Labour Party Northern Ireland The official LPNI website
- Labour Party politics suppressed
The Labour Party in Northern Ireland (LPNI) has over 2000 members and about 700 registered supporters. This is a massive increase of new members, with membership growing from 300 to 2300 in eighteen months. This increase was triggered to a large extent by the Leadership elections and Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigns. It illustrates the existing and latent support among the Northern Ireland public for the Labour Party, despite every official discouragement. It also shows the Northern Ireland public respond to developments in Labour Party politics, when they have the opportunity to participate in them.
The Labour Party is now one of the largest parties in Northern Ireland in terms of membership.
We are organised in a province-wide ‘CLP’ covering eighteen parliamentary constituencies and can take part in all internal Labour Party elections. We have a representative on the National Policy Forum. This year we are entitled to send 10 delegates to Annual Conference.
Yet Labour Party electoral politics are suppressed in Northern Ireland. The Labour Party NEC refuses us the right to run Labour Party candidates here. We are unable to vote for Labour Party candidates in any election: local council, Westminster General Elections, European Parliamentary elections, or Stormont Assembly elections.
In the recent Stormont Assembly elections in 2016 and 2017 and the General Election in June 2017 there were no Labour Party candidates. This has caused great frustration, anger and discontent especially among our new members and is the underlying reason for the emergence of a factional dispute on our EC.
To be denied the right to run Labour party candidates in key elections is a gross suppression of our basic democratic rights. We believe it is also an infringement of our human rights.
The absence of Labour Party candidates is a major contributory factor to our sectarian politics and to the underlying political instability in Northern Ireland.
- Representation not suppression
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, all parties in the North are signed up to the Peace Process and all are committed to the devolved institutions. Northern Ireland remains constitutionally part of the United Kingdom until such time as its people (and the people of the Republic of Ireland) choose otherwise in border poll referenda.
The Good Friday Agreement has thus taken the constitutional question out of the hands of the political parties and put it in the hands of the people, voting in a referendum. The Labour Party and LPNI do not take a view one way or another on this contentious issue, with individual members free to hold and express their own views.
Following the Good Friday Agreement, avowedly Irish nationalist and republican parties field candidates in United Kingdom elections and participate in the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly. So the political reality today, is that our society is shaped by UK government policy and a limited form of devolved governance, with an input from the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
For the foreseeable future, in General Elections, the Labour Party will campaign to be our Government at Westminster. And yet we are denied the right to vote for Labour Party candidates. We are disenfranchised by the party that boasts it is the party of equality and human rights.
In the absence of Labour Party candidates offering an alternative way forward, the Northern Ireland public are incentivised to vote predominantly for ethno-sectarian parties. Sectarianism and political extremism are reinforced and exacerbated.
Sinn Fein has shared power with the DUP and implemented Tory austerity policies here (despite claiming it is anti-austerity in the Republic of Ireland, where it is not currently in government). There are many members of LPNI who are Irish Republicans, but also socialists. They have joined the party to find ways of fighting austerity and Tory policies. These members and, indeed, all our members, should not be told they must wait for some deferred moment of national unification before they can exercise the basic democratic right to Labour Party representation.
There is also a Human Rights dimension to our case. In preventing its members living in Northern Ireland from standing in elections and denying us the right to vote Labour, the Labour Party is denying us the right to full participation in the electoral process. Under Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to full participation in the political process is recognised as a fundamental human right. International Human Rights law also decrees that people should have access on ‘general terms of equality’ to public service. It insists that elections must allow the ‘free expression of the will of the people’.
We argue that in refusing to stand candidates here the Labour Party is discriminating against us and distorting the ‘free expression of the will of the people’.
It is imperative that the Labour Party becomes Human Rights compliant and ends this discrimination.
People in Northern Ireland are also denied many other rights those living in the rest of the UK take for granted.
- The Abortion Act 1967 does not apply to Northern Ireland. Abortion is very highly restricted (See Appendix 1: Women’s Reproductive Rights).
- Northern Ireland is the only part of Britain and Ireland which does not have Equal Marriage. (See Appendix 2: LGBTQIA Equality).
There are members of LPNI who are nationalists and who have joined us because they feel let down on women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQIA issues by supposedly progressive parties such as the SDLP. They want to be able to vote for something more progressive, for the Labour Party.
We have members from loyalist or unionist backgrounds who feel they have been let down by the DUP and the UUP, both of whom willingly support Tory policies and oppose women’s rights and Equal Marriage.
We have many members who are Irish citizens but they wish to be able to vote Labour while they live in the UK.
Our members have no wish to identify in tribal terms in anyway. They just want their voices to be heard distinctively as anti-sectarian and cross-community Labour.
We have other members who are disabled or who are from an ethnic minority background and have found their home with us and urgently need representation. (See Appendix 3: Disability Equality and Appendix 4: Race Equality).
Ethnic minorities are growing rapidly in number in Northern Ireland.
They find Labour, with its anti-racist traditions, a congenial home because they feel uncomfortable in parties predominantly representing local tribal identities.
We also have strong links to and support from, the trade union movement (see next Section 3). For example, Unite the Union and the GMB are giving supportive evidence to this review.
This broad coalition of voices is denied the Labour representation they all crave. They cannot vote Labour. They, and the entire electorate in Northern Ireland, are effectively excluded from our democracy.
The Labour Party must be the party of inclusion, rather than exclusion. The case for Labour Party representation is not just a democratic one. It is fundamentally about delivering economic justice and building a better future for all in this part of Ireland on the basis of Labour values.
