The areas with the highest unemployment and the worst health issues are republican heartlands. That equation is a poor reflection on those who have had the votes and the power for enough years to change those statistics, at least partially
SCRIPTURE tells us to “let the dead bury their dead”. Sinn Féin used to call not just for a United Ireland but for a socialist republic.
A policy, if my memory serves me right, most often articulated by Gerry Adams himself. For good reasons, the socialist part of that designation dissipated as the peace agreement became more prominent. With Sinn Féin in government for several years and now the main opposition party in the south, there is a strong argument for resurrecting a dollop of that effective social policy which Sinn Féin claimed was its forté. The claim, unfortunately, sits uncomfortably with the continuing revelation that their most loyal supporters are amongst the poorest and most deprived (and that’s a fact). The areas with the highest unemployment and the worst health issues are republican heartlands. That equation is a poor reflection on those who have had the votes and the power for enough years to change those statistics, at least partially.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report on addiction services, published this week, is only the latest exposé of these realities. The report concentrates on the inadequacies of the department of health and the health trusts. It outlines that the available services are insufficient and that the outcomes of the services are mostly unmeasured. In fact, the data coming from the service is so uncertain that the department cannot publish it and therefore there is little clarity as to whether the services being offered are doing any good. But the most depressing revelation is that the death rate from alcohol and drug problems is four and a half times greater in deprived areas and that hospital admissions for alcohol and drugs is four times greater than in more advantaged areas. The drugs in question are a mixture of illegal and medically prescribed, but alcohol remains the greatest killer.
Put addiction into the middle of unemployment and poor health and the result is a cocktail of problems that would test the commitment and the ingenuity of any political system. But the difficulty and complexity is surely a reason to be more incisive and clinical in response. Following through with the addiction metaphor, recovery only begins when the problem is honestly admitted. Shame Féin shows little inclination to admit that too many of the constituencies that they represent, especially in Belfast and Derry, continue to be the most deprived on this island. Deprived communities need employment and jobs, not just improvements in welfare benefits. Scotland, interestingly, is having a close look at universal basic income as a means of giving people dignity as well as a decent income. It is a scheme whereby each citizen receives a guaranteed minimum income, employed or not.
Deprived communities also need and desire law, order and discipline even more than more privileged communities. It is what provides stability and security. They need political leaders who not only challenge policies that sustain inequality and poverty but also challenge the people themselves to rise above apathy and lethargy. They need leaders who believe in their constituents enough to believe they do not have to be at the top of every negative measurement on employment and health. Sinn Féin are rightly credited with being hard workers. Their local constituency offices are a hive of activity, responding to enquiries and requests from constituents. But business is no substitute for effectiveness. The party has been long enough now to be examined and marked on outcomes. Has the standard of living in working class nationalist/republican areas improved? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. Those are the areas that bore the brunt of the years of the Troubles. They should not be expected to also bear the disappointment of the peace. Sinn Féin need to become much more radical in examining their performance.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Denis Bradley for his Opinion piece which was published in The Irish News on Friday July 3rd 2020 for the original posting.
Follow these links to find out more: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/fionola-meredith/a-party-of-the-people-elitist-sinn-fein-shows-no-cause-not-even-health-tops-ira-myth-making-39336405.html