ICTU Biennial Delegates Conference: Speech by Jimmy Kelly on political and social challenges facing Northern Ireland

July 4th: Unite 007Speaking in support of motion 1 on Northern Ireland at the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast, Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly said:

Northern Ireland stands at a crossroads – but not in relation to the process we hear on the news bulletins every day.

The crossroads is about what direction NI will take on the issues of Women’s Rights/Workers Rights/Trade Union Rights/Employment Rights/Human Rights/LGBT Rights – investment in jobs – growing the economy – decent housing – decent jobs – living wages – decent public services – industrial and manufacturing strategy – communities struggling against the odds.

Recent examples: Daisy Hill hospital threatened closure/introducing School Transport charges/Factory closures – massive job losses since our last conference.

Will these issues be addressed in a new executive or will they only be addressed in a Trade Union/Community campaign of resistance?

Among the Northern Ireland Executive parties, there is unanimity on the need for Northern Ireland to seek to imitate the corporate tax haven status of the Republic of Ireland adopting a 12.5% corporation tax rate at the cost of hundreds of millions in further cuts to public services on top of those enforced by the Tory government in Westminster through the Barnett formula.

This is the only economic development mechanism which is recognised by the NI Executive parties reflecting the dominant neo-liberalism in mainstream thinking on the economy.

We must continue to make the case that such an approach is deeply inequitable and will be economically damaging. Cuts on the scale required to pay for such a reduction in corporation taxes will further restrict investment in critical infrastructure, public services and educational/skill access – the very factors which are vital to sustain a world-class economy. The reduction of corporation tax across the board will mean limited positive impact for any business – least of all the largest corporations who already are facilitated in massive tax avoidance.

Thousands of public sector jobs will have to be lost to pay for this initiative – We call on the NI Executive parties to reconsider their support for reducing corporation taxes and instead adopt a positive strategy for public investment and intervention for growth.

Our society has made huge strides forward in recent years. Today we live in a largely peaceful society. The day to day reality of life is completely different to that of only some decades ago.

But despite these gains Northern Ireland is a society ill-at-ease with itself.

Politics has polarised sharply. As a result politics is failing and continued political failure in the face of unprecedented challenges risks leading to a disconnect particularly for younger people.

What of the prospect of power-sharing arrangements being re-established in the sort- or even medium-term? – are we facing the prospect of a period of direct-rule under the Tory party in Westminster – your guess is as good as mine.

The dominance of DUP and Sinn Fein among their respective communities has become hegemonic but far from this allowing both to negotiate confidently on the basis of their own individual strength – it has resulted in protracted deadlock.

Northern Ireland faces the challenges that will arise from Brexit without a coherent voice.

Our health system is reeling from years of real terms cuts continues to limp on from one crisis to another.

There is no vision or ambition for our industries or growing our manufacturing base.

This motion calls for the trade union movement to seek to fill this vacuum.

  • It demands that whoever has responsibility for Northern Ireland in the future must bring forward a comprehensive industrial strategy to grow our economy.
  • It demands that protections for the vulnerable, the disabled, the aged and the jobless are essential; that welfare reform mitigations apply to all whether they are classified as new applicants or not.
  • It demands that public housing remains in public hands that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive which has for decades ensuring housing is provided on a level-playing field to all – is retained and defended.
  • It demands a Bill of Rights to supplement the provisions of the European Charter of Human Rights as promised in the Belfast Agreement.

In the absence of political leadership capable of defending our society, today it is trade unions, and trade unionists, who must now step forward and show leadership. Northern Ireland stands at a crossroads, let us ensure we take the correct path – forward with the Power of Unity!

Please support motion number one.

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