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Tales From Lecale

Updated: 2016-09-07T21:34:01.880-07:00


Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss


Last week I like many of you sat down to watch the much anticipated second instalment in a series of three Leaders Debates prior to the forthcoming UK General Election. The quality of debate was extremely high, and expectedly so, and this was due as much to the standard of questions posed by audience members as it was the standard of candidates.Many of the questions raised very important and difficult issues, from hot topics such as managing the national deficit to the forthcoming Papal visit to the UK. But in particular I wish to focus on an issue brought up during the discussions about pension provision: that taboo of old age. With specific reference to how we as a society look after our old people.Over the years I have often pondered about the lives of old people and what it would be like to be old. To me old people are just young people who have around for a long time. They were like us once, young and with their whole lives ahead of them, economically active and socially important.We see old people everyday when we are walking in town, carrying their shopping bags and shuffling along the street seemingly oblivious and in a world of their own. Generally speaking we pay little attention to them and them to us. I have always got the impression that they feel as though they live now in a world that is alien to them, and in many respects it is. They tend to speak of the good old days. So what would your life be like when you are 80? Ironically, we will probably look back on these days now as “the good old days”. We will look back to now and think "god those days were the best" and reminisce about the days before flying cars and teleportation, when people had to walk or get the train.Is it that absurd to believe the world in 50 years time will be one of flying cars? Maybe. But just think of how much the world has changed over the last 20 years, never mind in the last 50! The internet, mobile phones, computers, iPods, satellite and digital television, plasma screens, modern air travel that makes travelling to Spain seem as easy as taking a bus to the nearest town, the list goes on.In 2060 it would be fair to say that there will be people of our generation alive then who will not recognise that world from our own now. People often think about what it would be like to live on another planet – but not often about living on the same planet in 50 years time. In many ways they are the same. It could seem very alien. Change, although slow and steady, can often be quite radical and you could soon find yourself out of touch with modern developments very easily. This we have all encountered in some form or another- be it teaching your elder uncle about using the internet or showing your father how to use their new mobile phone.To someone who is 80 this world must seem very distant and detached from the one in which they grew up in. They grew up in a time of Vietnam, civil rights and massive social upheaval. This world is so alien to them that many retreat to life in the safety and comfort of their own home, with interaction mainly limited to family members and close friends. This is what happens. I have no doubt that there is a generation of old people out there who are voluntary prisoners in their own homes. Many are too scared to walk the streets for fear of crime and anti-social behaviour. It should not be that way.Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) once said "Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members". How we as a society deal with the issue of getting old and particularly how we develop a society that cherishes and integrates older people instead of alienating them is vital towards social progress. I would like to draw your attention to a recent survey conducted on behalf of Age UK (formed by the recent amalgamation between Age Concern and Help the Aged charities). The survey results highlight that older people feel alienated from society with nearly 80% of over-60s believing that older pe[...]

DUP: King-makers in North Down


Following months of speculation surrounding her future, the current MP for North Down Lady Silvia Hermon (above) has finally resigned as a member of Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). It was widely known that Lady Hermon had been deeply unhappy with her party’s official electoral alliance with the UK Conservative Party. The UUP and tories electorally aligned last year under the Ulster Conservatives and Unionist New Force (UCUNF) banner. Immediately after confirmation of her resignation Lady Hermon announced that she will now contest the North Down constituency as an independent unionist candidate in the forthcoming UK Parliamentary election.

Traditionally a unionist seat, North Down now finds itself an interesting political battleground between the internal fractures within Unionism - with media focus now on whether Lady Hermon can beat her old party and win the seat as an independent. I personally admire her ideological stand in opposing the UUP-Conservative alliance - but I do not fancy her chances.

But ultimately the interesting point in all this is that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has yet to nominate a candidate or confirm their intention to contest the North Down constituency in the forthcoming election. Although the DUP having not declared a candidate for the seat as of yet, I believe this to be a tactical ploy. You can bet that the DUP have been watching every development in North Down very closely as the Lady Hermon debacle has unravelled over the last number of months.

If the DUP decide to put forward a candidate the split in the previous UUP vote, between Lady Hermon supporters and the UUP party loyalists, will be enough to allow the DUP victory. If the DUP do not contest the election I suspect that the UUP will win comfortably. The UUP know this and so do the DUP. Media sources are claiming that the DUP have not put forward a candidate in order to allow Lady Hermon a free-run at the UUP, but I do not see that as the case.

I believe the issue of whether the DUP will contest the North Down seat is now a negotiation tool in the ongoing DUP and UUP narrative over “Unionist Unity”. Will the DUP trade a DUP no-show in North Down for a UUP no-show in Fermanagh South Tyrone? And vice-versa? There is much at stake in North Down for the UUP, including the future of UCUNF and even the future of the UUP itself. North Down, the only seat that they held in the current parliament, could be the UUP's Alamo and therefore they will be prepared to use any means necessary to retain it. At all costs. So it is very possible that they will be prepared to explore such "diplomatic" avenues.

I suspect some high-politics will be at play now over the next week or two between the UUP and DUP. If the UUP lose the North Down seat and do not gain another then their alliance with the Conservatives will be virtually in tatters and defunct and they will be left with no MP. It will be a devastating blow to the party. The major question is how far are the UUP are willing to go in order to prevent this from happening?

No Justice Found In This Unholy Alliance


So the NI Assembly has voted and finally agreed to the devolution of Policing and Justice powers from Westminster. This follows protracted negotiations and recent talks between all the major parties and the British and Irish Prime Ministers.The SDLP had been the only party to make a nomination for the role of Justice Minister until the Alliance Party finally confirmed, what many commentators had expected, and signalled their intention to nominate also.The major area of interest though throughout this saga has been the issue surrounding the allocation of the position or what party should be the recipient of the new Justice Ministry. If the Ministry was allocated by the d’Hondt procedure, the normal procedure for allocating Ministries in this power-sharing system, then it would be the SDLP that would be entitled to take the position.However the UK Northern Ireland Act (2009) stipulated that if devolution of powers would occur, during the lifetime of this assembly, a future Justice Ministry would be allocated by a cross-community vote in the Assembly. The Alliance nomination, coupled with this departure from the d’Hondt mechanism, has caused consternation and concern in some quarters and quite rightfully for number of reasons.Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the allocation of positions on the Northern Ireland Executive is performed under d’Hondt. Now it seems that this procedure enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement is all of a sudden politically expendable and conveniently ignored at the behest of the British Government.The Alliance Party previously stated that they do not wish to be part of the Executive. Now we see a complete policy somersault by Alliance simply because their political principles can be bought. This volte-face came about after the DUP and Sinn Fein agreed to a much awaited, but cobbled-together, community relations strategy for NI. It has taken 12 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement for a community relations strategy to be agreed and so the timing of this is obviously questionable with the strategy seen by many as condition for Alliance support.If the Alliance Party nomination is passed by the Assembly it will mean that out of 108 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) 104 members belong to parties which form the Government. That would not be democracy. It would be a form of tyranny and an affront democracy. How can the NI Executive be held to account by a body that is overwhelming dominated by parties of the Executive? It frankly can not be. It would be a wholly undemocratic arrangement, with dire consequences for the quality of legislation and the political health of the Assembly.The UK Northern Ireland Act (2009) highlights that the British Government has been completely complicit in a process of political manipulation that has involved slowly stripping away the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in order to prop-up the DUP and Sinn Fein leadership. You can't just change the rules half way through the game in order to engineer a particular outcome- that is gerrymandering. Just when we thought that the malign influences of the past were dead and buried it seems that gerrymandering is still alive and well in 21st century Northern Ireland.Frankly the Northern Ireland Act 2009 was an affront to democracy. Not only did the Government put the legislation through accelerated passage to prevent proper scrutiny of the bill but they also enforced limited debate and opportunity for amendments. There are many issues of concern around this legislation, such as the issues surrounding the 2012 sunset clause, the role of the PPS, M15 and intelligence gathering, etc. While these issues remain important, they do not distract from what is the major issue in my eyes- the change from the normal procedure for appointing ministers.There has been no credible justification or rationale for this departure from normal procedure. The Ministry should be treated equally along with all the other Ministries, allocated by the same procedure[...]

