn Féin.

As Gerry Adams declared at the recent annual conference of the forum: our councillors play a crucial role because they are the public interface that the vast majority of our people have with Sinn Féin. I would take that a step further and argue that our councillors are a crucial part of the vanguard of this movement, particularly in the 26 Counties, where our numbers in the Oireachtas are small. Councillors deal with the bread and butter issues that are the foundation of all republican politics. The hallmark of Sinn Féin councillors is that we have sought to empower our communities rather than engage in self-serving clientelism.

However, I feel that we can and must improve cohesion and co-operation between our councillors in the time ahead to advance our republican objectives. We need to ensure that we continue to work together to advance the all-Ireland agenda. Much good work has been done on the council cross-border groups but there is no room for complacency.

In the 26 Counties, our councillors are the frontline for advancing our politics in the absence of Sinn Féin parliamentary representation in 39 of the 43 Dáil constituencies. It is crucial that our party ensures that those councillors who are tasked with representing us on local radios and in local newspapers across the state are properly resourced and trained in all areas of policy.

They, in turn, must take the mantle of leadership seriously and ensure that they are fully engaged with evolving Sinn Féin policies and fully participating in the party’s national campaigns.

While Sinn Féin are often squeezed out of the national media, due to our small numbers in the Oireachtas, our local councillors cannot be ignored. This is a crucial point and more attention must be paid to the importance of local media in communicating Sinn Féin’s message to local communities.

More people engage with local newspapers and radio than with the national media. Therefore, we must ensure that our local councillors are covered regularly in their local media in a strategic and methodical fashion.

As I said at the outset, the 26 Counties is no political desert for Sinn Féin but much remains to be done and our 120 councillors and Udarás member will be central to any party-building strategy. It is clear that we have to punch above our political weight in many parts of the state.

This is the time for Left republican politics. This is the time for the commonsense politics of one all-Ireland economy.

The bible of unbridled capitalism beloved by the two major political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, has backfired spectacularly. It is clear that the reckless pursuit of greed and the over-reliance of taxation on the construction and consumption bubble has crippled the 26-County state. Our elected representatives must be prominent as the champions of those multitudes failed by those in political power and facing real hardship.

We must confront the agenda of cuts to crucial public services and defend the vulnerable in our society. We must intelligently articulate an alternative vision and win the battle for hearts and minds in our townlands, villages, towns, and cities.

None of this is easy but we have to have the desire to win and the belief in our Left republican analysis. Most importantly, we have to believe in each other. Comradeship has never been more important for Irish republicans. We are at a political crossroads. We either become despondent and dance to the tune of our political opponents or we take inspiration from what has been achieved and rededicate ourselves to take the next steps forward. And if we are seeking inspiration, where better to start than a Sinn Féin forum of 232 elected representatives in 31 of the 32 counties?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gerry Adams on the way in which the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrew's Agreement can lead to a reunification of Ireland.

Below are comments made by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Swansea. Here he outlines what he sees as the way forward in terms of achieving a United Ireland and the way in which the Good Friday and St Andrew's Agreements can help (and indeed have helped) in this process.

Clearly within such a short set of comments there are many areas that need to be addressed in greater detail, but as an overview of Sinn Féin's policy on how to achieve reunification it is an interesting article. Yet as we all now the devil is in the detail.


I want to begin by thanking the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly for the invitation to speak here today.

Over the years this Assembly, through its committees and plenary meetings, has created a context in which parliamentarians from Ireland and Britain are able to come together and discuss issues of mutual importance.

This Assembly especially allows TDs and MLAs, from the two elected bodies on the island of Ireland, to come together to discuss all-Ireland co-operation and related subjects.

While this institution, through the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, predates the Good Friday Agreement, there can be no doubt that the focus of much of your work is rooted in that Agreement and the political institutions that emerged from it.

This is very important.

The Good Friday Agreement is a unique document.

It was born out of centuries of British involvement in Irish affairs. This resulted in conflict, communal division and sectarianism, the partition of the island of Ireland, the partition of Ulster, and the creation of a unionist dominated state in the north eastern part of our country.