The experience of the last twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement has demonstrated the obstacles involved in trying to make progress through sectarian parties that find it difficult or impossible to cooperate with each other. If we are to build a more cohesive, integrated, sharing society capable of providing opportunity for all and tackling embedded disadvantage, this can best be done and we would say can only be done, through the medium of Labour Party politics.
Labour can unite the various strands in Northern Ireland society based around a widely shared belief in the Labour and trade union values of social justice, equality of opportunity, strength of community and rights matched with responsibilities.
To recap, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, until the people of Ireland consent in referenda held in both the North and the South, that we should leave the United Kingdom, we will have UK Government rule combined with diluted and circumscribed local autonomy with an Irish Government input. In the meantime, the Labour Party, as a prospective party of UK Government, is under a democratic imperative to seek a mandate in Northern Ireland.
Allowing Labour Party representation does not stand in the way of the people of Northern Ireland deciding someday that Ireland will be united. It simply gives them the democratic right to vote for the party of their political allegiance and for their government until such time as change may occur. Increasing democratic rights in Northern Ireland by allowing its people to vote Labour is no threat or impediment to Irish unification.
Someday the UK may well change its shape, but until such time it is important for us and for our and our children’s future, to have a full and equal say in how we are governed. That equality, and our ability to organise and unite all strands in society around it, is the basis of the Labour movement and our shared aim of transforming the world in which we live.
- Trade Unions and the Third Sector
There is a long and proud history of trade union activity in the north of Ireland. The TUC held its 1892 and 1927 Conferences in Belfast. In recent years, the ICTU has been holding its Annual Congress in Belfast on a regular basis (including in 2017).
Much of this trade union activity has been anti-sectarian during difficult times and has involved many Labour members and sympathisers.
Trade union density in Northern Ireland is high, at 34 per cent in 2015, higher than in Scotland where density is 32 per cent. Over 50 per cent of employees’ pay is affected by a collective agreement, the highest proportion anywhere in the UK.
There are 243,000 trade union members in the region (December 2015). Over seventy per cent of these are members of seventy eight different Great Britain – based unions. Most of them are members of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party. The four largest affiliated unions by membership are Unite the Union (43,129), UNISON (38,994), USDAW (18,079) and GMB (12,013).
In recent years the local unions, organised in the Northern Ireland Committee (NIC) of the ICTU, have been very active in a campaign of resistance to the austerity cuts imposed by the Westminster Government through the Stormont House Agreement. They also have been campaigning for a better and fairer alternative for working people and their communities.
Most significantly, given Labour’s refusal to run candidates, 37,457 local members have ‘contracted in’ to pay the political levy, much of which normally goes to the Labour Party. Unlike in GB, where members can ‘contract out’ of the political fund, in Northern Ireland a member is legally obliged to ‘contract in’ if they wish to pay.
These members, who have made a conscious decision to contribute to their union’s political fund, are disenfranchised from any representation by Labour in the Westminster Parliament, in the Stormont Assembly, in the European Parliament or in local councils.
The trade union movement as a whole is weakened in its campaigning for economic and social justice in Northern Ireland by the suppression of Labour Party representation.
Northern Ireland has a vibrant wider Labour movement, including the trade union activity mentioned above. The Cooperative Party (NI) was founded in 2009. There is a vibrant Labour Students Society at Queen’s University Belfast. There is active participation in the Socialist Education Society. A branch of the Fabian Society was founded in 2007. LGBT Labour (NI) was founded in 2012.
A number of our members hold dual membership of the Irish Labour Party and attend Irish Labour Party conferences.
Civil society in Northern Ireland is highly developed, with an estimated 6000 voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, employing 45,000 people and involving 240,000 volunteers. There are many other types of community involvement such as school governors and parent teacher associations, churches, youth groups, housing associations and other social enterprises. All badly need support and representation by the Labour Party.
- Political Identities
Northern Ireland is an increasingly heterogeneous and cosmopolitan society, with a growing minority ethnic population. This is reflected in evolving political attitudes and support. Social and economic issues and issues of ethnicity and women’s reproductive and LGBTQIA rights have increasing salience in determining political identities and attitudes. This trend is increasing as the Peace Process takes hold.
Based on results from the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2015, we find that 40 per cent of the population think of themselves as ‘neither unionist nor nationalist’ – up from 33 per cent in 1998. This figure rises to a majority fifty two per cent when we consider 18-34 year olds.
These evolving attitudes are also reflected in responses to a question asking ‘how best people think of themselves’. While 37 per cent said British and 28 per cent said they were Irish, as many as 27 per cent self-identified as Northern Irish. This latter figure was as high as 37 per cent among 18-24 year olds.
These attitudinal changes have been reflected in the results of recent Northern Ireland Assembly elections. These suggest the falling salience of the constitutional question as an electoral motivator. The 2016 Assembly elections resulted in the Green Party doubling their representation from one to two seats. Also, People before Profit gained two seats (up from zero), though they lost one of these seats in 2017 Assembly elections.
Both of these parties could be considered non-sectarian. They do not define themselves around the constitutional question and hold more socially liberal positions on issues such as equal marriage and abortion. Their seat gains reflect a significant shift in Northern Ireland politics away from traditional patterns.
The two gains by People Before Profit were of particular significance because of their geographical location and because they were largely at the expense of Sinn Fein. Gerry Carroll (PBP) won in Sinn Fein’s political heartland of West Belfast. Eamon McCann (PBP) took an SDLP seat in Derry against SDLP and Sinn Fein opposition. (He subsequently lost his seat in the 2017 Assembly election when the constituency was reduced from six to five seats).