A Young Swedish Social Democrat In Northern Ireland


During one week in late December, I travelled for the first time to Northern Ireland to visit the SDLP Youth to get a glimpse of another Social Democratic Youth League activities and organization. By SSU (which is the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League) and its international part, I had contact with Barry Magee who previously worked for the SDLP and was at our Congress in Sweden in August earlier this year. Barry gave me further contact with Matthew McDermott as SDLP Youth's chairman, and I quickly got a very good contact with both Barry and Matthew who welcomed me.

Matthew booked up several very interesting sessions for me, and I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and the welcome I received from everyone in the SDLP. Matthew managed to arrange a meeting with Margaret Ritchie, which I appreciated very huge, and I really believe in the political line she runs and thinks she is a very good representative for the Social Democrats and the SDLP.

For me as a starting point in a Swedish perspective, it was tremendously rewarding to get an insight into political life in Northern Ireland, as it also contains more political reasons than simply left to the right. I had several interesting conversations with representatives from various parties, as Barry had been kind enough to arrange for me because I would get a nuanced picture of the situation today. I really appreciate that enormously, and while I realize that it is difficult for me to understand the thoughts and feelings that exist, then I do not have the same historical roots of the situation today in Belfast for example.

I found, however, a strong social democratic movement and a belief in a change in society that has been shown to be capable in recent years. For me it is clear that social democracy still has and will play an important role. I do think that social democracy and its policies have the ability to understand people's thoughts about the past, but also that its representatives can capture the ideas of society as the new and young generation today.

I feel an enormous gratitude to all the people from the SDLP who I met during my short stay in Northern Ireland, but especially to Barry Magee who really made sure that my stay was as good as it really was. His efforts to schedule meetings with various representatives were really giving me a huge overall. In addition, he gave me personally a huge welcome as I will never forget and his family showed tremendous hospitality. In that way you can say that Barry really showed in concrete action what social democracy can really be. And that is a solidarity that does not know national boundaries and where cooperation between our countries are part of the work towards a better and redder Europe.

Ruben Wågman
Regionombudsman, SSU Stockholm
The Social Democrat youth movement in Sweden

Ireland to Gaza - Viva Palestina!


This is a moving report by John Hurson, a leading member of the Irish delegation that took part in the recent Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza, Palestine.Click here to view John's photos from the trip.Well folks, the great news to report to you all is that the “Viva Palestina” Humanitarian Aid Convoy safely reached Gaza and delivered all their aid. On January 6th, 517 humanitarians from 20 countries, in close to 200 vehicles, crossed through the Rafah Border into Gaza. The scenes greeting us as we made our way to Gaza city were unbelievable. Over 100,000 lined the roads and streets as we took 3 hours to drive 20 kilometres. They had waited patiently on us for us for weeks, and their outpouring of excitement and gratitude was the most humbling experience in my life. They are the real heroes, not us.Having left London on December 6th the convoy made its way through Europe, and then crossed the sea into Greece. From there, they arrived to a hero’s reception in Turkey, and to add to the convoy, another 200 people in 70 vehicles loaded with aid joined the already swelling numbers on the road. Turkish charity, I.H.H. provided the vehicles and volunteers. This particular charity is one of the leading Turkish charities, and at various times, upwards on 12 Turkish M.P.’s were on the convoy. Their involvement brought with them some serious political clout that was to prove invaluable when we faced some serious difficulties later in the journey.From Turkey, the convoy rolled into Syria, where as expected, the reception was huge. From Syria, the convoy crossed the border into Jordan on December 22nd. It was at this point that I flew to Amman in Jordan and met up with everyone. It was fantastic to meet up with loads of my old friends from the last convoy, and to listen to the many wide and varied stories from the trip thus far. Everyone was in top form, and the end of the road was in sight, at least on a map anyway, as we were all to find out later…….The following day in Amman, thousands showed up for a rally in honour of the convoy. There were a few hours of speeches, as each speech had to be translated into 3 languages each time someone spoke! As you can imagine, it got boring after a while… Upon our return to our hotel, 3 local women had appeared waving an Irish flag. They had been following my “Ireland To Gaza” facebook group, and having found out what hotel we were in, came to show some support for the Irish on the trip. Their mother was from Dublin, and all 3 had lived in Ireland until 15 years ago. They were just so excited to catch up with us and show support, and needless to say, we were inspired by their efforts. Plus, there was great banter as the hotel lobby was full of other convoy members looking on at our fan club!December 24th, we travelled from Amman to the port city of Aqaba in southern Jordan. It was an amazing drive, as 70% of the trip was driving through the desert. In soaring temperatures, driving for hours with nothing but a desert landscape to look at was mind-blowing. From the previous convoy, driving through the desert was my favourite part of the journey, and to be driving through the desert again was special indeed.We rolled into Aqaba around 6 pm, and all the vehicles were parked up in a compound. From here, a 2 hour sail and a 4 hour drive would see us at the Rafah Border. Busses took us into town where we all met up to hear the latest news. George Galloway and others came back from a meeting with Egyptian Government, and announced their new conditions of travel to Gaza. Everyone was shocked, and totally dismayed by Egypt’s new rules.1. We were to hand over all our vehicles and aid to the United Nations Relief Agency.2. Drive back up to Syria, put all our vehicles on a boat and sail it to El Arish Port. We were to take a ferry or fly.3. We were to ask Israel for permission to cross from Egypt into Gaza.Now, on the 1st point, there was no way that we could hand our aid over to[...]

(Climate) Change That We Can Believe In?