Partition was not just a line on the map; it was the construction of a system of political apartheid which relied on discrimination and denied democracy and justice.

Resolving the many complexities resulting from this was never going to be easy.

The Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement put in place mechanisms and arrangements which seek to do that.

These include political matters, institutional arrangements, human rights, equality, policing, justice, language and culture issues.

As well as the crucial issue of constitutional matters.

And it does all of this in an all-Ireland context.

These Agreements are also significant instruments of change; real change in real ways in peoples daily lives.

For this reason elements of political unionism opposed to this new dispensation seek to minimise, to dilute and to delay its potential or to oppose it entirely.

So, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement continue to face huge challenges, not least in the failure of the British government to fulfil its obligations, for example, on Irish language rights.

But for the purpose of today’s remarks let me focus on the issue that has dominated politics from before partition – the constitutional issue! That is the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

The Good Friday Agreement clearly sets out the political realities.

It recognises that it is for the people of the island of Ireland to determine our own future – to exercise our self-determination.

In the event that a majority of people in the north prefer a sovereign United Ireland then the British government will legislate for it.

The agreement also sets out the mechanism by which this will happen – by means of a ‘border poll’.

So, there you have it.

The people living on the island of Ireland can determine our own future, and–when a majority in the north and a majority in the south opt for Irish re-unification, the constitutional process to bring that about will kick in.

The Good Friday Agreement therefore provides for a constitutional route to Irish unity.

That is a significant achievement.

Sinn Féin seeks to build on this by:

Working in partnership with others of like mind in Ireland to build political support for Irish reunification.

There is a particular responsibility for all parties in the Oireachtas and particularly for the government in Dublin to actively work for reunification.

We have to persuade unionists – or at least a section of unionism – that such a development makes political, social and economic sense – that it serves their self-interest.

There is already a growing awareness of the importance to our future prosperity and growth, of the all-Ireland economy and of all-Ireland connections in health, education, energy, the environment and much more.

These are commonsense arrangements which must be built upon.

Sinn Féin is also currently engaged with unionists and especially with disadvantaged unionist working class areas, to a greater extent than ever before.

We need to address the genuine fears and concerns of unionists in a meaningful way.

We need to look at what they mean by their sense of Britishness and be willing to explore and to be open to new concepts.

We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland.

In other words it needs to be their United Ireland.

So, there are many issues for republicans and unionists to talk about. However it is worth noting that within the current British system, unionists are fewer than 2 per cent of the population; they cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs.

As 20 per cent of a new Ireland, unionists will be able to assert their full rights and entitlements and exercise real political power and influence.

So, Sinn Féin’s vision of a new Ireland is of a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership; an Ireland in which there will be respect for cultural diversity, and a place in which there is political, social, economic and cultural equality.

There is no desire on the part of Irish republicans to conquer or humiliate unionists.

There can be no place for revenge in the thinking or vocabulary of Irish Republicanism.

Nationalists and republicans want our rights, but we do not seek to deny the rights of anybody else. The real distinction that we have always drawn is between justice and privilege. Justice for all and privilege for none.

This means, for example, that Orange marches will have their place, in a new Ireland albeit on the basis of respect and cooperation.

But the Irish question, as it has been described over the years by some, is not simply one for the Irish.

There is not only a democratic requirement on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled, there is a moral imperative.

It is one thing saying that unionists should not be frogmarched into a united Ireland; it is another to adopt the position of silence in the face of whether or not a united Ireland should come into being, in whatever negotiated form that will entail.

The peoples of Britain have a duty to themselves, to unionists in particular, to the Irish in general, and even to the world, to stand up and speak their opinion on the issue of the reunification of Ireland.

I believe that the economic and political dynamics in Ireland today make Irish reunification a realistic and realisable goal in a reasonable period of time.

I invite the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly to join in this historic endeavour.

We have to persuade the British government to change its policy from one of upholding the union to one of becoming a persuader for Irish unity.

This also involves persuading the other political representatives of the peoples of these islands – whether in Scotland or Wales or the North of England or London or the Isle of Man or Guernsey, that their interests are also served by helping the people of Ireland achieve reunification.

