Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has again descended into farce. At the latest meeting, the DUP Chair has muted left-wing councillors. First Donal O’Cofaigh, Cross-Community Labour Councillor was muted. Then it was anti-goldmining councillor Emmet McAleer. Independent Eamonn Keenan indicated he wished to speak, but wasn’t even called in.
This was at a meeting where Sinn Féin and the DUP rammed through a 2.72% increase in the rates.The SDLP enthusiastically supported. The DUP Chair only called councillors from the mainstream parties during the discussion.
Donal and Emmet were not called until after Council voted through the increase. Calling in Donal, DUP Chair Errol Thompson told him “and I’ll just remind you that the vote has been taken overwhelmingly.” He reminded Donal he only had three minutes.
Donal said he wanted to protest that “we were completely excluded there from having any input into probably the most important…” At that point, the Chair interrupted: “Can I just stop you there. You weren’t excluded.” As Donal resumed, the Chair spoke over him. “Our voices weren’t heard,” Donal protested. “There’s no public debate on it,” the Chair interrupted. Continue reading “Fermanagh and Omagh Council – an undemocratic farce!”
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 latest statistics by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive confirm the long-term decline in public housing at the behest of policies enacted by consecutive Stormont Executives. The parties have consistently failed to properly invest in public housing despite a huge sell off of stock over recent decades.
Unfortunately, the latest statistics are released on a council based basis and not all councils have the 2021 figures published yet. That said, it is clear that public housing policy is totally inadequate in the face of massively mounting demand.
The Sinn Féin chair of a shambolic meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has excluded independent anti-goldmining Councillor Emmet McAleer from a Council meeting. During most of the meeting, he only called party colleagues.
McAleer’s offence was to query the stance of Sinn Féin on an application for ‘permitted development’ status for seven boreholes by Flintridge Resources near their goldmine at Cavanacaw, just outside Omagh.
At a previous meeting, Sinn Féin councillors had allowed a similar application through by strategically not taking part in the vote or being absent. This time they opposed the application. McAleer said: “This is absolutely shambolic. Sinn Féin remained mute the last time and are now trying to claim the glory. What is going on with your party?”
Anti-goldmining protestors have picketed Omagh police station in protest at the detention of fellow-campaigner Martin Tracey. This is the latest turn in the long-running campaign.
Tracey detention stems from an incident when he and another campaigner had challenged three people in two cars acting suspiciously in the Greencastle area of Tyrone.
The three confirmed they were working for mining company Dalradian. Dalradian’s prospecting licence for that area had expired two years ago. One of the three started shouting she was being harrassed. Then one car reversed, shot forward at speed and struck Tracey on the foot.
He reported the incident to police, who did not come for an hour. Some time later police went to his house seeking him. He went voluntarily to Omagh police station, where he was detained for five hours. He was released on his own bail, which restricts his movements, and may face charges. Police have so far not taken a statement from the other campaigner.
This is the latest incident where police have ignored complaints of threats, intimidation and assult by people associated with Dalradian. In contrast, complaints against campaigners are followed up.
Mistrust of the police role is fuelled by a statement from Dalradian Chief Executive Patrick Anderson. Speaking at a Precious Metals Summit in Colorado, he said: “The police who deliver the explosives bought shares.” (Irish News July 7th 2016).
If police officers involved in policing the mine area have shares in Dalradian, that is a major conflict of interest. The PSNI has been asked what is their attitude. In a reply, a police spokesperson said: “Police officers and staff are not required to declare the purchase or sale of any shares listed for public sale on the stock market.”
Dalradian so respects the law it is reported not to have paid a bill of some £400,000 to police for escorting the explosives. Meanwhile the establishment parties, both green and orange, remain totally silent about corporate policing of environmental protectors.
Education Welfare Officers (EWOs) work to make sure children from disadvantaged households or vulnerable backgrounds don’t lose out on getting an education through absenteeism. They also have a particular role in supporting young people coming from newly-arrived families, including Syrian refugees.
Their role is not an easy one but it is vital to protect and support some of our most vulnerable young people.
EWOs are qualified as social workers but perform an educational welfare role. In so doing, they are paid £5k less than they would be if they worked as social workers for the Health Department. The huge differential in pay has resulted in a staffing crisis as EWOs and newly qualified leave to take up positions as social workers in the NHS.
The result is that fewer and fewer EWOs are left to bear the burden of empty desks. That is a huge pressure on the workers themselves but also means that the needs of the most vulnerable children are being sacrificed. In the former Western Education area, union sources estimate that there is a shortfall of eight in staffing levels – with each EWO having a caseload of approximately 30 children – that means that up to 250 children are not getting the support they need.
The situation in the Belfast area is even worse with large waiting lists.
As usual, Stormont has done nothing on this developing crisis for years. The workers, almost all members of NIPSA recently voted overwhelmingly in a ballot for both industrial action short of strike action and strike action.
Work to rule
Thursday May 4th workers commenced a work-to-rule. Given the huge caseloads on workers, it is certain that the impact of this industrial action will be severe. It is imperative that the DUP Education Minister is forced to move and address fully the demands of these workers.
On the same day I stood with striking Educational Welfare officers on their picket line in Omagh, I took their fight into the council chamber. That night I expressed my full solidarity with the striking workers and put forward an emergency proposal that the council write to the Education Minister to demand he provide full pay parity to the striking workers. It was adopted unanimously with independent (anti-Gold mining) Councillor Emmet McAleer in particular indicating his solidarity with the workers’ fight.
All sections of the trade union movement and Left politicians need to support the EWOs in this struggle. Their fight is not just for pay equality but to secure the staffing needed to make sure young people from severely disadvantaged backgrounds access life-changing educational opportunities .
Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK where the water service has not yet been privatised. That fact largely reflects the strong campaign fought by the trade union movement, in many cases led by members of the Committee for a Workers’ International, that defeated cross-party attempts (including from Sinn Féin Ministers) to roll out water charges in the early 2000s.
Northern Ireland water was established as a government-owned company – owned by the Department for Infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Stormont Executive has repeatedly failed to prioritise investment on this infrastructure – despite growing warnings of both economic and environmental impacts arising.
The impact of untreated wastewater entering water bodies has been catastrophic for the fresh water ecology and fish stocks. Angling has been hugely impacted and water quality in virtually all major water bodies has deteriorated.
Such impacts have largely been ignored by the Stormont parties, as they are largely non-economic.
What is starting to focus minds; however, is the fact that the ability of property developers to build houses is now increasingly constrained by the inability of wastewater treatment works to cope. Northern Ireland Water estimates that 116 cities, towns and villages have had their development constrained.