World leaders are currently meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss climate change and to negotiate a climate deal to coincide with the expiration of the current Kyoto Protocol framework in 2012.This is the culmination of high-level UN discussions that have been taking place over the past two years, beginning at UN climate talks in Bali, Indonesia in 2007. During these talks world leaders agreed on a timetable for future climate change discussions with a view to agreeing on a concrete post-Kyoto climate deal at Copenhagen this week.The purpose of these preliminary discussions, or “talks about talks”, was to smooth out several issues, including ensuring US participation in the process. This participation was absent from Kyoto. With the US currently the world’s largest economy their participation is essential to the success of any post-Kyoto climate deal. It is not possible to negotiate a global deal that will successfully mitigate climate change, and the effects of climate change, when the major players responsible for climate change are absent.The key to the success of this week’s Copenhagen negotiations will be measured by two important factors: how far the US is prepared to contribute to the process and whether the concerns of developing nations can be met.In terms of the US commitment, if reports are to be believed President Obama may offer up a commitment to cut US carbon emission by around 18%. But Obama is not the problem. Getting his commitment through the US Congress will be an enormous task, particularly due to the strong lobby interests on Capitol Hill that will be seeking to rank up the pressure on Congress to limit US carbon cuts. Obtaining the required legislative consent could therefore require a dilution of the US commitment. Even if Obama does not fully get his own way, and the US offer up as little as a 15% reduction – much lower than it’s counterparts in the developed world, that contribution is still much better than zero. US policy, after 8 years of the Bush administration’s (non)approach to the issue and abstention from Kyoto, is beginning to shift.Progress is certainly being made in terms of the US beginning to live up to their responsibilities as a world leader and major contributor towards the process of climate change. Getting the US fully on board will take time; but time is a luxury. The environmental and human impacts of climate change are being increasingly revealed everyday, from melting glaciers in the Arctic to climate refugees in Africa.Participation by the US is therefore not only welcomed but extremely essential: but this participation will have a price-tag too with developing nations now demanding that the US release $200 billion to combat climate change. And that brings us to the second major issue at Copenhagen: developed economies, or the OECD and G8 countries, must successfully meet the concerns of the developed world: the people most at risk from climate change. Developed nations must provide a sufficient financial package, or climate aid, that will assist governments in the developing world to address the localised impacts of climate change and environmental racism, including issues such as drought and desertification.But while it is quite possible that there will be a deal in Copenhagen; the major questions will be what type of deal will we get and whether such a deal will be effective in terms of implementation and ambition. Whether the major negotiating challenges are successfully navigated will be inconsequential if the climate deal that is negotiated is not legally binding, ambitious in scope and realistic in terms of implementation.The impetus for a successful deal in Copenhagen began over 2 years ago in a 2007 report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC, an international body of experts, asserted that global carbon emissions need to be reduced 25-40% by 2020, 50% by 2050 and up to 80% by[...]

Tales from Iraq and Palestine


Further to my post below about the SSU Congress in Sweden I felt the need to dedicate a separate posting for my meeting with delegates from the Kurdistan Youth Freedom Organisation from Iraq and the Palestinian-based Fatah Youth movement.

It was a tremendous personal honour to meet with social democratic colleagues from Iraq and Palestine and to have the opportunity to discuss with them areas of mutual learning and cooperation in conflict resolution and peace-building. It was interested but extremely harrowing to hear their stories of daily personal struggle and strife against oppressive political and socio-economic conditions. Their stories are of bombs, shootings and death.

They were such nice, genuine people who simply want a better life for themselves and their families and friends. They are fighting over an offence that they did not necessarily give, against those who were not necessarily alive to be offended. Meeting people from these types of scenarios really makes you put many things into clear perspective. Hearing about their struggle makes you more resolute and determined to stand up for what is right- here and abroad.

While each of our respective situations may be very different there are definately many similarities that can be drawn from our individual experiences. Although the conflicts in Iraq and Palestine may be on a much wider and serious scale than the conflict here ever was I still firmly believe that they, and other conflict regions, can learn from our experiences here.

The peace-process here has had its difficulties but we have learned that the only through partnership and working together can we ever resolve our issues - now we resolve our disputes at the political table and not down the barrel of a gun. I reiterated to them that peace processes are never perfect- there are many challenging times and “peace” is not a destination that is easily arrived at.

Achieving peace involves constant hard work and effort not only in terms of developing political relationships but also in building consensus on the ground and in communities. Peace does not just happen overnight – it is a perpetual process – and can only be achieved through compromise and adhering to the fundamental principles of dialogue, respect for diversity, commitment to democracy and non-violence.

We socialists and social democrats want to help build a better world- a world that is free from conflict and the root causes of conflict but for that to happen we must work together, and stand together in solidarity, and stay true to our ideals of social justice, peace and democracy.

35th SSU Congress: Nobody does it better than the Swedes


Recently I attended the 35th SSU Congress in Sweden in my capacity as International Secretary of SDLP Youth. The theme for the conference was “En annan värld är möjlig!” or “another world is possible!” Over 400 delegates from Sweden and 100 international colleagues from all over the world were in attendance.Although the SSU (Swedish Social Democratic Youth League) are one of the largest and strongest social democratic youth movements in Europe, both in terms of membership and finances, I was still extremely impressed at the sheer level of organisation within SSU and the overall high standard of the Congress itself.During the Congress international guests had the opportunity to participate in a range of seminars and workshops.On Sunday international guests arrived, with some coming as far as USA, Canada, South Africa and Mozambique. We participated in the opening of the Congress by Mona Sahlin, the leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), and Jytte Guteland, the Chairperson of the SSU. Both of their speeches were inspiring and motivational, setting a strong tone for the rest of the Congress.On Monday we visited Bommersvik the spiritual home of SSU. Bommersvik is a farm and recreational retreat set deep in countryside south-west of Stockholm. It was bought by SSU during the 1950s and has since been converted into a conference centre with accommodation facilities to cater for SSU seminars and political get-togethers. SSU rents out the conference and accomodation facilities and the acres of farmland are leashed to local farmers- with SSU using the generated income to support the work of their organisation. What amazed me was that SSU actually owned Bommersvik- it belonged to them. It was truly an inspiring place and a central asset to SSU- in real estate value alone Bommersvik must be worth at least over £1 million!! It reminded me somewhat of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude where he would go to reenergise, motivate and reinvent himself altogether.It was this trip that made me fully realise the extent and calibre of SSU and just how well organised and resourced the organisation really are. It is this commitment to organisation that is the reason that social democrats win in Sweden almost at every election. And it is this dedication to organisation that has made SSU a strong social force not only in Sweden but internationally as well- with regular SSU-funded exchange programmes being organised between SSU branches and sister organisations in places such as Palestine and Lebanon.In Bommersvik we discussed the Swedish Social Welfare Model with Anne-Marie Lindgren, the chief ideologue of the Swedish Social Democrats. Even with masters dissertation-level knowledge of the Scandinavian Social Model I still found this an informative discussion and it reinforced to me just how seriously the Swedes take social welfare. Social welfare policies are run-through everything in Sweden.It is this discussion that reminded me of my initial thoughts upon arriving in Sweden. When I first arrived I noticed how expensive everything was- particularly the price of beer(!). The Swedish welfare system is reliant on tax. The purpose of high VAT levels on a beer, for example, and the highly-taxed cost of living is to subsidise the high levels and standard of social welfare provision that the country has come to expect. In Sweden there may be a much higher level of taxation and a high cost of living- but this is off-set by higher wages, a higher standard of living, a social welfare system that is probably the strongest in Europe and poverty rates that are among the lowest in Europe.On Tuesday we visited Stockholm and enjoyed a trip to the Swedish Parliament where we discussed the current domestic political situation. The conservative-led coalition currently in power in Sweden has performed very poorly in addressing the current economic cris[...]

