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Northern Ireland: The Need For A New Direction

 

                            President:  The Baroness Blood   

 

Northern Ireland:  the Need for a New Direction

 

 

The on-going contention over parading reminds us that the Northern Ireland problem is still very much with us.  The sectarianism underlying Northern Ireland politics, which the parading issue reflects, presents a challenge to the Labour Party.  Is the Party taking its responsibilities, as a prospective party of government for Northern Ireland, sufficiently seriously?  Is there an urgent need for a new direction?

 

The Party is rightly proud of its historic role in negotiating the Good Friday, St Andrews and Hillsborough agreements. Together, these have laid the basis for the establishment of the power-sharing Stormont executive and the North-South and East–West institutions. However, these developments were never intended to be the end of the process and it is clear from recent events that the Party cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

 

If it is to preserve its achievements on Good Friday and subsequently, the party must address the issue of sectarianism in Northern Ireland and take steps to combat it.  This ‘unfinished business’ is sufficiently serious for it to be an issue of party policy, rather than just one of party organisation.

 

We believe the best approach is through the development of cross-community Labour Party politics.  While Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, The Labour Party is an active and major participant in the politics and governance of Northern Ireland.  That participation must be normalised and democratised by developing Labour Party organisation and representation on the ground.

 

The Labour Party NEC is currently engaging in a consultative process with the Labour Party in Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland CLP), the Irish Labour Party and the SDLP about the possibility of running Labour Party candidates in Northern Ireland.  We need to be clear about why it is essential that we get a positive outcome to this process.

 

Under the Good Friday and subsequent agreements, Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK until such time as a majority vote to join with the Republic of Ireland.  It is generally agreed there is no possibility of this occurring in the short to medium-term future.  So Northern Ireland will have a Labour Government if we win the next general election.

 

However, no one in Northern Ireland will be able to vote for that government because the Labour Party does not allow Labour Party candidates to stand in Northern Ireland.  This is true for Westminster, European Parliament, Stormont Assembly and local government elections.   Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK, but its people are unable to vote for the Labour Party which aspires to form the government of the UK.  They are, in effect, disenfranchised by being denied Labour Party representation.  Labour Party electoral politics are suppressed in what is a democratic outrage.

 

The effect of this is highly damaging.  In denying the Northern Ireland electorate Labour Party representation, the party is driving voters into the hands of the local parties which are overwhelmingly communal and sectarian in composition.   Protestants tend to vote for Unionist parties; Catholics for Republican or Nationalist parties.  Thus the effect of the Labour Party electoral boycott is not neutral or benign.  It strengthens communal politics and contributes to the sort of tensions which spill out in disputes over parades and other matters.  It shifts the political focus away from ‘bread and butter’ Labour issues like jobs and housing.

 

A further aspect of the Labour Party boycott is that it is saying to people in part of the UK that they cannot properly participate in the national politics of the state that they live in.  It is condescendingly saying to people in Northern Ireland - you concentrate on your regional politics in your regional assembly through your regional political parties and leave proper politics to us.

 

Northern Ireland has been transformed since 1998.  Peace has transformed peoples’ lives for the better.   But is Labour’s current stance of continuing to suppress Labour Party politics in Northern Ireland going to preserve the peace?

 

Is the Labour Party going to say to people in Northern Ireland, look this is the best deal you are going to get in the UK?  You must continue being confined to your local provincial parties, with Stormont as the main focus of your political activity.  If you are a republican or nationalist you must accept that although you have formal equality under the Good Friday Agreement, the dominant party in Stormont will continue to be the largest Unionist Party.  You will not be able to get out of this provincial strait-jacket and participate in the wider party politics at Westminster.   With no prospect of a united Ireland, that is your political lot as far as the eye can see.  If you are a Protestant working class loyalist, you must continue to put up with your alienation and neglect under a party dominated by religious fundamentalists.

 

The objective political effect of this Labour Party boycott is to fuel a sectarian dynamic.  This feeds dissident republicanism and loyalist militancy.  It is necessary to state this quite bluntly, as nobody wants a return to war.

 

The party needs a new direction. The NEC must set in place a plan to end this discriminatory denial of the democratic rights of people in Northern Ireland and start contesting elections.

 

 

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                                The Labour Party in Northern Ireland

 

                                       Northern Ireland CLP                                                         

 

                                                               invites you to

 

                                     The Northern Ireland Fringe and Reception

 

                                              ‘Combatting Youth Unemployment’

 

Speakers:  Vernon Coaker MP   Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP    Steve Murphy  (Gen. Sec. UCATT)

 

                             Roberta Blackman-Woods MP     Jimmy Kelly (Sec. Unite Irish Region)

 

                                        Tuesday October 2nd, 2012,  5.45-7.45pm

 

                                 in  Jury’s Inn,  Great Bridgewater Street,  Manchester.

 

 

 

Contact:   NI CLP.  19 Church Road, Belfast  BT8 7AL.     Mob: 07715045985.        boydblack01@gmail.com                                  

 

                                                                                                                                       

 

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