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Peter Robinson has upped the ante this week but his party is failing its base

DUP opposed anti-poverty strategy as well as welfare cuts

By Jim McVeigh, SF City Council Leader

ON September 1 at a full Council meeting Sinn Féin proposed a motion asking the Council to oppose the Tory and DUP welfare cuts strategy. A majority of councillors supported the motion and it was agreed by Belfast City Council. Belfast City Council now stands opposed to the Tory and DUP strategy of attacking the most vulnerable in our society.

Sinn Féin is implacably opposed to the Tory cuts agenda in the north. This is particularly so in relation to their welfare buts strategy. We are opposed to what is essentially a savage attack upon some of our most vulnerable citizens simply because we believe it is an unfair and deeply destructive strategy. Of all of the political parties, Sinn Fein remains a party deeply embedded in the working class communities we represent. We know at first hand how these welfare cuts will impact on real individuals and real families. No matter the cost, we intend to stand firmly against these cuts.

We are also strong supporters of our Health Service and our Health Service professionals. We do not accept that it is a choice between properly funding our health service or supporting some of our most vulnerable citizens who are unemployed through no fault of their own. The DUP want us to believe that it is is a choice to do one or the other. We do not accept that. We can and should support both.

In a recent Community Relations Council report, our attention was drawn to the particularly poor educational achievements among a section of the Protestant working class and the sense of hopelessness that pervades some of these communities – a phenomenon that has existed for decades. Not only have the mainstream unionist parties failed to highlight these difficulties, but they have spent the past number of years opposing Sinn Féin’s attempts to introduce a more equitable education system – a system that ironically would assist those most deprived Protestant communities.

Here in Belfast City Council, Sinn Féin have been strong advocates of the Council adopting a robust and proactive anti-poverty strategy. Earlier this year while Mayor, Cllr Máirtín Ó Muilleoir convened an anti-poverty forum, where he invited those groups and individuals working at the coalface of tackling poverty to engage with the Council about what more it could do to tackle this scourge. Your readers may be surprised to hear that the DUP spent months trying to prevent the introduction of an anti-poverty strategy and only agreed to its introduction eventually when it was clear that the other parties were keen to push ahead.

How can this be? How can it be possible that a party like the DUP, representing some of the most deprived Protestant communities, can care so little about the destructive impact of these cuts? Of course we realise that the DUP is not a monolith, it is a party of diverse social classes and opinions, but at its core and among its key leadership, it is essentially a unionist Tory party. This is a party that at heart believes in the welfare cuts agenda. This is a party that believes in a laissez faire approach to society and the economy. Its leadership have long since left its working class roots behind and have become a unionist political aristocracy.

But there is an alternative to the cuts strategy being driven from Westminster. If we instead stand together, unionist and republican, Protestant, Catholic and dissenter, we can negotiate a better deal for all of our citizens. As Scotland approaches a referendum on independence, the Tory/Lib Dem coalition is feeling vulnerable. The last thing they want is another ‘region’ causing trouble at this delicate moment. It is our firm belief that if Peter Robinson and his ministerial team stands with Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin on this crucial matter, we can secure a more favourable deal for the most vulnerable in our community.

Despite the ideological bent of the DUP leadership, it is not too late for a change of tactic, if not a change of heart. The DUP can be encouraged from within its own electoral constituency to change its current position. We must close ranks and present a united front to the government in London. We can and we must secure a better deal for our most vulnerable citizens. Those Protestants who have been left on the dole queue, with no hope or opportunity, have already been let down by the unionist parties; they don’t deserve to be let down again.

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