Cross-Community Labour Candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Donal O’Cofaigh has condemned recent attacks on the right to politically campaign.
“The 2022 Assembly Election campaign has been marred by attacks on the democratic right to campaign and seek the support of the voters. There have been dozens of reports of posters being torn down, across every constituency and affecting every party. Candidates have been intimidated on-line and on the streets. Candidates have faced state interference in their campaigns. On more than one occasion candidates and their campaign teams have suffered violent attacks.
“We all know that elections are a reflection of society at large. The sectarianism, repression and intimidation that mar everyday life in many working-class communities remains a massive problem during elections.
“The right to free speech, the right to political organisation and the right to vote were hard won, with the labour and trade union movement leading the way. We will continue to defend the right to democratic expression now and in future elections”.
Cross-Community Labour Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh today pledged that as a MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone in May he would demand Stormont provide proper resourcing of refuges for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
He explained his experience on this issue to date:
“As a councillor I was able to attend a presentation by Women’s Aid on the current problems they were facing. I was both shocked and dismayed to find out that due to Stormont cuts, there were no longer any dedicated domestic violence refuge units anywhere in Fermanagh. “Subsequently I raised this issue publicly and repeatedly at council meetings and succeeded in getting the council to write to the Communities Minister demanding action. In response, a commitment was made to provide three domestic violence accommodation units in Enniskillen – which was a success.
“That said, even this provision is completely inadequate. It’s widely known that the number of reported incidents of domestic violence has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic but there is literally nowhere for those living in fear to go. This can be a life or death situation. Three or four emergency units are just not enough.”
Donal O’Cofaigh the Cross Community Labour assembly candidate for Fermanagh South Tyrone in the upcoming Stormont election met with Gerry Cullen in Dungannon to formulate a cross-community labour alliance.
The Enniskillen-based councillor and full-time Unite the union official Donal O’Cofaigh was endorsed by the well-known and highly respected socialist politician and ex-councillor Gerry Cullen from Dungannon Town. Gerry Cullen welcomed Donal to Dungannon on Saturday last to agree and endorse his election campaign. Donal will be standing for election to Stormont as the candidate for Cross Community Labour. Gerry Cullen commented that “there is a strong and historic cross community vote in the Dungannon region. Looking back through the history of the Dungannon region there has always been a strong labour vote, it is now more important than ever that a candidate can put forward a political agenda based on cross community values and solid policies that will appeal to an electorate long starved of political representation based on traditional labour values.”
Donal O’Cofaigh stated that now more than ever a cross community labour candidate is needed at Stormont “to offer effective representation on critical issues facing the electorate, the cost of living crisis, the crisis in health and social welfare, the destruction and exploitation of the environment by multinational financiers and the denigration of a once strong and well resourced social and community based infrastructure”.
Both Gerry Cullen and Donal O’Cofaigh agreed that there is a mood among the electorate of Fermanagh and South Tyrone to move away from the old worn out politics of the past. “It is important that we as a community look to the future with a different perspective. We must take on board the need for community based political values that incorporate a wish for social and community based initiatives which will benefit all of the community of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, not just a fortunate or privileged few. The political system at present has failed this constituency. It is time to offer the electorate an effective and forward thinking socialist and labour based alternative.”
The shock of the devastating Covid 19 crisis, and a new phase of economic turbulence has unleashed a wave of dislocation, uncertainty, and desperation across the globe. The impact is compounded by the grind of the previous 10 years of austerity that had brought many individuals and communities to the edge of impoverishment. In such circumstances where people see that we can no longer go on as before, significant struggles in society are inevitable.
Across every continent we already see the early stages of a fight back against austerity, job losses and attacks on workers’ rights, oppression, repression, racism, and environmental destruction. But alongside these positive developments a crisis of this scale and depth also inevitably means that the desperation of sections of society are reflected as well. The political detritus and poison of populism that already exists in various guises such as religious fundamentalism, national interest, racism, xenophobia, war mongering and of course locally sectarianism are now likely to re-emerge strengthened and renewed. These reactionary ideas are no longer just the bailiwick of wings of the mainstream right-wing political parties, isolated cranks, and fascist groups on the fringes of society they are also increasingly reflected in so called mainstream media and public discussion.