The 2017 Assembly results have been interpreted as marking a return to polarisation and traditional political extremism. There was a big increase in voter turnout in the face of Brexit, the Renewable Heat Initiative, the Irish Language and other scandals. The results confirmed the dominance of the DUP and Sinn Fein, with a strengthening of the Sinn Fein vote.
If, however, we add together the share of the first preference vote of what we might call the ‘extremist’ parties (DUP, Sinn Fein, Traditional Unionist Voice and UKIP) it has increased by just 0.6 per cent. Adding together the vote share of the ‘moderate’ parties (SDLP, UUP, Alliance, Green, PBP, PUP, NI Conservatives, Cross-Community Labour Alternative (Socialist Party) and Workers’ Party) we find it increased by 1.4 per cent. This was largely because of a good performance by the centrist Alliance Party. The moderate centre has continued to strengthen in the face of rising tensions.
This centre would be greatly reinforced by a cross-community democratic socialist Labour Party. Labour can uniquely help overcome the communal politics of the past on the basis of the widely shared Labour values of social justice, equality, community and rights matched with responsibilities.
- The Alternatives
It has been argued that there are other parties in Northern Ireland for which Labour Party members and sympathisers could vote, for example the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
Labour Party members in Northern Ireland are not hostile to the SDLP. The contribution the SDLP has made to the Northern Ireland peace process through the work of John Hume and others is recognised and highly valued. Many members would have high regard for some individual SDLP members who, were it not for Labour’s past boycott of Northern Ireland, would probably be in the Labour Party. Many maintain good relations in organisations such as the Co-operative Party and through their trade unions. Our members worked closely with the SDLP in the EU Remain campaign.
Labour movement links with the SDLP were strongest at the time of its establishment in the 1970s, particularly through the important influence of Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt MP. These links were effectively cut when those individuals left as the party shifted in a nationalist direction.
Paddy Devlin subsequently became President of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland (LPNI) (our Party) until his death.
There are, however, three fundamental differences between the parties that reach to the heart of a Labour approach to policy for Northern Ireland. The first is that the SDLP does not have a formal or any link with the trade unions.
Labour Party members in Northern Ireland appreciate the importance of trade union membership within the Party, value the progressive influence of trade union activities across society and are determined to make that relationship work. The SDLP are a party cast adrift from the trade unions. They have never had a structural link to the unions and they have no interest in developing such a link.
We are unaware of any trade union or trade union branch ever affiliating to the SDLP, despite is ‘Sister Party’ status.
In line with their distancing themselves from the trade union movement has been the SDLP’s espousal of a right-wing austerity agenda while members of the Stormont Executive. In particular, they have publicly campaigned in support of a further reduction in corporation tax in Northern Ireland. This would be funded by cuts to the Northern Ireland block grant from Westminster and hence to public services.
The second difference with the SDLP is that Labour Party members in Northern Ireland want to see the development of anti-sectarian politics that can challenge nationalist/republican and unionist polarities for the betterment of the whole of our society. Labour members do not believe that our anti-sectarian politics can wipe out the past in Northern Ireland, but we do have a vision that can re-write the future. It is here that Labour members have their primary disagreement with the SDLP.
In his Leader’s speech to the SDLP’s 2015 Conference, Colum Eastwood was explicit in placing his party firmly in the nationalist camp by placing a united Ireland as their top priority. He defined them as a party of ‘Progressive Nationalism’.
It is unfortunate that the SDLP has chosen to seek election as a sectarian player in Northern Ireland politics, including adopting a ‘Nationalist’ community designation in the Northern Ireland Assembly. In taking this position, the betterment of the whole of the Northern Ireland community is ignored for the sake of a part of that community. This renders them totally unsuitable as a ‘sister party’.
Furthermore, the party contains members with a wide range of views united by nationalism. Some of these views are closer to the centre right than centre left, as shown by the close ties between some SDLP members and the Fianna Fáil political party in the Republic of Ireland. SDLP members have been known to canvass for Fianna Fail candidates in southern elections, rather than for those of the Irish Labour Party. Indeed, on occasion, LPNI members canvassing for Irish Labour have found themselves up against SDLP members canvassing for Fianna Fail. There has been repeated talk over the years of a merger between the SDLP and Fianna Fail. An SDLP/ Irish Labour merger is never publicly mentioned.
The SDLP has recently been developing links with the right of centre Ulster Unionist Party in the course of the Stormont Assembly elections 2017. However, while tactical voting undoubtedly occurs, we do not see how Northern Ireland electors who identify as unionists, or are neutral on the subject of the union, could feel comfortable joining, or giving their first preference votes to the SDLP.
Our third major difference with the SDLP is on the equality agenda. The SDLP is fundamentally opposed to any change to abortion law in Northern Ireland. During a recent consultation, their then leader Alasdair McDonnell MP, declared the party opposed to allowing abortion even on grounds of fatal foetal abnormality. LPNI supports the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.
The SDLP is a Full Member Party of the Socialist International and this is regularly used falsely as an argument against Labour contesting elections in Northern Ireland. Socialist International membership is not restricted to one party per state. The list of Full Member parties reveals fifteen countries with two members, including Belgium, Italy and Poland; and one country (Chile) with three.
There is nothing in the Socialist International or Party of European Socialists rules to suggest this is any obstacle to The Labour Party contesting elections in Northern Ireland. This is especially so as elections to local councils and to the Stormont Assembly are held under PR STV. In any case, The Labour Party only has Observer Party status with the Socialist International and is not a Full Member.
