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No to ‘regressive’ austerity policies

Unite stands against NI cuts amidst budget debate
Hajera Blagg, Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

As the Northern Ireland power-sharing government faces a £600m black hole in its budget, the Treasury has offered to plug the gap with a loan in exchange for cuts to welfare and the public sector.

In the run-up to a Stormont debate yesterday, (June 16) shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Ivan Lewis argued that parties must accept the austerity measures laid out in the Stormont House Agreement, which was agreed in December but is now being opposed by Sinn Fein.

“Parties need to understand that there will be no extra money coming from Westminster for welfare,” he noted. “Therefore, if they are going to have a viable budget they are either going to have to make further savage cuts [to the executive budget] or they are going to have to reach an accommodation on welfare. I think it is time that they reached an accommodation on welfare.”

Unite’s Ireland region secretary Jimmy Kelly argued that “brutal austerity policies” for Northern Ireland will wreak havoc on the region, criticising Lewis’ comments.

“Mr Lewis’ intervention at this time is deeply unhelpful given the shadow that hangs over the future of the local devolved institutions,” he noted. “Unite locally are very disappointed that he failed to consult with the trade union movement, in particular Unite, before making his contribution.”

“In Northern Ireland, Unite has played a leading role in the campaign to defeat the brutal austerity policies agreed by the parties in the Stormont House Agreement,” Kelly added. “These will see up to 20,000 public sector workers losing their jobs – one in ten of the public sector workforce – in a self-defeating attempt to rebalance of the Northern Ireland economy and secure the savings necessary to lower the corporation taxes in Northern Ireland to compete with the rate in the Republic.”

Indeed, as UniteLive reported, lowering corporation tax in Northern Ireland to 12.5 per cent will cost hundreds of millions to implement, and, as an IFS report notes, could do more harm than good.

Kelly pointed to the scale of public opposition to austerity policies, most recently demonstrated on March 13, when public sector workers across the region took mass strike action, joined by community members standing up against cuts.

“The entire trade union movement came together on March 13th in a magnificent display of cross-community unity against the devastating austerity policies which threaten to take Northern Ireland backwards and to undermine an already fragile economy,” he said. “This campaign continues as workers will not accept cuts which will devastate our public services and undermine demand within the private sector locally.”

Kelly condemned the way in which the Tories’ agenda has framed the debate on austerity.

“Mr Lewis’ believes that because ‘we failed to persuade the British people to vote’ for the Labour party, progressives should ‘smell the coffee’ and accept the Tory reform of hated reforms to the social welfare system,” he said.

“However, rather than being a champion for regressive austerity policies which take no cognisance of the specific challenges posed by an economy transitioning from a destructive and divisive conflict, Mr Lewis would be better placed engaging with trade union and business leaders to identify how we can collectively bring forward a strategy to grow Northern Ireland’s industrial base.”



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