There are also common sense economic and social and environmental and health and many other reasons why Irish reunification makes sense over partition.

In reality the border is more than just an inconvenience.

It is an obstacle to progress and while its adverse affects are most clearly felt in the communities that straddle the border, it also impacts negatively throughout the island.

The reality is that the economy of the North is too small to exist in isolation.

The economies of both parts of the island are interlinked and interdependent.

The delivery of public services is restricted and inefficient.

There are two competing industrial development bodies seeking inward investment, with no coordination in supporting local industries.

We have two arts councils and two sports councils and three tourists’ bodies.

This is not efficient.

There are some who suggest that because we live in a period of severe economic difficulty that Irish reunification should be put off for the foreseeable future.

In fact the opposite is the case.

There is now a need, more than ever, for the island economy to be brought into being in the fullest sense, and for the political and administrative structures to be instituted with that in mind.

Many in the business community, north and south, already recognise this fact.

And all the indications are that the European Union also understands how the needs of Ireland can best be met by treating it as an island rather than as two entities on an island.

Geography does not necessarily determine politics, but neither can it be ignored in assessing what is the most effective approach to meeting the challenges of economic development and satisfying the needs of communities.

The Good Friday agreement is an opportunity to develop understanding and to advocate rationally, the benefits of Irish reunification.

The institutional elements of the Good Friday Agreement and of St. Andrews are therefore important mechanisms to be built upon.

The Good Friday Agreement also proposed the establishment of an All-Ireland Civic Forum and an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum.

An All-Ireland Civic Forum could offer a very important input for citizens throughout the island to discuss problems of a common nature.

It could also enable a greater level of mutual understanding to develop.

As for an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum, the important work of this body provides ample evidence of the benefits that would derive from the establishment of such a body.

So, my friends if I was to reduce all of these remarks to one sentence it would be to repeat what I have said earlier; there is a democratic requirement and moral imperative on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled.

This means initiating and supporting measures to bring about the reunification of the people of Ireland."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Are working class kids just thick? Or do we need to really take a radical look at how to tackle educational disadvantage

A friend of mine passed on this article to me regarding a radical functioning policy initiative to tackle the chronic underachievement of working class kids in the school system. This problem is as bad here as it is in many countries throughout the world, but politicians are unwilling to really attack the problem.

Sinn Féin in the North have certainly made efforts to try and make changes, but the experience of England is that the removal of the 11+ will not on its own solve the problems faced by working class kids. A more radical approach is required if we truly wish to see children from predominantly working class areas reaching their full potential.

Anyway below is a large chunk of the article. if you wish to read it in full go to


Did you know that there are more children getting into Oxbridge every year from the pool of 300 kids at Eton than from the 300,000 kids (in England) on free school meals. Either you believe those Etonians are born smarter – an absurd proposition – or our school system is failing poor children on a vast scale. How many great minds are we allowing to atrophy just because they weren't born to wealth?

It doesn't have to be like this. A far better system is possible; we just need to follow the evidence. And the road-map runs through – of all places – North Carolina. Something extraordinary has been happening in the state's schools over the past few decades, and the best guide to this experiment is an important new book by Professor Gerald Grant called Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.

He looks at two very similar cities – Syracuse in New York State, and Raleigh in North Carolina. They are both 1950s boomtowns turned to 1980s ghost towns. It's the same-old, sad-old story: industry shrivelled and the white middle classes stampeded to the suburbs, leaving behind shell-cities scarred by poverty. Yet there is today an extraordinary gap between these cities. In Syracuse, only 25 per cent of 12-year-olds can read, write or do arithmetic to the appropriate basic level – while in Raleigh, it is 91 per cent. Almost all of the schools in Syracuse fail; none of the schools in Raleigh do. What are they doing differently?

He looks at two very similar cities – Syracuse in New York State, and Raleigh in North Carolina. They are both 1950s boomtowns turned to 1980s ghost towns. It's the same-old, sad-old story: industry shrivelled and the white middle classes stampeded to the suburbs, leaving behind shell-cities scarred by poverty. Yet there is today an extraordinary gap between these cities. In Syracuse, only 25 per cent of 12-year-olds can read, write or do arithmetic to the appropriate basic level – while in Raleigh, it is 91 per cent. Almost all of the schools in Syracuse fail; none of the schools in Raleigh do. What are they doing differently?

