Northern Ireland - A Burning Problem

Northern Ireland. It’s tiny, it’s across a sea, and the main UK political parties don’t run there (whether they should is a topic for a different debate). Often, there is no incentive to engage with difficult issues because they won’t win elections.

However, the recent political scandals in Northern Ireland highlights just how important this small country can be.

Northern Ireland. It’s tiny, it’s across a sea, and the main UK political parties don’t run there (whether they should is a topic for a different debate). Often, there is no incentive to engage with difficult issues because they won’t win elections.

 However, the recent political scandals in Northern Ireland highlights just how important this small country can be. This all started over the Renewable Heat Incentive, which has been nicknamed “cash for ash”. This was purportedly about encouraging renewable energy, but it has transpired that farmers could earn money by heating empty sheds. Many Unionist politicians have been caught up in the scandal, and accused of profiting from it. Arlene Foster, the First Minister, is ignoring calls for her resignation, stating that criticism of her is ‘sexist’. Now, I am not going to deny that there is sexism in Northern Irish politics, but she cannot call sexism to avoid a difficult argument.

 The rolling impact of the scandal has led Martin McGuinness to resign. There are rumors that other factors were in play, such as poor health, but that does not change the background facts. It also does not change the huge significance of his action. Northern Ireland’s Assembly functions on a Power Sharing basis (on a model designed by Arend Lijphart for those who want to find out more). This essentially means that a politician from one community cannot remain in power without the other. McGuinnes’ resignation will take Foster down with him. Unless there is a replacement soon, there will be a snap Assembly election.

 I cannot think of an election result that will settle the toxicity that has now bubbled over in Northern Irish politics. It is now abundantly clear just how easy it is to take down the power-sharing model. Sinn Fein are already saying that they won’t re-enter politics unless the foundations of Stormount are changed.

 So why should we care? If Northern Ireland is too troublesome, the UK can always suspend their devolution. But the Labour party that I joined, that I believe in stands for all across the United Kingdom even those who don’t (or can’t) vote for them. Before EU funding, Northern Ireland was gripped by poverty because there was no incentive to send funding. This caused real suffering. Many newspapers and journals talk about new divides in politics, but for those from Northern Ireland, division has always been the order of business.

 It was under a Labour Government that the Peace Process finally became successful. Mo Mowlam worked tirelessly with both communities to attempt to enact real change. How can Labour stand back now when all of this is being threatened? Northern Ireland is going to be one of the hardest hit areas by Brexit, especially to those who live in border areas. If Theresa May continues with her plans to leave the ECHR, the very foundation of the fragile peace process could come crashing down. Where is Labour now?

 The ‘cash for ash’ scandal is simply one small example of how easy it is to manipulate the cracks in Northern Irish politics. For too long, the parties on the mainland UK have treated Northern Ireland like a poor cousin, or a child who can be punished by having their toys confiscated. It is time to enter into real conversation and enact real change in the region.

 Many in Northern Ireland are disengaged, and radical politics can (and does) take grip across the small country. I call on all people reading this to read another article about Northern Ireland, start a conversation, openly protest the unfair abortion and gay rights laws that still apply in 21st Century UK. Opening up a conversation is the only way we can bring Northern Ireland out of the history that is holding it back from the rest of the world and its own future.

 

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