Stormont to take on Interns?


Yesterday's news carried a rather interesting development for local graduates. Northern Ireland's Minister for Employment and Learning Sir Reg Empey argued that government departments here should consider establishing internship schemes to help tackle, what is for me, a crisis level of unemployment in young graduates.

Sir Reg admits that with finances already stretched his department alone may only be able to fund only 10 such internships. Put that across all the other departments and that is a potential 110 internship vacancies to be created, potentially speaking of course. The success of such a scheme will depend on gaining cross-party support and getting other departments to commit themselves to participating in such a scheme.

I can't see any political hurdles for such a plan but there certainly may be financial obstacles. With various departmental budgets already under serious pressure will Sir Reg be able to even guarantee a minimum of 10 internship positions per department? And more importantly, will those departments that do participate in such a scheme be prepared to ensure that future recipients of such internship positions are paid a living wage?

Frankly, these proposals are a case of “too little, too late” and the creation of a potential 110 internship positions will be cosmetic and, in practice, will represent a drop in the ocean in terms of tackling current levels of graduate unemployment. The economic crisis has been in full flow for well over a year now, with unemployment figures steadily rising over this period, and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) have been remarkably slow to react.

A “keep-the-fingers-crossed” mentality and an inability to plan ahead, by addressing what was clearly a foreseeable situation, has meant that DEL have presided over a labour market that is allowing the hopes of a generation of young people go down the plug-hole. Sir Reg is not responsible for the current economic crisis but he is culpable for its negative local impact- through his department’s inaction to address some of the local symptoms of the wider economic malaise.

International Labour Day


On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the annual Irish Congress of Trade Unions May Day Parade in Belfast to coincide with International Labour Day. The worsening economic crisis has meant that this year the mood of participants was particularly determined, resolute and with much more impetus.

At this time of economic crisis, when people are losing their jobs and employment protections are being rolled back, it is important that workers stand together in solidarity in the face of depreciating socio-economic conditions.

The local impacts of the economic crisis are now beginning to be revealed- with workers and small businesses across Europe finding themselves at the mercy of the failing economic markets.

In this climate of uncertainty it is vital that political parties work together to meet the economic challenges that people are facing in their everyday lives.

Currently the DUP/Sinn Fein regime is failing people and failing to meet the challenges laid down by this crisis. There can be no room for policy inertia- the DUP and Sinn Fein must set aside petty political positioning and start delivering for workers.

But these tough times must also be met with progressive policies- not the tired, old economic philosophy that has been responsible for this crisis and the same that was behind the failed DUP/Sinn Fein budget.

This destructive economic philosophy is failing people right across Europe and it is obvious that now is the time for new leadership.

Our current European representatives are failing us all. We haven't seen or heard from them for 5 years and now they have the bare faced cheek to ask for our support. People deserve better.

That is why in June’s European elections it is vital that the SDLP is returned with a strong mandate to the European Parliament.

Only by supporting candidates such as Alban Maginness can we have positive change for Europe- he is committed to creating a more Social Europe that puts people first.

ECOSY Winter University 2009: Change for Europe!


Recently I attended the 4th European Community Of Socialist Youth[1] (ECOSY) Winter University in the Party of European Socialists (PES) Headquarters and the European Parliament, Brussels.The event was attended by more than 30 young socialists and social democrats from all over Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, and Italy amongst others. The programme for the Winter University included various political seminars and themed discussions with a diverse range of panelists, including MEPs and NGO representatives.Key priorities of the conference included tackling European and global inequality and the issue of global climate change.On Tuesday we had a discussion with Anna Colombo MEP, Secretary General of the PES Group in the European Parliament. One of the many valuable points Anna made was that we, as social democrats, look at the creation of jobs as a value and not as a mean to tackle economic problems. Work must not be held as an end in itself and the principles of Decent Work, Decent Life must be secured.On Wednesday we discussed with MEPs issues such as social security and the economical crisis, education and innovation, climate change and sustainable development, global governance and nuclear disarmament, integration and migration. On Thursday we discussed the development issues with Pia Locatelli MEP and Emma Ceery of Oxfam and closed with a debate on how to build a citizens Europe with Richard Corbett MEP.Across Europe we socialists and social democrats want to ensure a better working environment for all workers in the EU, particularly marginalised workers. Economic development and prosperity has left many people behind and ECOSY, the youth section of the Party of European Socialists (PES), demands that the EU works towards a more equal and sustainable European model of development.During the past year we, as ECOSY Young European Socialists, developed an election manifesto 'Change for Europe' for the forthcoming European Parliament elections.The ECOSY manifesto demands include: Employment flexicurity not without social security; fight unemployment and under employed (particularly in young people); for full employment; increased job security; promotion of a knowledge-based economy; proper sustainable development and environmental protection; free access to education and life-long learning; more investment in research and development; better access to public services; improved youth exchanges; and better provision of information on EU policies for European citizens.In particular I would like to see minimum standards of working conditions to be introduced in EU member states. This should include legal guarantee for social rights and protection, full rights for interim agency workers and treatment of internships as real jobs.It is important that the ‘Decent Work, Decent Life’ agenda is promoted at EU level. The Lisbon strategy has an important external dimension and its social goals have to stand at the heart of Europe’s external policy. Official development aid needs be increased by 1% of GDP in order to achieve UN Millennium Development Goals and help alleviate global poverty levels.There must be an end to exploitation and the creation of a more equal and sustainable Europe. This can only be done through the relaunching of the Social Europe Agenda.This Winter University was a unique event because its programme included participation in a Global Progressive Forum conference on ‘The New Globalisation for Progressive Change’. Speakers at the conference included Bill Clinton, Howard Dean and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (PES President). The event was attended by over 3000 progressives, trade union activists and NGO representatives from all over the world. I had the unique opportunity to take part in a PES interview that made [...]

Why Won’t The Sammy Show Just Go Off Air?!