Raleigh's governors decided to do something bold and unconventional: they looked to the scientific evidence. In 1966, Professor James Coleman was commissioned by the White House to conduct the largest study, to that time, of what makes good pupils succeed and bad pupils fail. After years of on-the-ground analysis, he came up with something nobody expected. He found that the single biggest factor determining whether you do well at school or not isn't your parents, your teachers, your school buildings or your genes. It was, overwhelmingly, the other kids sitting in the classroom with you. If a critical mass of them are demotivated, pissed off and disobedient, you won't learn much. But if a critical mass of them are hard-working, keen and stick to the rules, you will probably learn. Watch any 10-year-old: they are little machines for snuffling out the sensitivities of their peer group, and conforming to them.

Facing their schools' failure in the 1980s, the Raleigh school board returned to this evidence and tried to puzzle out: how should it change the way we run our schools? Touring the schools, they could see why the research was right. Children from poor families need more help than kids from rich families. They are more likely to have chaotic home lives, less likely to have the importance of education drilled into them from birth, and they have lower expectations for themselves.

In small numbers, in an ordered environment, these poor children can quickly be brought up to the level of the rest, and indeed exceed them in many cases. But when they form the majority of a school's pupils, the teachers can't cope, discipline breaks down, and learning stops. A school for poor children soon becomes a poor school.

So they formulated a bold – and strikingly simple – solution. They wouldn't allow any school, by law, to have more than 40 per cent of its children on free school meals, or more than 25 per cent of children who were a grade below their expected level in reading or maths. Suddenly, the children who needed the most help wouldn't be lumped together where their problems would become insurmountable; they would be broken up and fanned out across the educational system. Raleigh merged its school system with white suburban Wake County, so they became one entity, sharing pupils. In order to soothe suburban suspicion at this change, Raleigh turned a third of its inner-city schools into specialist academies, offering excellent music or drama or language specialisms. Soon, children were bussing in both directions every morning, in and out of the suburbs.

Many conservatives savaged the plan as "social engineering" and said it was doomed to fail. Some parents were angry, and a few decamped for the private school system – until the results came in. Within a decade, Raleigh went from one of the worst-performing districts in America to one of the best. The test scores of poor kids doubled, while those of wealthier children also saw a slight increase. Teenage pregnancies, crime and high school drop-out rates fell substantially.

It's not hard to see why. Each school had a core majority who respected the rules and valued education – and the other kids normalised to their standards. Those who found it tough could now be given special attention, because they weren't any longer surrounded by a mass of equally troubled kids. Today, 94 per cent of parents in Raleigh say they are happy with their child's education. School boards supporting this integration keep getting re-elected.

Raleigh succeeded because it built genuinely comprehensive schools: in which rich, middle-class and poor kids learned together. In Britain, we tell ourselves we have built "comprehensives" – but, except in a few enclaves, we have done nothing of the sort.

We allocate school places according to how close you live to a school. This immediately creates a social apartheid where middle-class children have successful schools in leafy suburbs, while poorer children are ring-fenced in sink schools and end up at Tesco at 16 with few useable skills. (Rich children are creamed off entirely into private schools.) Comprehensivisation didn't fail; it didn't happen.

There are only a few areas in Britain with genuinely mixed schools, like Grampian – and they get the best overall results. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Kent, where children from the middle and the rich are creamed off into grammar schools in which just one per cent of kids are on free school meals. They have the worst overall results in the country.

So we know how to make schools work: integrate them. Occasionally, our politicians take a tiny step that brings us closer to this. The Labour council in Brighton allocates school places by lottery; the Tories say they will abandon catchment areas, letting a few poor kids slip through. But both only tinker at the extreme social segregation that crowbars apart the educational system.

