Northern Ireland: Politics Matter
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
By John Pinkerton
AS the numbers of coronavirus- related deaths and confirmed cases continue to rise across Ireland (410/73 and 5,709/1,255 in RoI / NI on Tuesday night), it is only right that attention is focused on the human face of the pandemic here, in Britain and globally.
But as underlined by the unease in the top ranks of the British Tory government at their Prime Minister Johnson’s hospitalisation early in the week, the personal and the political are closely entwined.
In a statement last month the Communist Party clearly ex- pressed its “solidarity with all those affected, and who will be affected, by this growing health crisis, and to the health staff and emergency services in the front line.”
But it stated equally clearly : “The health services throughout the country, from Belfast to Cork, are wholly inadequate, having ex- perienced more than a decade of harsh cuts, bed closures, lack of investment, staff shortages, and the priority of private corporate medicine over a decent, well- funded public health service.”
The virus is relentlessly exposing the politics that have not only un- dermined healthcare and social services but also endorsed and en- couraged a world of precarious work, phoney “self-employment,” low pay and housing for profit.
But it is also prompting a wealth of solidarity action from below based on community and trade un- ion organising that must find its political voice.
Precisely to avoid that happening Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are still trying to work out a deal that will get them back into government de- spite the rejection of both of them in the general election two months ago.
On the basis of talks this week they expect to agree a statement of principles for a future government which they can tout to other party leaders (except Sinn Féin) in the hope of getting another partner. This seems unlikely as their best bet is the Green Party who are holding out for a national unity government.
A Government of National Unity has also been raised by British To- ries now that Corbyn has been re- placed by a Labour Party leader much more to their liking. Sir Keir Starmer, despite having helped deliver Labour’s defeat at the last election through working to un- dermine the decision to leave the EU, was returned with 56% of the mem- bership vote.
Starmer pledged to engage “constructively” with the Conserva- tives in the fight against Covid-19 , but also criticised ministers for being too slow at explaining why the UK is “so far behind” on testing.
He also called for “blockages in the system” delaying the delivery of pro- tective equipment to front-line work- ers to be “addressed quickly”. Similar questions continue to be raised by Sinn Fein about the North- ern Ireland Executive in which they are a senior partner.
In response to the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister O’Neil’s criticism of the Minister for Health, Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party, the DUP First Minister Foster said this was “not a time for party politics.” But the issue is actually what are the politics of the parties ?
Originally published in Unity, weekly paper of the CPI (11/4/20)