Today in the Assembly Environment Minister Sammy Wilson attempted to defend his ridiculous decision to ban UK Government-backed ads urging people to be more energy efficient. The Minister was responding to an Assembly motion of concern over his recent position.I watched the debate and I must say it was nothing short of an hour long episode of the Big Sammy Show. Wilson ranted, laughed manically, ranted, laughed and then ranted some more. As far as responsible or serious government goes- this was farce. Wilson is single-handedly is making a mockery of the role of a Minister of Government and he is turning NI into a laughing stock.The Environment Minster attempted to deflect some of the furore over his decision to censor the energy efficiency ads by singling out several MLAs with a pre-prepared brief that besmirched their environmental claims or green credentials.But the Minister was missing the point.MLAs are not the running the Department for the Environment- he is. It is about time he put an end to this self-induced side show and assumed some sort of mantle of responsibility and duty of leadership.His performance may have been amusing but he is increasingly looking like a man that should not be allowed anywhere near instruments of power.As I have posted before Wilson is a man who loves the sound of his own voice- he appears to revel in this figure of fun persona that he has crafted for himself - and simply is not happy when things are not revolving around him. He is a man who pays homage to populist sound bites and eco-sceptic dogma.At one point the Minister questioned MLAs, who were supporting the motion, on what scientific evidence they based their assertation that there is a link between climate change and human behaviour. What on earth is Wilson taking with is porridge? He obviously has not heard of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)!!Wilson chooses to simply ignore the work this international panel of leading climate scientists have been involved in, under a mandate by the UN, and during the debate today he did not even acknowledge the outcomes of the recent climate change discussions in Bonn.At the end of the day this whole furore is not about Sammy Wilson censoring an ad, it is about an Environment Minister who refuses to accept international consensus that climate change is influenced by human behaviour.While Wilson might think the whole debacle is one big laugh- the position he has adopted is immature, ignorant and irresponsible.The Minister is completely entitled to have his own dogmatic, eco-sceptic views about the human impact on climate change but as a Minister he is bound to the Ministerial code and to addressing the environmental commitments published in the NI Programme for Government. The Programme for Government unequivocally ackowledges the role of man in influencing climate change- Sammy Wilson and his party, the DUP, signed up to this! So Wilson's recent position towards Government-backed energy efficiency ads is extremely difficult to comprehend.The Environment Minister’s current attitude is extremely unhelpful.Whilst his attics may sometimes seem amusing, he should attempt to contribute something positive to the climate change debate instead of indulging his own political platitudes.A starting point would be for Sammy to take stock of his own rogue emissions- judging by the amount of hot air he is currently polluting the NI political climate with! This is a democracy and Sammy Wilson is entitled to his own opinion- but not to his own facts.[...]

Only Way To Defeat Dissident Republicanism Is To Build a Shared Future


Following the recent shootings of police officer Stephen Carroll (48) and British Army personnel Mark Quinsey (23) and Patrick Azimkar (21) there has been much debate in the media and wider political circles on how to deal with the threat posed by anti-peace process or dissident republican groups that support violence. Some have spoken of the need for greater security measures and a ruthless response to the threat. With some, including the egocentric Jim Allister MEP , even calling for the SAS to be deployed. Meanwhile others urge a more cautious and progressive approach.Talk of sending in the SAS is pure folly. It would be a regressive and disproportionate measure that could throw us back into the dark days. Politicians need be careful in what they say as well as do. Backwards and provocative rhetoric employed by people like David Simpson MP can inflame, destabilise and threaten the very essence of everything that people have worked hard for over the past number of years. To encourage 'ruthless' response to the threat is reckless and nothing more than typical political posturing from the DUP.Any response to the dissident threat must not be reckless or it could prove counterproductive. Any response must not undermine community confidence in the PSNI, undermine the measures that created accountable policing and undermine the process of demilitarisation that has been central to normalising society in the North.Adopting a cautious and measured approach to dealing with the security situation is vital. The recent riots in Lurgan, following the arrest of prominent republican Colin Duffy, warn of this. The type of gung-ho measures, promoted by the likes of Jim Allister, could only serve to aggravate the situation.Dissidents will seek to exploit any reponse for maximum PR, fueling their propaganda and helping to act as a recruiting tool for them.During the past week or so I read an article by Kevin Toolis regarding the ideology of dissident republicanism. It was a very interesting piece that posed a few hard questions for decision makers. How can we defeat a radical and fundamental ideology similar to that espoused by the likes of Al Qaida? It is a difficult task that can only be achieved by winning the battle for people’s hearts and minds.Toolis talks of dissident republicanism as a determined and ancient political doctrine that has survived for nearly a hundred years, sometimes in incubation and at other times raising its head to commit indisputable acts of barbarism such the Omagh Bombing and the recent shootings.It has survived in the dark corners of people’s minds and in the impoverished estates across the North. Here it is regrouping and taking hold in the psyche of another generation of young people. It is thriving in those poor and dilapidated areas that have not overtly benefited from the new political dispensation, and in the people who are too young to remember the terrible times of the Troubles.An important lesson that the Troubles taught us was- that those people who are susceptible or vulnerable to the influences of violent political extremism tend to be disenfranchised young men from the poorest of socio-economic backgrounds. This is true of the young men who rioted and created make-shift road blocks recently in Lurgan. These people are alienated from the peace process and the benefits that it has brought.I believe it is not political ideology that primarily drives the recent events in places like Lurgan, Craigavon and Massereene. Political dissent is a related component but only in the sense that it is the visible symptom of the wider underlying problem of poverty and social exclusion in republican areas. Political dissent is a by-product of poverty and riots, instability and support for[...]

Death once again stalks this land


On Saturday night two soldiers were shot dead and four others wounded during an attack outside an army Barracks in Masserene, Co. Antrim. My deepest condolences go out to those people and their families.

The Real IRA has claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement issued to the Dublin based Sunday Tribune newspaper.

The attacks took place just one day after it was announced that the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), part of UK Intelligence Services, were to be deployed to the North to counter the recent and considerable increase in dissident Republican activity.

There had been considerable political fall-out off the back of this announcement with both the SDLP and Sinn Fein claiming that the Policing Board had been undermined and should have been informed prior to the decision.

Republicans and nationalists were only informed about this issue through media sources after Friday’s meeting of the Policing Board.

This action was counterproductive and only served to undermine the authority of the Policing Board and cause affront to hard fought democratic and accountability mechanisms.

Regardless, this attack has laid bare the severity of the current situation. Dissidents have proven beyond doubt that they still have the capability and determination to carry out attacks against the security services and against the democratic will of the people of Ireland.

Dissident republicans must realise that they are not the chosen few. They have no mandate or popular support for their campaigns- their actions are not legitimate. They have no political direction and do not have any clear strategy, or any strategy, to create a united Ireland.

History has shown that violence can not and does not work. Violence only serves to beget violence. These actions will only serve to further put off the prospect of a united Ireland and buttress unionist opposition to it.

Ordinary people want to get on with their lives, get a decent job, a decent and normal life. They do not want this. The overwhelming majority on the people of this island, North and South, voted for the Good Friday Agreement. They do not want this.

The signing of the GFA was a clear message that rejected the use of violence and committed popular support to the principle of consent. The consent principle is the only tool now to further nationalist and republican goals.

