People Before Profit have selected Cllr Shaun Harkin as their candidate for the Foyle seat for May's NI Assembly election
“People Before Profit winning a seat ahead of the DUP is not about ensuring Foyle doesn't send back a unionist to Stormont”, insists Shaun Harkin, “we're fighting for a socialist seat – for the working class who haven't been delivered for”.
Harkin, who is People Before Profit's (PBP) candidate for the Foyle constituency for May's Stormont election, is keen to get that message out first and foremost ahead of the whirlwind that will head the way of the North-West should a PBP win deny the unionist parties representation in Foyle for the first time since the 1996 Forum election.
For Harkin and PBP, the issue for them is not 'green v orange' but of making sure those living below the poverty line – or at best treading water above it – can find parity with the more affluent and ensure that everyone in Foyle can have a chance in life without worrying about how the next bill is to be paid or whether or not the rent can be made.
While others may choose to slug it out on the hustings over matters unionist and nationalist, Harkin insists that people – regardless of background – will be first on his party's agenda.
He said: “We don't think any of the big parties have delivered for people in Derry and in Foyle.
“We don't see ourselves as either nationalist or unionist – we see ourselves as socialists. So we're fighting for the working class right across Foyle who haven't been delivered for.
“I think that's the key thing. That's why we won this seat in 2016 with Eamonn McCann as our candidate when there were six seats available for Foyle.
“When it was reduced to five, we narrowly missed out. We campaign for support from all communities and there are a growing number of people who reject the nationalist versus unionist division when they see a different type of politics emerging.
“We're fighting for that seat – a socialist seat in Foyle. We're glad to hear there's others who agree that we have a good chance of winning that, but we take nothing for granted.
“We are going to be fighting very hard over the next three months. There's a lot of discontent right now with how Stormont dealt with the pandemic – their policies clearly benefited the elites and the politically-connected, much more than the vast majority of people.
“There are so many examples of that. We look at the Royal County Down Golf Club getting handed millions of pounds, but people are struggling right now to pay their energy bills.
“So there's a real problem with how Stormont and the Executive parties have prioritised the needs of the more powerful sections of society over the vast majority of people.
“I think the fact that prior to the pandemic and prior to the cost of living crisis, the work that has been undertaken by the Derry and Strabane Council to look at deprevation and poverty here has been stunning.
“I mean, having thirty per cent of people living below the poverty line in Derry and Strabane is just stunning. When you ask, 'why is this happening?', what exactly have the parties that have representatives here now – Sinn Fėin, SDLP and the DUP – done about that?
“Instead of actually doing something about this, they've made the situation worse. I think that is why people are looking at People Before Profit to stand up to that, to challenge it and really be a thorn in the side of parties that have failed to deliver here.
“A lot of people have wanted us to stand. We've been asked, 'are you standing?'. We've announced that we are fighting for that seat and we're going to do everything that we can to win the seat.
“We take nothing for granted and we're certainly not complacent. We know how much politics here can be dragged into a kind of tit-for-tat unionist versus nationalist narrative.
“We know how the bigger parties can sectarianise politics in order to obscure class issues. We think that the biggest division in the North and in Derry is more between the haves and have nots than Catholic v Protestant or unionist v nationalist.
“The have nots in our society are losing out. They have not seen their situation improve. You look at wages right now – people are struggling to pay their bills and foodbank use is just rocketing.
“It's not just the most vulnerable people in our society going to foodbanks – it's people who are working.
“That's why there's a discontent. I think that the bigger parties will do everything they can to try and obscure that.
“But people are taking strike action – as we've seen at Magee College recently as well as the Foyle Port workers, teachers rejecting a miserable pay offer along with Translink workers who have also rejected a below-inflation pay offer.
“Those are the issues that we're going to be trying to amplify and I think that the Executive parties are going to try and do the opposite.
Meanwhile at People Before Profit's campaign launch for the Assembly Election at the City Hotel last night, former PBP Foyle MLA, Eamonn McCann urged the party to do all they can to get Shaun Harkin elected in May.
He said: I am urging all my friends in Foyle to weigh in and get Shaun Harkin elected to the Assembly.
“Shaun was at the heart of my own campaigns for the Assembly and Derry City and Strabane Council over recent years. He has now been selected to fight the Foyle seat for our party, People Before Profit. His will be the only name on the ballot paper on May 5 to offer a clear radical alternative to the old Orange/Green set-up.
“We cannot get the change we need by voting for the same old parties.
“The difference between Shaun and his rivals in Foyle will be the difference between fresh new ideas and the same old, same old.
“We need Shaun at Stormont, arguing for socialist politics and campaigning across the sectarian divide for the rights of working-class people.
“The five bigger parties, Sinn Féin, the DUP, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance, have controlled the Assembly for the last quarter century. Between them, they have run every Executive since Stormont was brought back to life. They have to take a big share of the blame for the Assembly’s failure to deliver for Derry.
“Shaun will provide a clear voice with a different message, advocating for a socialist Ireland.
“To break new ground and unearth new opportunities, we will need politics based on common class interests, not on separate community backgrounds. Putting Shaun into the Assembly on May 5 will be a major step towards this objective.
“Derry has always been ahead of the curve in politics. We should stay out front on May 5 by voting number one for Shaun Harkin.”
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