Some say there are other alternatives. The cross-community Alliance Party has taken a principled stand against sectarianism for many years. However, Alliance has a formal link with the Liberal Democrats. Its former leader, Lord John Alderdice, was the Chief Whip in the House of Lords of the 2010-15 Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, even if Alliance’s only MP at the time sat on the opposition benches. The party’s middle class ambience is not attractive to Labour Party members and supporters.
The Green Party, though small in numbers, like the Alliance Party, designates as ‘Other’ in the Assembly. It contributes to anti-sectarian debate. Again, like Alliance, it has no formal connection with the rest of the Labour movement, although there are times when we would agree with their policies more than those of the SDLP.
The Workers’ Party and other small far left groups such as People Before Profit and the Cross-Community Labour Alternative (Socialist Party) do not provide a mainstream social democratic alternative to the Labour Party.
None of the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Green Party or the far left parties, can substitute for a fully functioning Labour Party and Labour movement in Northern Ireland. The Labour Party provides a forum for cross-community, anti-sectarian and anti-racist politics firmly based on the economic and social issues facing working people, rather than on the ‘border’ question.
Labour Party elected representatives, working within an anti-sectarian framework and including people from both main communities and from minority ethnic groups, can make a major contribution to the creation of a genuinely pluralist and progressive society in Northern Ireland.
Labour would designate as ‘Other’ in the Assembly and strengthen the growing third strand of political activity in the region. Northern Ireland should no longer be a ‘no go’ area for Labour Party candidates.
- Building the Irish Region
People in Northern Ireland won the right to individual membership of the Labour Party in 2003, after a long campaign.
In 2008, when our membership had grown to about 200, we achieved the organisational arrangements we currently have. The Labour Party in Northern Ireland (LPNI) was set up. We adopted a set of rules which established a single CLP (Northern Ireland CLP) to cover all eighteen Northern Ireland Westminster parliamentary constituencies.
This body is strategically led by a gender balanced executive team of eight officers, supported by eight executive members, all elected at an AGM. Strategic leadership is collective, subject to the guidance of All Member meetings.
The rules make no provision for organisation at individual constituency level.
Nor do they allow for the running of Labour Party candidates in Northern Ireland.
These rules were arguably appropriate for LPNI at the time, with its steadily growing membership that reached over 350 at the time of the 2010 general election. Our membership is now over two thousand.
The limitations are obvious. We were not able to fight either the local council elections of 2015 or the Stormont Assembly elections of 2016 and 2017. Fighting elections to get candidates elected is how political parties develop and grow. Elections provide the opportunity to get the Labour Party message out to the electorate and to recruit new members.
Being denied the right to run Labour Party candidates in elections has hindered our organisational development and caused enormous frustration among our membership who feel they are badly short-changed in being denied the right to representation. This frustration has burst out in faction fighting over trivial organisational issues.
The other major limitation has emerged following the explosive growth in our membership since 2015. Our members live all over Northern Ireland, though there is a concentration in the greater Belfast region. The members find the centralisation of activity in the Northern Ireland CLP Executive Committee and the tendency for meetings to take place in Belfast (despite our efforts to offset this) frustrating. LPNI is not servicing their political needs in their localities.
This has led to the growth of unofficial and unconstitutional constituency organisations – unconstitutional in that there is no provision in our current rules for them to exist. This means they cannot formally adopt constitutions and elect officers. And, critically, they can’t open bank accounts because they have no constitutions or officers.
Also the unofficial constituency organisations do not feel they are adequately represented on or by the EC and so, as an interim measure, we have decided to grant their representatives observer status with speaking rights at EC meetings. This facilitates two- way communication between the EC and the membership in the constituencies. However, it is far from satisfactory and lends itself to faction fighting.
We have put a lot of effort into supporting this ‘branch’ development. We see these grass roots organisations as embryo CLPs, although their focus is also on the eleven Northern Ireland local government areas. ‘Branch’ organisations have been established in Foyle, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Upper Bann, North Down, South Down / Strangford, Belfast, Belfast South and East, Mid Ulster, Lagan Valley and North Antrim. Possible areas for further development include: Coleraine / Ballymoney, Newry, Armagh, Strangford and East Antrim.
In sum, Northern Ireland CLP has outgrown its 2008 rules, which need to be replaced.
Despite these limitations, Northern Ireland CLP has been very active. We had a strong team at Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, including many women who attended the National Women’s Conference. Our leaflet ‘We want the right to vote Labour’ was widely distributed. Conference attendees reported encouraging attitudes towards LPNI, with even Dennis Skinner MP expressing his support.
We held a very successful fringe meeting at Conference. Our meeting was packed out to the point that the hotel would not let anyone else into the room for Health and Safety reasons. This meant that even Dave Anderson MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, one of our speakers, and Stephen Watson BBC NI were denied entry into the meeting.
The British-Irish Labour Forum at Liverpool Conference, attended by LPNI, the Coop Party NI and the Irish Labour Party (but not the SDLP) was considered very successful, with the Party leadership representatives conveying a considerably more positive tone than in previous years.
We have been working closely with Unite the Union and we have recently been assured of the full support for our campaign from Unite Irish Region and from Len Mccluskey, General Secretary. We also have received affiliation to LPNI from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). This, together with the longstanding support and affiliation of the GMB, means we can evidence vital and growing trade union support. The NEC Review team will be meeting both Unite and the GMB when they make their visit to Belfast.