Former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume once said ''it is people who have rights, not territory, not land. Our people, unfortunately, are divided and cannot be brought together by and form of coercion, only through understanding, reconciliation and agreement''.

I sincerely hope that in this dark time, with all the progress that has been achieved perched upon a precipice, we must reflect on these words and our own experiences and reach the conclusion that peace is the only way forward.

We must all come together in opposition and in solidarity against these attacks and reaffirm our collective commitment to the paths of peace and democracy in the North of Ireland. We have come along way over the years and we must not and will not give up on building a Shared Future together.

I appeal to those responsible to please cease this activity. Ask yourselves deep down do you really want to go down this violent road again?

UK Climate Change Policy is all Rhubarb and Custard


Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in the US this week meeting with President Obama and the US Congress. The purpose of the visit was to discuss strengthening US-UK relations and addressing the current economic crisis. Brown used the opportunity to discuss a green economic stimulus package that he would like to see introduced to address the current crisis. During his speech to Congress Brown spoke an astonishing amount of rhubarb- maybe he has been paying too much attention to the brand of politics of G-Obama! He paid much lip-service to the green economy and spoke of his desire to create a new low-carbon UK economy- a dispensation that could create 400,000 new jobs. Questionable statistics and questionable intentions. Mr Brown claimed that independent research estimates that 1.3 million people will be employed in the environmental sector by 2017. These statistics even though questionable would undoubtedly represent a new era of ecological modernisation.Before this can happen there needs to be an improvement in all sorts of environmental regulations- not just mealy-mouthed commitments but real-world actions to meet environmental targets. Rhetoric is simply not enough.Brown mentioned a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. This is totally pie in the sky stuff considering current form. These targets are actually more ambitious (!) than the international targets set by UN International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC).The IPCC, an international body of experts, asserted that global carbon emissions need to be reduced 25-40% by 2020, 50% by 2050 and up to 80% by 2100.Action needs to be realistic and perhaps the targets agreed at the climate change talks in Bali were much too ambitious. Will UN countries be able to reduce carbon emissions by 25-40% by 2020- only 11 years away? The IPCC recommendations are unachievable as the UN process is totally out of sync with this kind of pace of action and implementation. Cue the alarm bells.There will be a climate change deal later this year but the question remains whether the deal will be effective in terms of implementation and ambition.Any post-Kyoto agreement MUST be more successful or effective- as Kyoto was only designed to reduce emissions by 2-3% of 1990 levels and even still most countries have not met these somewhat conservative targets. With this in mind, what evidence is there to suggest that the UN targets agreed at Bali, and the even more ambitious ones promoted by Brown this week, are in any way achievable? None.It was interesting to note that during Brown’s visit to the US he did not once mention where responsibility for the current financial crisis lies. This is at considerable odds with his own domestic policy- as Brown has continuously blamed the US for creating this current financial crisis.When addressing domestic opponents and critics alike, Brown has always attempted to absolve and distance himself of any responsibility for this financial mess. He has consistently criticised the US and at the same time defended his records as PM and as the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer.Regardless, any talk of a Green New Deal must be taken with a pinch of salt. Brown is no authority on environmental issues. How can he talk about creating a low-carbon economy when he and his acolyte Lord Mandelson are so intent on massive airport expansions and creating a third runway at Heathrow Airport? He can not continue to ride two horses at the same time.The expansion plans at Heathrow have been met with considerable local opposition and Brown ignored this, prompting the local MP to protest in Parliament. Brown’s record poses serious doubts over his green credentials and [...]

European Social Model 2009


Regulatory competition, EU enlargement and economic globalisation, have all placed considerable pressures on the European Social Model. These pressures have been exacerbated by the recent financial crisis- with rising levels of public debt and decreasing levels of public expenditure across EU members states compounded by the collapse of currencies and banking systems across the globe.In light of these pressures and with many EU states now clearly failing to meet the Lisbon Strategy’s targets it is imperative that the European Social Model is reformed.The objectives of the Lisbon Agenda have shaped recent debates within the EU that stress the importance of competitiveness and innovation of the EU economy as a whole. But these objectives have been considerably undermined, and essentially made redundant, due to the impact of the recent financial crisis and the subsequent shift in priorities of European governments.Much work needs to be done to reform pension provision, tackle unemployment and protect workers rights, integrate women better into the workforce, to raise secondary level educational participation, promote life long learning and reduce EU poverty in order to build the competitive knowledge based economy that Lisbon envisaged.The current socio-economic challenges that face Europe and its people can not be addressed by states alone and must be addressed collectively as a regional project. The recent financial crisis has exposed the folly of standing alone in a globalised world- just look at what happened to Iceland who are now crying out for the security of EU membership. These news challenges are macro-economic, and micro-economic, there are external, and internal.The European Social Model aspires to a certain type of society, a knowledge based society that is entrenched in the Social Europe Agenda. But to meet these challenges the European Social Model must reform and redefine itself in a Europe that is increasingly under pressure from the outside and within.One notable aspect of the economic crisis is that it has highlighted that European-level regulation is as important as ever. EU regulations must now be used to foster solidarity and cooperation between EU member states at this time of crisis. Only through cooperation and solidarity can Europe survive this financial quagmire, we can not stand alone.This solidarity can be achieved by the promotion of regulations to address the renewal of the European Social Model. The decision last December by the EU Parliament to revise and address the opt-out clauses of the EU Working Time Directive is one positive example of this.Reform of the European Social Model must tackle issues of job quality; skills, life-long learning and career development; gender equality; health and safety at work; flexibility and security; inclusion and access to the labour market; work organisation and work-life balance; social dialogue and worker involvement; diversity and non-discrimination and finally overall economic performance and productivity.The need to reform the ESM is apparent. In key areas EU member states are falling behind non-EU states such as Norway, Switzerland and the US, particularly in respect to Research & Development.Reform of the European Social Model must not negate the Social Europe Agenda but must reaffirm this agenda through a process of competitive solidarity. It is important that the economic crisis is not used as an excuse to dilute social standards. Strong social standards are an important tool in fighting poverty and social exclusion- necessary ingredients for addressing the current economic malaise.[...]

EU Commission warns DARD their distribution of the Farm Modernisation Scheme may have breached EU rules


Following on from my previous post, it appears that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) may soon find themselves in further difficulties over the recent Farm Modernisation Scheme debacle.

DARD could soon face legal confrontation with the EU Commission over the manner in which funding was allocated under the Farm Modernisation Scheme (FMS) after the EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel waded into the row.

Commissioner Fischer Boel has said that the way DARD distributed funding for the FMS was 'unacceptable' and that the 'first come-first serve' basis for funding allocation had broke EU laws.

This revelation further compounds the widespread criticism of DARD's handling of the issue and places the beleaguered Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew under further pressure.

The Minister's handling of this issue has been nothing short of ignorant and disgraceful. Never mind the fact that the move breached EU law - the manner in which farmers have been treated has been despicable.