Integration is a good policy for bleak recession times since it delivers dramatic improvements at little extra cost. Raleigh actually spends less than the US national average on its schools, and 25 per cent less per pupil than failing Syracuse. In the long term, integration actually saves us a fortune in welfare payments and prevented crime.

Yes, the right will scream at first that it is "an attack on the middle class". In fact, it is a great compliment to the middle class: it wants to use their children and their values as the sun around which every child's education revolves. Yes, some parents will scream that they don't want their kids being taught alongside "chavs" and "pikeys". This should be called out bluntly – it is bigotry.

A democracy is based on a bargain: every child gets a chance to succeed, whatever their background. Today, we are breaking our deal. We are leaving millions of children to fail, just because their parents didn't have money. Do we want to be a country where our children are sorted at five into different playgrounds according to Daddy's bank account? Do we want to be an place where rich children only glimpse poor children from the car window as they are driven to their better, plusher school, and their better, plusher lives? Or do we want something better for our kids?

Our politicians insist that "we're all in this together". This will only be true if – at last, and at least – our children go to school together.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Outrageous Fortunes - by Eoin Ó Broin

Below is a piece from this weeks An Phoblacht from Eoin Ó Broin.


IT really takes something to get me angry these days.

In a world of greed and corruption, the impropriety of John O Donoghue’s expense claims or the political opportunism of the Green Party just seem so run of the mill.
Even NAMA and its outrageous €50 billion risk to the taxpayer doesn’t make me angry. What would you expect from a Fianna Fáil government?

But one story that did make me angry last week was the announcement of RTÉ’s top earners.

Pat Kenny’s salary for 2008 was €950,976. That’s €28,000 more than his 2007 salary and €100,000 up on 2006.

Gerry Ryan wasn’t far behind, on €629,865, while Marian Finucane received €570,000, an increase of almost €100,000 on 2007.

Meanwhile, RTÉ golden boy Ryan Tubridy has got a whopping €200,000 pay rise since 2006; last year he got €533,333.

And the more pedestrian Joe Duffy and Eamon Dunphy scored €408,889 and €328,051, both up considerably on 2007.

All of these people earned more than Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. They even earned more than our overpaid Taoiseach Brian Cowen whose salary at €232,572 is higher than his British and US counterparts.

More significantly for this writer, the RTÉ high-flyers received between 10 and 27 times the average industrial wage of €38,000 and somewhere between 10 and 20 times the pay of most teachers, nurses, gardaí, and other frontline public sector workers.
What does this say about our society and the value it places on people?

ARE Pat Kenny, Gerry Ryan, Marian Finucane or Golden Boy Tubridy really worth 15 nurses or schoolteachers?

Are they really 17 times more valuable that the average worker?
Is their contribution to society really so much more valuable than literacy tutors, community workers, or carers for people with disabilities?

Of course not!

This is public money, paid by RTÉ licence-holders and general taxpayers. Paying such high salaries for these people is a disgrace, not only because of the sums of money involved but because of what it says about who we are as a society.

Each of these broadcasters should be publicly ashamed of their salaries. They are leeching off the public purse, promoting a culture of greed.

However, the real outrage is that RTÉ management considers such high salaries appropriate and that Government willingly allows our money to be wasted in this way.
The case for a cap on public sector pay has never been more compelling than in this case. If Pat Kenny, Gerry Ryan, Marian Finucane or Ryan Tubridy want to be paid such obscene salaries, let them emigrate.

And while we are at it, lets not stop at broadcasters. Let’s make the argument for a maximum salary in the public sector and for pay scales to be graded on the basis of social value.

The argument that you have to pay such salaries to attract talent and skill simply no longer holds any credibility. After all, look at what we pay our bankers and Cabinet ministers.

P.S Thanks to Martin Ferris for posting this link on facebook. Eoin had a letter in the Irish Times concerning Brendan Drumm's bonus.


– If €70,000 is deemed an appropriate performance-related bonus for Brendan Drumm’s failure to reform our health system, imagine the size of the bonus he would get if he managed to improve the operation of that health system. – Yours, etc,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Matt Carthy - On how and why Sinn Féin must get stronger.