We would also highlight the enthusiastic support we are getting from the Labour Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) organisation. They are very aware of the need for Labour representation for ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland (see Appendix 4: Race Equality). The issue of Irish Citizenship Rights for migrants is a live issue following Brexit.
We have been campaigning hard around a number of issues such as: austerity, trade union rights, job losses in manufacturing, the Real Living Wage, teacher’s pay, library closures, closure of GP surgeries, equal marriage and abortion rights. We have held many public meetings and supported many demonstrations.
We have also put considerable effort into policy development. A series of Policy Forums have been held on education, health, and the economy.
Our Women’s Policy Forum meets regularly.
Northern Ireland CLP is represented on the National Policy Forum. Recently, our representative has been on the Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission.
We campaigned in the June 2016 Referendum for Labour Remain and for STRONGER IN. Alan Johnston MP addressed a meeting of members on the issue. As you know our efforts were unsuccessful and BREXIT now presents a major challenge to the party locally.
The LPNI EC supported Jeremy Corbyn MP in the Leadership contest last summer. It also supported Len McCluskey of Unite as a mediator between Jeremy and the PLP. Our members voted decisively at a GM that the CLP should endorse Jeremy in the leadership election last August.
LPNI members campaigned heavily in the recent General Elections for the Labour candidate in the City of Chester constituency. With our help, the seat was won very narrowly in 2015.
Over the last year, despite the ban on meetings over the summer (apart from the endorsement meeting), we held nine EC meetings, one EC Away Day, three Officers’ meetings, four GMs and a New Members meeting.
We had two meetings with Dave Anderson MP, the Shadow Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary of State.
We hosted Sir Keir Starmer MP on a visit to Belfast, where he did a Q&A session on migration with members. He also met the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency ‘branch’ in Dungannon.
We have not yet managed to meet with Jeremy Corbyn MP, despite many requests.
This year a successful fundraising Diversity Dinner was held in INDIA GATE, where we had a delicious meal. Patrick Yu, formerly of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, was our guest speaker.
- Towards a New Set of Rules
A new set of rules should be for an Irish Region of the Labour Party and should address the following as priorities:
the need for both Regional and individual constituency level organisation;
the need to integrate the constituencies and other stakeholders into the Executive;
the need to address the Leadership issue;
the need to register as a political party with the Electoral Commission (NI) and to contest elections.
We have examined the rules of Scottish Labour and Wales Labour for insights as to how this can be achieved.
It is noted that the Scottish Labour Executive is inclusive, with representation for all stakeholders, including CLP and trade union delegates. Both CLP and trade union delegates have full speaking and voting rights on the Executive.
The recent changes to the powers of Scottish Labour, which give increased autonomy to the Scottish Executive while sharing some administrative roles with party HQ, were noted. Some variant of this might work for us.
The rules for the make-up of the Wales Labour Executive are similar to those for Scotland and could also be suitable for us.
However in Wales, the Leader is the Leader of the Wales National Assembly Party, unlike in Scotland where the Leader is directly elected by the party membership. Arguably, neither Leadership model is suitable for us at this stage.
To date our Leadership model has been collective, concentrated in the Officers with the support of the EC. This has worked relatively successfully until a recent dispute.
To provide checks and balances, while our Labour members might want one member one vote, it might be preferable at this stage of our development if the Leader and Deputy Leader were indirectly elected by a fully inclusive EC whose members would be more closely acquainted with the merits and abilities of different candidates.
If we were running candidates in local government elections in 2019, we would need a Leader in place.
The question arises of the extent to which we would want autonomy in policy making over reserved and excepted matters. These matters are currently delineated by the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements e.g. the Hillsborough Agreement on policing and justice.
A possible additional area for policy autonomy might be income tax powers, though we do not consider this urgent.
We would want autonomy over candidate selection for local council, Stormont Assembly (and European Parliament?) elections, all held under PR STV.
Candidates for the Westminster Parliament would presumably have to go through the national selection procedure.
- Resources and Funding
Currently, LPNI is run on an entirely voluntary basis. We have no paid staff, though we did employ a part-time administrator from January – June 2016, funded from our own resources.
We do not have the services of a Regional Office or a Regional Official/General Secretary
We also have no Labour Party premises. All party administration is carried out from people’s private residences. These also serve for record/archive storage.
Rooms for committee / general meetings have to be booked from outside sources and paid for.
Currently, with 2300 fully paid up members in Northern Ireland, LPNI is receiving £3542 per annum from central funds.
Because we are not considered an election marginal, we have difficulty qualifying for access to funding from the various development funds (though we have applied).
It is difficult it to estimate how much our membership pays into central funds in membership fees and donations – perhaps £75,000-80,000 per annum. In addition there is a considerable sum contributed by our registered supporters who paid to vote in the Leadership election/s
Also, according to the Report of the Certification Officer (NI) in December 2015, 37,457 members of affiliated trade unions in Northern Ireland paid a total of £219,768 into their unions’ political funds, much of which goes to fund the Labour Party.
Thus we estimate the Labour Party centrally may receive up to £250-300,000 per annum from Northern Ireland, while the party here receives £3542 per annum in return. This is unacceptable.
It would suggest that we can, both on equity grounds and on grounds of political need, reasonably ask for the establishment of a Regional Office, with paid staffing. Our members also need the assistance of a Regional Official.
- Campaigning in Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland CLP has already achieved a critical mass of over 2,000 members, along with support from the trade unions and from other Labour movement organisations. A top priority is to continue to recruit new members and to raise funds. All our members have stories of would-be supporters who will join the Labour Party when the Party fields candidates. That is what will make Labour Party politics real in Northern Ireland.