It has had a major demoralising impact on the local agricultural sector with many farmers complaining that they felt demeaned, humiliated and like beggars.

Due to the current pressures on the industry farmers hands are tied financially and as a result they were virtually forced to stand in desperately long queues to compete for a small portion of what was already a small pot of funding.

£6m does not go along way in agriculture and the Department knew from the very start that demand for these funds would be high. They can not fake surprise now at a situation that has been looming for some time.

This allocation highlights considerable incompetency within the higher echelons of DARD and these people must be held to account.

If DARD has broke EU rules then it may be forced to launch a renewed process of fundiing allocation which will cause even further pain to those farmers who were first in line.

Considering the current state of farming industry the Minister should have known better than to approve the allocation of funding in this manner. It was unethical, inequitable and now possibly illegal.

The Minister must be held to account before the Assembly and more importantly she must apologise immediately to all those farmers who have been hurt by this whole mess.

Agriculture NI: There Must Be A Better Way


Tonight hundreds of farmers from across the six counties are gathering outside Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offices in the hope of obtaining a small slice of the £6m funding made available through the DARD Farm Modernisation Scheme (FMS).

In strange scenes, farmers are taking part in overnight queues in the hope to be some of the lucky few who obtain the much needed but limited financial assistance. The support measures are being provided through the EU Commission Rural Development Programme and are made available though the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s FMS.

The available funding will assist some 1200 farmers modernise farming measures in order to promote better animal welfare standards and efficiency within the farming sector.

In some places the PSNI will be present just in case the situation gets tense as can tend to happen in these circumstances- this is to be completely expected. Farmers are having a tough time as it is and do not deserve this type of treatment from the Department. There has to be a better way.

This 'first come, first serve' approach to funding distribution is denying many farmers particularly the old and immobile, who simply can’t not sit outside all night in the freezing cold outside their local DARD Direct Office, their entitlements under the Rural Development Programme.

Yes there may be limited funding available and interest in the programme is considerably high but the way DARD have handled this issue is scandalous. The Department have known for some time that this situation was inevitable due to the limited funds being made available. It really is astonishing that they have done nothing at all to mitigate these circumstances. It is a total mess.

Last week I had an informal discussion with a friend who is a farming representative and he suggested that the current free-for-all setup under the FMS is simply not fair on farmers. Farmers are being pitted against each other in competition for funding and this is completely unethical. It is demeaning, discriminatory and farmers are deeply hurt by the actions and attitude of DARD.

He suggested that a lottery system would be much more appropriate in these circumstances and this would prevent the current scrabble that we are seeing with potentially ugly scenes outside DARD Direct Offices. Lessons must be learned from this fiasco.

I must agree with him, with limited funds available DARD has a responsibility to ensure that what funding is available is distributed as equitably as possible. Otherwise the funding will not reach those that really need it the most.



At the beginning of the week Environment Minister Sammy Wilson put his foot in it again by censoring a planned UK Government advertisement campaign aimed at educating people about the impacts on climate change. The Minister, whose sceptical views on the impact of humans on climate change are well known, claimed the planned TV campaign was ‘insidious propaganda’.

Never one to shy away from saying what he thinks, the Environment Minister refused back down on his decision and subsequently during the course of the week drew further criticism by weakly attempting to justify his decision.

If the public uproar over this debacle wasn't bad enough for Wilson - it seems he might now be in a considerable spot of bother with the NI Assembly - after the Environment Committee passed a 6-4 vote of ‘No Confidence’ in the Minister earlier today.

Environment Committee member and SDLP Environment Spokesperson Tommy Gallagher MLA proposed the motion of 'No Confidence' in the Minister. The SDLP’s Gallagher said ‘we need to be taking environmental issues much more seriously than the Minister appears to be taking them’.

However fellow Environment Committee member, the DUP’s Peter Weir, criticised the motion and labelled it nothing more than ‘a point scoring exercise’. With considerable pressure on the Minister will Big Sammy live to fight another day?

Wilson it must be said is not normally one to back down and it is extremely doubtful that he will pay much attention to the Committee’s ruling. But with mounting public and political pressure against a Minister that simply won't back down, or doesn't know when to shut up, the DUP may be forced to act.

Interestingly these recent comments from Wilson further add to a general theme of controversy that seems to follow the Minister wherever he goes these days. One could be forgiven for getting the impression that Wilson seems to enjoy being the centre attention and revels in his own sensationalism. Seems like nothing more than a trumped-up ego trip to me.

Last week we had Sammy lambasting local schools for closures, due to the recent snowfall, with Wilson claiming the decision was in appeasement of ‘health and safety nuts’.

The week before that Sammy sparked a backlash - after providing yet another useful insight into the DUP’s rascist mindset - when he suggested that during the economic crisis it should be a case of ‘local jobs for local people’. Although Big Sammy may not live in Royston Vasey, or shop at a ‘local shop for local people’, he certainly is in a League of His Own.

So that makes it an already extremely eventful year for the Environment Minister and it is only February! I wonder who or what will be the next target for Big Sammy...

Environment Minister Censors Climate Change Awareness Campaign


Once again poor old Northern Ireland is the laughing stock of the rest of the UK and Ireland....

The Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has again put his head above the parapet by withdrawing a planned UK Government advertisement campaign aimed at educating people about their individual impacts on climate change and providing information on how to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Environment Minister is again under mounting pressure for his outspoken views that humans do not contribute to climate change.

This subsequent political pressure was to be expected and is completely justified.

His controversial decision is based on his belief that climate change is not a man made problem. This is the same belief system held by (thankfully) former US President George Bush and flies in the face of a growing body of scientific evidence that frimly stipulates that climate change is a man made problem.

Leading climate scientists are in consensus that there is a considerable human impact on climate change.

The International Panel on Climate Change, set up by the United Nations, is made up of climate experts from all over the planet and after the last round of UN climate talks they again reiterated the devastating impact that man is having on the planet.

Unfortunately there are many climate change sceptics and eco-deniers out there in the north and this move will resonate well with them. On the contrary to Sammy's beliefs - that 'eco-fundamentalists' are not informed- it is these people who have not read up on the issue.

Wilson is playing a dangerous game by going down this road against scientific consensus and against UK Government policy (plus EU) on this issue.

I think (hope) that sometimes deep down Sammy doesn't even believe some of the stuff he spouts and only says it to portray himself as anti-political correctness and straight talking. If this is the case then he is not the type of person who should be in an important role such as Environment Minister.

If he is actually using the climate change issue as some platform to seem radical and against fashionable thought then he is acting grossly irresponsibly.

Climate change affects us all- it is a global challenge. But it affects the global population in very varied ways and intensities. If you adhere to the 'three worlds' theory (that suggests that we need 3 planet earths to sustain our current rate of consumption) then you will be aware that climate change and environmental degradation will certainly impact negatively on the quality of lives of our children.