Below is part of a piece taken from Matt Carthy's blog (Sinn Féin member of Carrickmacross Town Council and Monaghan County Council. Chairperson of County Monaghan Sinn Féin.) and was written following the Lisbon defeat. To me this section is the most important in terms of how Sinn Féin moves forward in the coming years.

We clearly are not making the progress we wished to see in the 26 counties and the party needs to look at what we can do about it. It would be great if people could read the piece below and comment as to how they feel the party should tackle the issues raised by Matt.


For Sinn Féin’s part it is clear that we simply do not have credibility among a sufficient proportion of the electorate. Clearly the anti-Sinn Féin bias in the media holds a massive sway. Similarly, other than Lisbon itself, nothing unites the establishment political parties more than their hatred for republicans. But we can’t just keep whinging about these things. We have to accept them as a given and move on. The experience in Monaghan, for example, is that when Sinn Féin get a substantial mandate the other parties are less likely to spend their time attacking us for fear of missing out on transfers.

We have to get off our high horse; the reason Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour can direct so much venom towards Sinn Féin isn’t just because we go against the cosy cartel that has existed in this state since its foundation. It’s also because they know they can. We simply aren’t strong enough to combat it.

So, we need to get stronger. That means building a better organisation. It means that some of those people who have left our party in recent years must be encouraged to come back. We also need to attract thousands of new members and accept the fact that not all members will feel comfortable in the traditional cumann structure that the party operates. We need to alter the definition of what a Sinn Féin member is and agree that it will not always be necessary for someone to attend three meetings a week and go leafleting, campaigning etc for the other four evenings to meet the criteria.

We also need to build and support an alternative media. The failure of the Daily Ireland initiative was disappointing. I sincerely hope that somebody, or a collection of individuals, will at some point in the future launch an alternative progressive national daily newspaper. In the mean-time there is a need to increase the level of other means of media such as newsletters and on-line methods such as social networking sites and you-tube.

It is only by building a strong Republican party delivering a strong Republican message can we hope to win the battle for Irish hearts and minds. This is a historic project that will take many years to achieve. It certainly cannot be measured in election cycles or election results although these will always be useful indicators as to the success, or otherwise, of our efforts.

As a first step we need all progressive political groupings and parties, whether coming primarily from a socialist or republican perspective, to work together on issues of mutual concern. They/ We should each start concentrating their/ our energies on the conservative forces in our society, of which there are many. It is draining to see progressive parties and organisations attacking Sinn Féin rather than joining us in tackling the greatest challenges facing our nation i.e. partition, poverty and inequality.

There is a large amount of work to do in the struggle for a United Democratic Irish Republic. A battle was lost last weekend; and the hard work has only started.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Danny Morrison's perspective on the achievements of republicanism in the North

The piece below is taken from a section of an address by Dabby Morrison to the Planet K conference in Venice. His speech was called Borders, Identity and Language and can be read in full on his website and it is well worth a read with poetic references to the fact that historically, displacement, dispossession, bullying by superior powers is part of the sad and tragic history of humankind.


My grandparents were born in an Ireland that was united, where there was no border. Of course, the people who dominated politics, the land, the economy and the military were the minority who originally came from our neighbouring island, Britain, dispossessed the natives and settled in Ireland. They were Protestants, the native Irish were Catholics, and these Protestants believed that their interests lay in union with Britain. Initially, the British, or English, banned and tried to stamp out the Catholic religion because it was linked to Irish nationalism. Later, it was Irish Republicanism, the IRA and Sinn Fein, which Britain tried to suppress.

As the British parliamentary system began to be reformed and the right to vote was increasingly extended to Irish Catholics the Unionists/Protestant minority realised that democracy threatened their privileged position.

In the war of independence the IRA fought the British and there were negotiations in 1921. But Britain then decided to partition Ireland and an artificial state was created – Northern Ireland. It was a sectarian state handed over to Protestants. Catholics, who made up one third of the population, suffered discrimination and violence. They were second-class citizens in their own country. Their votes did not count. Many of them had to emigrate to find work.