A strong member and financial base is crucial for fighting elections.
A further priority is to raise the profile of the Party locally through appearances at Labour movement events, holding events of our own and issuing more press statements and policies on current issues. We are currently inhibited in raising our media profile because we have no elected representatives.
Many of our members have extensive networks in political organisations and in the voluntary sector. They are active in many different aspects of civil society. This helps spread awareness of our ongoing political activity.
Many of our members are active on social media which also helps raise our profile.
We would look to the Party’s wider organisational structures for the same degree of support as received by other CLPs, for example the help of a Regional Organiser and funds to supplement our own efforts.
Because we already have strong connections with the rest of the Labour movement and with civil society, we would be able to select candidates who are known locally or who in some cases are more active at regional level. The mix of potential candidates indicates that we would be able to begin our electoral activity by contesting local council seats. It is unlikely at first that we would be able to put forward candidates in every electoral area. The Assembly elections are certainly those which have most significance in relation to the wider population, but local government is the seed bed of politics, producing future politicians and meeting local needs.
There will be pressure from some for Labour to be seen as the ‘unionist’ alternative to the SDLP and to stand only in unionist areas. We are categorically not interested in a sectarian carve-up. We would seek to put forward good, local candidates wherever we thought we had a chance of winning on our values by seeking votes from all sections of the community.
The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for councils and the Stormont Assembly provides opportunities for working with other parties in a way that is different from England. STV allows voters to express as many preferences as there are candidates, which allows Labour to seek transfers from other parties across the community divide, thus maximising our chances. Labour is unlikely to be in the position of being elected on the first count. Initially, we will be contending for transfers much further down the line.
In Northern Ireland, with five seat constituencies and often 10 or more candidates in each contest, the fifth candidate is often elected after all transfers have been completed. In some cases, agreements with other parties on ‘transfer promotion’ may be possible.
Once elected, it would be essential to Labour’s values that our representatives would designate as ‘Other’, i.e. as neither Unionist nor Nationalist, in the Assembly and in councils using the D’Hondt mechanism.
Elections to the Westminster Parliament may prove more problematic due to the First Past the Post System and the possibly reduced number of constituencies.
However, the election of a Labour Government at Westminster must continue to be a major motivating factor behind Labour Party politics and organisation in Northern Ireland. The ability of the Stormont Assembly to effect meaningful change is greatly constrained by a Tory Government implementing policies of relentless austerity at national level. More than anywhere else, Northern Ireland needs a Labour Government in power. Electing Labour Party MPs to Westminster who will take the Labour whip must be a primary objective.
Our Party activists will be encouraged not to forget unelected bodies, which are important in Northern Ireland as they still run many essential services such as education, housing, social services, libraries and planning. Other opportunities for involvement include the District Policing Partnerships, regeneration boards, and housing associations. We have one local member in the House of Lords who takes the Labour whip.
There are many opportunities for Labour members in Northern Ireland to make substantial contributions to society as part of regional governance – but elected office must be at the heart of such activity for a democratic socialist party.
To conclude, we reiterate the overwhelming importance for Labour Party (NI) members of moving forward to Regional status and electoral activity in Northern Ireland constituencies. We have shown that political views in the region are more complex and nuanced than the stereotypical unionist / nationalist/republican divide.
There is great potential for Labour to gain votes from those who are not satisfied with the socio-economic unfairness of the current status quo. There is an opportunity to mobilise the widespread anti-Tory sentiment which exists in Northern Ireland society.
In such a climate of dissatisfaction and frustrated aspirations, Labour has to act. The consistent absence of a Labour voice in Northern Ireland elections has not resulted in other established parties taking up the slack to fill the void. They have failed to reach beyond their old intolerances. They have failed to nurture Northern Ireland’s future. They have failed to forge real links with the trade unions. They have failed to address the inequalities outlined in the Appendices to this submission.
Yet the emergence of the Green Party and People Before Profit shows there is an appetite for new developments. The Labour Party is better grounded in progressive politics than other political parties and is not prone to be blown around by the winds of sectarian discord that blow through Northern Ireland society.
‘We want to see the democratisation of public life from the ground up’.
Jeremy Corbyn 10.01.17.
Labour has a proud history of its involvement in Northern Ireland through its work in the Peace Process. We have been told Labour should not stand in elections here due to its role as an ‘honest broker’. Labour did its best work here under Direct Rule when it was actively involved in local politics. Now most of these matters are devolved. This means Labour has no role, no say and no meaningful way of aiding in these issues. To be an honest broker you must be able to ‘broker’ and to do this you must be involved, not standing aside with no voice and no part to play.
If Labour stood candidates it could be that honest broker. Our candidates would be ‘honest brokers’ or face deselection. Members from both sides of the community could and would trust us. Our neutral stance on the constitutional question and the broad range of our members reinforces our position as a trusted negotiator and a party who can and does work for all. To not stand is to abandon the people of Northern Ireland to sectarian politics that will never fully deal with outstanding issues such as the past, flags and parading. It will mean we will never complete the Peace Process we have begun.
It is not good enough for some to cast doubt on our ability to win seats for Labour. There are large tracts of the South of England where there are no Labour MPs and very few councillors. Yet the Party still feels the voters in these areas must be offered Labour Party representation as a matter of democratic principle.
Labour must stand and be counted. We have a duty to offer a Labour alternative to the people of Northern Ireland. We have a duty to challenge sectarianism and offer the option of a better future based on Labour values. Such a future cannot be achieved without the full and active involvement of a democratic socialist political party in which all voters can have confidence.