For trade unions this poses serious challenges. Naturally, they are not immune from either positive or negative developments. On the one hand the trade unions can grow and become increasingly militant and determined to fight for a better society. On the other hand they are also susceptible to pressure from the ideology of populism. Populism in the unions is likely to initially appear in the form of a Trojan Horse wrapped in the national flag demanding defend ‘our’ jobs and our industry against the interests of workers in other places. If left unchallenged defending ‘our’ jobs can become the worker in another country city or parish is my enemy and my boss is my friend. These ideas, if unchecked, will inevitably create division, setting worker against worker and weakening the fighting capacity of the union movement to the point where even defence of the most basic achievements of the working class on pay and terms and conditions is made more difficult.
The signs of populism are already evident in the unions today, we must take this issue on now. Workers unity must become the watch word for every trade union militant. This does not mean that the trade unions do not deal with hard and potentially divisive issues, but it does mean dealing with them on our own terms. We have nothing in common with the bosses or the ruling class, their political mouth pieces or the myriad groups advocating national interest, racist, or sectarian solutions to the problems facing workers. Our solutions are based on the interests of the working class and as such can never align with theirs.
We take our stand on the ground of the struggle for workers unity. Our aim is to build powerful trade unions and new political parties of the working class that can play their role in advancing the struggle to change society for the better.
Caroline Wheeler, a prominent anti-cuts activist and trade unionist, was the only candidate standing on a genuine cross-community, labour and trade union platform in the recent Westminster election in Northern Ireland, in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.
Caroline received the full support of local activists and her candidacy was proposed by our councillor in the area, Donal O’Cofaigh. Caroline’s campaign secured a creditable 754 votes in what was a very sharply polarised and closely contested ‘headcount’ poll between the two communities, Protestant and Catholic.
Parliamentary elections in the constituency of Fermanagh-South Tyrone have been highly contested since the constituency was established in 1950. Because of the first-past-the-post system used, Westminster elections are traditionally a sectarian headcount, with the relatively well-balanced and stable demographic balance meaning every election is closely fought.
In 1981, the constituency famously elected IRA prison hunger striker, Bobby Sands, who died only weeks after winning the seat. The victory demonstrated the Republican movement’s potential to score political success and was highly influential in the subsequent thinking and trajectory of Sinn Fein’s leadership. The seat reverted back to the unionists when Sands’ successor went on the run after he was caught transporting guns. Due to the split nationalist vote, that remained the situation for almost twenty years before the seat fell to current Sinn Féin incumbent, Michelle Gildernew, in 2001, signalling the party’s road to dominance as the largest nationalist party in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement. Tom Elliott, the United Unionist candidate, retook the seat in 2015 but lost it again to Gildernew, in 2017, with the collapse of the bourgeois-nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) vote.
Northern Ireland is a society scarred by its history. The legacy of the conflict over the national question is everywhere apparent; painted flags, kerbstones and murals mark territories and promote narratives. But just as the history of the working-class has been excluded consciously from these ‘green’ and ‘orange’ narratives so too is the hidden legacy of sexual abuse of children which until now has largely been left unexplored.
Fermanagh journalist, Rodney Edwards, deputy editor of the local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, was investigating reports of a paedophile ring operating in the county when he started to receive more and more reports of sexual abuse spanning decades into the past. A common feature was that the victims had reported the incidents to the police but there was an apparent failure to investigate or see the cases through.
The cases were predominantly reported during the period of the long armed conflict, known as the ‘Troubles’.
Those whose names have been made public span the breadth of society. One alleged prominent abuser, David Sullivan, worked as a bus driver and was reportedly responsible for a range of abuses of children (sometimes on school buses) in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of those abused by Sullivan claim that he abused them in conjunction with unnamed prominent businessmen. Sullivan’s dismembered body was found in the early 2000s and the culprit for the killing has never been found.