The border - as borders notoriously do – cut through people’s homes and farms. At the home of a friend of mine in south Armagh, the border ran through his bedroom which meant that when he goes to bed his head is in the Republic of Ireland and his feet are in the North of Ireland!

When I was young, and growing up in the North of Ireland, it was an offence to fly the Irish national flag, the Tricolour. We were not allowed to celebrate our culture. We were not allowed to march in Belfast city centre. Even our marches in our own areas to commemorate our patriotic dead were banned and attacked by the police. Irish sporting events were not broadcast on local BBC radio or television. The unionist government was hostile to all things Irish, including the Irish language.

The Irish language had been in decline for a long time, due to restrictions under British rule and, of course, the language suffered a devastating blow in the wake of the Irish famine in the mid-nineteenth century when a million people died and two million other people emigrated to escape disease and poverty.

But there were those in the Irish language movement who kept the native language alive, even in the North.

The greatest boost to the Irish language in the past 25 years actually came from the prisons. There, Bobby Sands and his comrades who died on hunger strike, and other IRA prisoners learnt and spoke Irish so that their jailors would not understand what they were saying. When prisoners were released they taught their children Irish. Irish schools were opened and have now flourished so that there is an important revival and even in West Belfast, where I live, there is a quarter in the Falls Road dedicated to promoting the daily use of Irish in coffee shops, in business and transactions.

As a result of the peace process and the Belfast Agreement which established a power-sharing government, there is financial support for the Irish language. In fact, the Education Minister is Caitriona Ruane, a fluent speaker and a member of Sinn Fein.

When I consider other struggles for freedom and nationhood that are still continuing I realise how lucky we in the IRA were. Although the complete independence of our country has yet to be achieved we were able, firstly, through a peaceful civil rights movement, then through armed struggle when peaceful protest had gone to its limits, to force our enemy to the negotiating table.

It was a long, hard struggle and involved many sacrifices. The dead were many. The injuries many. If you add up the total time spent in prison by our men and women since 1970 it comes to over 100,000 years.

All that suffering and death was completely unnecessary: the deaths of civilians, British soldiers, police officers and IRA Volunteers. It was unnecessary because had Britain and the unionists given at the beginning which they were forced to give at the end then there would have been no conflict - or at least no conflict of the magnitude which took place.

What Britain refused to do was to talk to us, was to engage with us. It claimed that to enter into talks was to give legitimacy to its enemies, without realising that what interests and is important to those engaged in struggle is justice for their people and not for the enemy to recognise them as freedom fighters in some sort of perverse ‘beauty competition’.

There is nothing to lose by talking. But by refusing to talk, governments and states protract conflicts and usually calculate that to delay the inevitable is to their advantage – that their opponents will be weaker and will accept less than what they have been fighting for or what they are due.

Our peace process in Ireland is still going on even though we have a power-sharing government which includes former IRA guerrillas. We are still linked to Britain but we are also linked to the rest of Ireland, even though there are two separate economies and political cultures which are each eighty years old and which it is going to take time to change.

But we have changed things to the extent that the state I now live in is not the state I grew up in. Opportunity is open to all our people. We got rid of the unionist police force, the RUC, and have a new policing service. The British army is no longer in occupation on our streets There remains a lot of work to be done – in community relations and in reconciliation, in social and economic harmonisation - and although there are some Irish republicans who oppose the new deal they are in a minority and do not have sufficient support to affect the overall situation.

Recently, a friend of mine from Canada was visiting us and we were driving from Belfast to County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. My wife and I decided to play a game with her. It was very simple. She was to guess when we crossed the border. Two hours later we arrived on the west coast of Ireland, looking out over the Atlantic, and she asked, “I thought you said we had to cross the border?”

We laughed. She hadn’t noticed. Nor could she.

There is no marking. No customs posts. No British army barbed wire checkpoints. Of course, the border and partition still preoccupies and obsesses the minds of many unionists, but the border, as a frontier of divide, as a bulwark against the Irishness of this island no longer exists.

For those still in struggle, still fighting for independence and freedom and an end to outside interference we Irish republicans offer our well wishes, offer our solidarity and can share with you the lessons we have learnt in the struggle for peace and justice.