That party is the Labour Party.
Women’s Reproductive Rights
The 1967 Abortion Act still does not apply to Northern Ireland.
Although abortion is legal in Northern Ireland, more than 95 per cent of women needing an abortion are stopped from having one.
Women are being refused an abortion, including when:
- they’ve been raped
- they’ve suffered incest
- they’ve been given a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality
- their health is at risk from the pregnancy.
Justice Minister David Ford (Alliance Party) launched a consultation which strongly recommended legislation to allow an abortion in circumstances where there is no prospect of the foetus being delivered and having a viable life.
The consultation also covered sexual crimes, including rape and incest, but the Minister made no recommendation on the issue of termination in the case of sexual crimes.
In October 2014, a poll carried out in Northern Ireland by Millward Brown for Amnesty International found that seven in ten people here back abortion law reform. Once again, the people are ahead of the politicians.
On 17 June 2015, judgement was reserved in a landmark legal bid to change Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) is seeking to legalise abortion in cases of serious foetal malformation, rape and incest.
NIHRC has claimed that the consultation paper on abortion, submitted to the Stormont Executive, does not go far enough.
It said legal proceedings had been launched as a last resort, with the support of Amnesty International.
The three-day judicial review hearing included representations from the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Catholic clergy and Sarah Ewart.
The 24-year-old woman’s experience of having to travel to England for an abortion in 2013, shone a public spotlight on the issue of fatal foetal abnormality.
On 29 June 2017, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were not in breach of the human rights of women and girls.
It ruled abortion law was to be determined by the Stormont Government.
Recently the Westminster Government, following an initiative by Stella Creasy MP, announced it would fund abortions for women from Northern Ireland travelling to England and Wales for an abortion.
However it is not prepared to fund consultation or treatment provided by Marie Stopes in its Belfast clinic. Marie Stopes must therefore charge women accessing them locally for abortion care.
Full access to reproductive justice rights must be extended to cis and trans women, and to people of all other gender identities and sexual orientations.
We don’t have an Equality Act for Northern Ireland.
Equal Marriage Rights
Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK without equal marriage rights.
On 27 April 2015, a proposal to allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland was defeated in the Assembly by 49 votes to 47. Five MLAs from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) failed to turn up for the vote and three MLAs from the Alliance Party abstained.
During the fifth Assembly vote on the matter in November 2015, MLAs voted in favour of legislation for the first time, by 53 votes to 52. However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) used a Stormont veto, known as a petition of concern, to block the motion and prevent any change in the law.
On 17 August 2017, the Northern Ireland High Court dismissed two cases challenging Northern Ireland’s ban on same-sex marriage. Delivering his judgement, a judge said it was for the Stormont Assembly and not a judge, to decide social policy.
On 22 May 2015, the Republic of Ireland voted by a huge majority in a referendum to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution and welcomed around the world.
Some 62% of the Irish electorate voted in favour of equal marriage. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society.
Gay Blood Donation
Former DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots instituted a lifetime ban on gay blood donation. In a court case in Belfast, the judge ruled that Poots’ decision was “irrational” and “infected with apparent bias”.
Despite having no medical evidence on which to base the lifetime ban, Edwin Poots appealed the court’s decision, an appeal that was continued by Jim Wells (DUP) as Health Minister.
Mr Wells revealed that £40,000 has so far been spent on legal fees challenging the ruling.
In April 2015, Jim Wells resigned as Health Minister after claiming children brought up by gay parents were more likely to be abused.
In June 2016, the former Health Minister Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein) lifted the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood and adopted the 12 month rule. In July 2017, it was announced ‘preparatory work’ is to begin at the Department of Health (NI) to reduce the deferral period for gay men donating blood, but a final decision will have to be taken by a Stormont Health Minister. Northern Ireland is without a health Minister and a devolved government after the power-sharing executive collapsed in January.
Gay couples do not have the same adoption rights as in the rest of the UK.
DUP MLA Paul Givan’s 2015 private member’s bill to the Assembly attempted to introduce a conscience clause into equality law following legal action taken against a Christian-owned bakery, Ashers.
We believe that introducing a religious conscience clause bill would substantially weaken protection against discrimination for the LGBTQIA community.
On 19 May 2015 Judge Isobel Brownlie found that the bakery, Ashers “unlawfully discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation” after a landmark legal action at Belfast County Court.
Ashers lost their appeal against the decision (October 2016).
One in five people in Northern Ireland are disabled, many of them as a result of the Troubles. Disability Action (NI) has 100 members groups.
Disability law in Northern Ireland is still subject to the “Malcolm Decision”.
There is insufficient positive and proactive rehabilitation in treatment and discharge plans in Northern Ireland’s notably under-resourced psychiatric system.
In education, there are no rights to “auxiliary aids and services” for children with disabilities in the class room. The rest of the UK has those rights.
The recent OFM/DFM Disability strategy barely mentions children with disability at all.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are drastically under- funded resulting in children being inappropriately detained on adult psychiatric wards or taken to England or Scotland for treatment.
We have the highest male suicide rate in the UK, particularly among men aged 24-29.
The sectarian violence of past decades is linked to the mental health of Northern Ireland’s citizens: more depression, anxiety and suicide.
While The Mental Health Discrimination Act (2013) abolishes ancient notions of exclusion of the mental health disabled from jury service for instance, there is little in the act to address discrimination within workplace cultures or in the job market.
There is a lack of advocacy for people in NI with mental health disability, both in terms of legal aid within the justice system and in terms of possible detention orders under the powers of mental health legislation.