A wetter global climate climate has already devasted wheat crops across the world leading to global rises in the price of bread. This has lead to starvation for many thousands of people living in non-OECD countries and put many pressures on the lives of those living in poverty. This is just one impact of climate change.

It is ok for Sammy Wilson to sit in his ivory tower up at DUP HQ and talk this type of nonsense when he is ignorant to the fact that people in Africa have to live with Environmental Rascism on a daily basis. These people are the ones bearing the true brunt of climate change- with desertification and drought an all too sombre reality.

The Environment Minister may not believe in the human impact on climate change but there are many people with knowledge and experience on the issue who would beg to differ.

Tackling the Economic Crisis


Yesterday I took part in an interesting public debate in Dublin regarding the economic crisis and how it can be solved I participated in a panel discussion alongside representatives from Irish Labour Youth, Socialist Youth and Young Greens.This post provides an outline of my position on the economic crisis and the issues that I raised during the debate...The global economic system is always in crisis. It is nothing new. As long as there is poverty and social exclusion in the world then the economic system is failing. So what makes this current economic crisis exceptional? With the onset of globalisation this is the first real economic crisis that has affected the entire international community.Economic pressures in the US have been massively exacerbated and exported to the rest of the world by the process of financial globalisation and the increasing integration of economic markets. What makes this crisis unprecedented is that it is truely global.The current pressures on the economic system first presented itself with the rising price of oil and the subsequent inflation in the cost of living- with increased food prices in particular. Oil price increases have meant that farmers have to spend more on fuel for their tractors/machinery and this increase in production cost has been passed on to consumers with rising food prices a direct consequence.The increasing cost of living was then compounded by the mortgage crisis that hit the US economy last year. The collapse of mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae came as a direct response to irresponsible and risky lending.People who clearly could not afford mortgages for particular properties were given mortgages. When many of these people defaulted on their mortgage repayments or failed to afford the repayments then the whole system began to crumble.The spectacular collapse of the mortgage system in the US rolled out into the global banking sector where many banks had bought mortgages during the good times and were now left with substantially toxic mortgage assets.The collapse of banks such as Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock, and the Presbyterian Mutual Society here in the north, came as a direct response to banks having toxic mortgage assets. When banks struggled to sell these toxic assets from their books this impacted on their own finances and affected their abilities to lend to each other. Banks became cautious and did not want to particpate in any lending that had any element of risk attached.With this mortgage crisis now in full flow, ordinary people are stuggling to buy and sell homes and young people in particular can not get their first step onto the property ladder- this has led to a crisis in the housing sector. With the collapse of some pension schemes people's key source of economic security was their homes and the rising values of their property.With the bursting of the housing bubble- now they don't even have that.With internal pressures within the banking system banks are tightening their belts and restricting loan facilities - not just between the banks themselves - but also between the banks and their customers. This has created a lending crisis for small-medium business- as many in this sector need these loans to support them during this difficult financial situtation. For individuals there is now no easy credit to make up for pressures on wages.Here in the north the construction industry has been hit hard by the housing crisis. With a shortage in demand for new builds building firms have had [...]

Education NI: From Wreck to Ruane


Last week we heard the Education Minister Ms Ruane provide some 'clarity' to the post-primary education debate. The only thing the Minister made clear was that she is not clear about what will happen to the education system under her proposals.For months now, if not years, teachers, parents, students and anyone else involved in the education sector have been kept in the dark about Ruane's plans for post-primary transfer arrangements in light of her decision to remove the 11+.The pressure on the Minister to provide clarity has been mounting steadily over this time.People hanging onto the hope for clarity on the issue must be extremely disapponted by the Ruane's display last week in the Assembly. Her constant foot-dragging and politicisation of the education debate has been tough to swallow for many.I for one agree with the Minsters intentions. The 11+ is a failed system. It fails so many young people. It simply does not offer a progressive management of the futures life chances of our children.Yes the current education system, underpinned by the 11+ transfer test, has had many victories in its time. Children in the north have consistently topped UK league tables for performance in all key levels of the curriculum.However, whilst the north has dominated the top tiers of educational performance for so long, there remains an untold and untrumpeted underbelly of underperformance.Whilst it is true that young people in the north may achieve the highest levels of educational attainment in the UK with the highest proportion of students achieving A grades and above- we also have the very dirty prize of being home to the lowest educational attainers in the UK.In the north more people as a percentage leave the education system with little or no GCSEs, much lower than the government standard of 5. This portrays an education system of extreme disparity. The variance between the top achievers and the lowest is simply not acceptable.But really can the removal of the 11+ improve this situation? I believe it can but only if its removal is backed up by investment in children and their respective socio-economic circumstances at home. That perhaps is a debate for another day. But any movement towards a comprehensive style system like in England may not necessarily address the fundamental issue of gross disparities in educational attainment. Ruane's assumption that it will is extremely hap-hazzard.Simply put- lumping all children into the same school will not in itself create an automatic level playing field for attainment.Ruane's discision to remove the 11+ however receives my endorsement. But how the Minister has gone about the business of replacing the transfer test has left alot to be desired.Her constant foot-dragging, politicisation and confrontation on the issue has done much damage to these noble intentions. By not achieving any sort of political consensus on her proposals she can not legislate for an end to the selection issue.If she can not legislate then we are staring down the barrel of an unregulated and anarchic system. A system that could do more damage than good. Guidelines are not worth the paper they are written on and do not legally enforce compliance from schools. They are not sufficient for a sector that is so vitally important and therefore require the strictest form of regulation.Applying the soft law option will not bring all schools onto the same page and could create an even worse monster than the 11+. It is simply impossible to predict the outcome of th[...]

Greetings from Lecale


Hi everyone!

Thank you for visiting my blog.

I have always been a keen participant in blog discussion but have never really been interested in setting up my own blog until now.

I envisage this blog as providing a progressive left-of-centre outlook at modern political developments and current affairs- both here in the North and elsewhere.

There is a real absence of dialogue and cohesion between the democratic left in the North- particularly with reference to its influence and participation in the political process here.

The left has become very much sidelined from the socio-political process and has become politically irrelevant to most people. We ARE relevant- we just need to make ourselves relevant to people!

Whilst some of this has been due to overarching factors out of our control - such as the very nature of the green/blue politics here - I also feel that the left has contributed significantly towards its own maliase.

In previous years the left here has been dominated by infighting and has fractured considerably.

This is very much evident in the number of small political parties active in NI (that are little more than pressure groups) that all claim to be left orientated.

These division has meant that the left continues to be marginalised and experience fragmented inputs into the political system. We need unity.

I hope that this blog can engineer some cohesion amongst those like minded people out there in the North that identify with progressive left politics.

Issues such as water charging, union participation in the political process here and the increasing marginalisation of workers are some of the issues that I hope to address in the near future through this blog.

And I very much hope that this blog will provide a platform for debate and further discussion around some of these issues.

So please stay tuned and I very much look forward to discussing some of these issues with you soon.