Norther Ireland: Sick of sectarian politics

A RECENT opinion poll demonstrates that a significant minority of voters in Northern Ireland are sick of the sectarian parties and are looking for an alternative. Up to seventeen per cent declared their intention to vote for smaller parties outside the sectarian circus.

Assembly elections.

Sick of sectarian politics

Many trade union and community activists have been stunned by the anti-working class policies of the Assembly and the Executive. Many young people reject sectarianism, and because of their experiences of opposing the war in Iraq and globalisation are beginning to question the entire system.

Ultimately we require a mass broad based socialist party that brings together the best anti-sectarian community, socialist and trade union activists. Such a party cannot be wished into existence and ultimately will be built on the back of big events and mass campaigns.

It is possible however for local campaigning groups, trade union branches and left wing political parties to challenge the established political parties at the next Assembly elections and to begin to lay the basis for a future mass party.

That an impact can be made was shown at the last local elections when Raymond Blaney gained a seat on Down District Council on a Save the Downe Hospital ticket despite fierce opposition from the main parties.

The Socialist Workers Party has raised a call for a socialist alliance of the various left wing parties in the North for the next election but have dismissed the importance of "single issue" candidates. The Socialist Party believes that their call is premature, and their proposed "socialist slate" is too narrow and would make little impact.

The Socialist Party has always taken the issue of elections seriously. We have stood independently on many occasions and were the main component of the Labour Coalition in 1996.

In the South we have demonstrated how committed, campaigning work over many years can pay dividends on the electoral front. We have one TD in the Dail, two council positions, and nearly won a second Dail seat at the last election in Dublin North.

Similarly in Britain the Socialist Party has had more electoral success than any other force on the left. It has four council seats, including three in Coventry, where the it gained 15% of the vote across 40% of the city wards.

Our comrades in Scotland work to build the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). The success of the SSP was not an overnight phenomenon, and was certainly not based on the coming together of existing left wing parties alone. First and foremost it was based on solid campaigning work over 15 years and was aided by an exceptionally favourable electoral system.

In the North members of the Socialist Party have been to the forefront of a whole number of recent struggles, including the Term Time workers’ struggle, the social workers’ strike and the strike by airport security workers. There are six Socialist Party members on the Executive of NIPSA. We have members in the national or regional leaderships of the FBU, the INTO and the CWU, and we have prominent members in other unions such as the ATGWU. Our base, whilst numerically modest, is real and is crucial to our understanding of the way forward at the present time.

The Socialist Party is in favour of a broad, anti-cuts, anti-privatisation slate at the next election, incorporating hospital and other campaigners, trade unionists in struggle and socialist groupings.

Two candidates are planning to stand under the banner of the HOPE (Hospital in Omagh Providing for Everyone) campaign in West Tyrone, arguing that the Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh should retain its acute status. Olive Wylie a UNISON shop steward is likely to poll well. HOPE is in favour of accessible and high quality facilities for both Omagh and Enniskillen. Socialist Party members have been instrumental in developing the HOPE campaign.

Other local campaigning groups may stand, as may trade unionists such as the FBU and the airport workers. Several left wing groups may also stand, including of course the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party has initiated discussions on ways of bringing all these forces together under a single "Defend Public Services" banner, whilst leaving everyone involved the freedom to run their own campaign.

From Socialist Voice, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in Ireland

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June 2003