Only 12 people have been successfully convicted for the 14,000 hate crimes reported in Northern Ireland over a five year period.
Recently there has been a 43 per cent rise in hate crime. In West Belfast, the rate has risen by 70 per cent, while in East Belfast it has risen by 73 percent.
In Belfast, a racially motivated offence takes place at least once a day on average.
In 2014, 1313 racist incidents were reported to the PSNI – an average of up to three every day.
The Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), the only organisation working around ethnic minority issues, was forced to close this year because funding was cut off by the sponsoring Stormont Department.
While we welcome the publication of the Racial Equality Strategy Document 2014-24, we are concerned that it is much weaker than the previous Racial Equality Strategy. We are also concerned that, after ten years Stormont still has not delivered a comprehensive Racial Equality Strategy.
LPNI Economic Policy Forum:
Summary of LPNI economic policy based on decisions taken by past Economic Policy Forums, submissions and GMs.
It is primarily directed at actions that can be taken by the Stormont Executive /Assembly.
It is only indicative and designed to provide guidance for ongoing development.
- We oppose further cuts in the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland, particularly if they will involve cuts to the block grant.
- We oppose the Tory small-state oriented austerity agenda. The DUP/SF support for corporation tax cuts will make Tory austerity in Northern Ireland even worse.
- Rather than further cutting the block grant we should be increasing investment in infrastructure, whether this is human infrastructure eg. education and skills or physical infrastructure eg. reduced energy costs for manufacturing.
- We support early intervention via the expansion of Sure Start etc. and the provision of free school breakfasts. We support the expansion of Higher and Further Education and apprenticeship training.
- We support a proper National Living Wage to make work pay.
- We need affordable child care for three and four year olds for 25 hours a week for working parents.
- We support the development of sectoral collective bargaining in those parts of the economy where there is trade union organisation.
- In some sectors where trade unions are weakly organised eg care homes, hotels and catering, we support the restoration of statutory Northern Ireland Wages Councils.
- We support the further development of the cooperative and voluntary sectors.
- We are in favour of sustainability and green initiatives.
LPNI Education Policy Forum. Saturday 10.12.16. Hosted in Derry by Foyle Labour.
Attendance: Adam Gannon, Susan Parlour, Boyd Black, Martin Lawton, Paul Haslem, Ken Cheung, Jo Bird
As many of the people who attended this meeting hadn’t attended the first meeting in Belfast we spoke about what we currently think about our education system, as we did in the first meeting. Many of the issues raised were similar to the first meeting including;
- Promoting reading and equality
- The 3 r’s stifle creativity, we need to encourage creativity and consider a focus on social skills at an early age
- The starting age of school is very early compared to other European countries, 7 may be a more appropriate starting age
- Parents are stuck with the current system in their mind-set and want it as it is promoted by the government.
- Budget cuts have caused problems with admin staff being used to cover classes
- The churches have too much influence on our school system
Susan Parlour, President of NASUWT, spoke about the current teacher’s pay dispute and working conditions, main points include;
- Teacher’s pay has decreased in real terms by 15% since 2011 despite Peter Weir claiming that there was a 2.6% increase, which is a result of pay progression on the pay scale.
- Many Teachers are now working 60 hour weeks and the Education Authority has continued to pile on the workload with frequent new initiatives that don’t add to children’s education.
- Pensions have also been effected with increases to pension payments.
- Substitute teachers are not being hired with schools using support staff to cover classes.
We then moved onto a discussion around teacher’s working conditions and teacher training.
- We have too many teacher’s an oversupply compared to demand, creating a waste of human capital and training some of our best for a job they will never get when they could easily make a large contribution in another field if teacher training places were restricted.
- Both Stranmillis and St Mary’s training colleges are opposed to amalgamation, a possible solution to this would be to create a central admin centre with satellite colleges specialising in particular areas of training, i.e one for primary education training, another for post-primary. These satellite colleges would work closer together than they do currently to provide certain aspects of teacher training.
- Public support for the teaching profession is at a low because of the attacks by the government e.g. Peter Weir (DUP) called teachers greedy. Also, there has been manipulation of figures to mislead the public about wages. Labour should work to build a culture of respect for the profession and support teachers publicly to aid this.
- The ETI is having a negative impact on the working conditions of teachers, their inspections focus on data not the actual teaching and when asked for advice on how to improve after an inspection more often than not the inspector cannot give any advice. In the past, there have been cases of the ETI even having pre-written reports.
- There is a need for data but teachers should not be “part-time statisticians” educating children should be their main focus and they should use data to catch children before they fall through the net.
- The current data is too crude and misses out factors such as social deprivation.
- We should cut down data to a certain measuring point. No need to measure progress every 4 weeks, once a year may suffice. Academic studies should be done to establish just how much tracking is needed.
- Currently CPD is non-existent and its definition is too broad, allowing many tasks that do not add anything to teachers’ training and regularly school’s funding did not allow for CPD to be completed.
- CPD currently has a one size fits all approach which is not suitable, we need more quality and personalised CPD.
- The curriculum changes by too much too often, not allowing teachers to develop their teaching and leads to teaching just to exams. Encourage the curriculum to remain the same for longer with small tweaks rather than wholesale changes.
- Technology needs to be embraced the classroom and we should develop our VLEs and VR technology to ensure it meets needs of our pupils.
- Excessive homework and marking also adds to teacher’s workloads. It is regularly a box ticking exercise that serves no real purpose other than repetition. Homework should only be given if it adds value to the learning experience.