Letters to the Editor, ‘Criticism of Stormont will not be tolerated’
Many will no doubt be accustomed to the ongoing battle being waged by parties within the Stormont Executive to stamp out dissent and criticism from republican quarters.
Indeed, most observers will be all too familiar with the Stormont parties’ attacks on political opposition to the Executive’s role in the maintenance of partition and union with Britain, its role in maintaining injustices against Irish citizens, and its implementation of right-wing economic policies.
However, an increasing and disturbing trend is emerging whereby any form of criticism of, or dissent from, the Stormont narrative is now coming under attack. Those at the receiving end of this wider Stormont offensive are not republicans, no matter how far one might stretch one’s imagination.
The most recent salvo fired in this offensive against the not-so-usual suspects came from none other than Stormont’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness. A judgment from a Fair Employment Tribunal hearing in June found that his party colleague, Conor Murphy, had discriminated against a protestant job applicant while Murphy was minister of regional development.
In a BBC interview shortly after the tribunal’s findings, McGuinness attempted to place the Stormont Executive above and beyond the reach of established equality and fair employment legislation by stating, “What this calls into question, in this particular case, is whether or not a minister has a right to make a ministerial appointment or are ministerial appointments going to be dictated by a body which, effectively, is not part of the government?”
A strange question for him to pose. After all, this was the same equality and fair employment legislation that McGuinness’ party had once advocated and had also enlisted the support of Irish-America to reinforce through the adoption of the MacBride principles.
Earlier this year, in February, SDLP environment minister Alex Attwood announced the go-ahead for construction of a £100 million privately-owned golf resort a mile away from the entrance to the Giant’s Causeway world heritage site.
Friends of the Earth warned that building a golf course within sight of the UNESCO-recognised Giant’s Causeway site on the North Antrim coast would be akin to constructing a drive-through burger bar near the Taj Mahal.
The National Trust publicly opposed those plans and initiated a legal challenge against the proposal. UNESCO itself has asked for project to be stopped.
The DUP sent out their attack terrier in the form of DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior, who bluntly stated: “Thanks National Trust, at a time of economic depression, you put the two fingers up to everyone in Northern Ireland and say you’re going to try to hurt rather than help the economy. You are a disgrace to Northern Ireland.”
Paisley’s party colleague, Stormont minister Arlene Foster, said she and her executive colleagues from all parties were “highly disappointed” by the legal challenge. There is no record of any of the other Stormont parties expressing disagreement with either Paisley’s or Foster’s views.
It then emerged in June that the same DUP minister, Arlene Foster, had previously attacked the Co-operative Group over the showing of a documentary opposing fracking. Fracking is the controversial method of extracting gas from shale rock. Critics of fracking state that the controversial method of gas extraction can pollute water and cause minor earthquakes.
Foster claimed the film, Gasland, was biased, and said the Co-op’s decision to sponsor the screening was misplaced.
The Co-op rejected her criticism. In its response, Co-op regional secretary Gerard Hill told the minister: “The Co-operative is campaigning for a moratorium on the exploration of shale gas, at least until all the risks and impacts are properly identified and addressed. The event comprises a screening of Gasland followed by an open discussion on what shale gas development might mean.”
Obviously, Foster is adverse to ‘open discussion’ or debate on a subject which has widespread implications for thousands of families in Fermanagh and adjacent counties. Once again, there was silence from her ministerial colleagues in Stormont’s Executive.
And, of course, there is the ongoing saga of the Stormont parties’ collective campaign aimed at lowering corporation in the Six Counties while they simultaneously and hypocritically penalise the poor and less well off in society.
At a time when families, the young, the old, the ill, the low-paid and the unemployed are all facing cut-backs as a result of Stormont’s cuts in public expenditure, all parties in the Executive are united in their attempts to secure even greater tax breaks for those large companies, banks and financial institutions that can well afford to pay increased tax rates.
Disagreeing with this policy, however, also means incurring Stormont’s displeasure. Opposition by many community and voluntary sector organisations to cuts in social welfare benefits were met with a warning from Stormont finance minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson.
“We need to ensure that we do not create unnecessary alarm,” he said.
It might have escaped the attention of Wilson and his other colleagues from all parties within the Stormont Executive that alarm already exists throughout communities and within families in every one of the Six Counties. There is real and genuine concern about the impact all these cut-backs will have. Alarm also exists within Stormont, but for different reasons.
At the last election, the five parties which make up the Stormont executive polled a total of 608,350 votes out of a possible electorate of 1,210,009. That means just over 50.2% of all those eligible to vote actually cast their ballots for those parties.
As disillusionment and despair increases within working class communities at the failure of the Stormont executive to effect real political, social or economic change, the Stormont parties are keenly aware that, before long, they could well become a minority government in the truest sense of the word.
That is why any and all criticism, from whatever quarter, is collectively viewed by all of Stormont’s parties as not being beneficial to their political project. And therein lies the real challenge for Socialist Republicans and for all other progressives.
It is the challenge to harness that growing disillusionment, to reverse that sense of impotency among our communities in order to genuinely give them a real sense of empowerment, and to build a real and effective alternative to Britain’s neo-colonial Stormont project – a project which, in most people’s daily experiences, is fast becoming a failure.
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