People Before Profit's Shaun Harkin: "The number of scandals where hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds have been squandered by the Executive is shocking and scandalous."
People Before Profit (PBP) candidate for Foyle, Shaun Harkin has warned voters not to be fooled by the red herring of 'where is the money going to come from' in regard to his party's Assembly Election manifesto.
The City Hotel was the scene for the launch of PBP's manifesto which offered a number of radical policies designed to help people get through the cost of living crisis.
Proposals include £1000 direct payments to households in need, alongside fuel price and rent caps, will provide an immediate safety net for households who are struggling.
Long-term, inflation-busting pay rises for workers, a £15 minimum wage for all ages, and expanded welfare payments are key policies designed to significantly better the lot of ordinary people.
As is usually the way when a left-wing manifesto is presented (as the last Labour Party leader to contest a general election will testify), the age-old cry of 'how do you expect to pay for this?' was not long in coming out in response – the SDLP especially being highly vocal on the subject of PBP's electoral blueprint.
However, Harkin insists the naysayers are at best, knee-jerking in their responses or, at worst, using such a tactic to create a smokescreen over how the opportunity to use government money for the greater good was squandered and by attacking PBP's policies, they are seeking to deflect from their own mistakes when in the Executive.
“I think that's constantly the response from our opponents towards us – and the Green Party as well who have been given the same treatment,” says Cllr Harkin who will give up his Foyleside seat on the council if elected to the Assembly at Stormont next month.
“Whenever we bring forward radical proposals to address runaway inequality, to give workers a real pay uplift, to fund the health service properly and to address mental health, we get this line of 'where is the money coming from?'.
“Our response to that we look over the last two years and the pandemic. We saw the government find mountains of money that apparently didn't exist before the pandemic. A lot of that money went to big corporations – there were huge handouts to P&O Ferries and big retailers for example.
“So the issue is not that there's no money, it's about the willingness of government to actually prioritise ordinary people – people who are struggling through this pandemic.
“We've seen over the last year that the urgency that was there during the pandemic when it came to big corporations, just isn't there when it's workers, people who are the least well-off in our society and smaller businesses – all of which are just not getting any help.
“Then when you look at what Stormont's budget is, we know that there is a pot of £340million that was unspent. There is the £6million of RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) money that is sitting in a bank account and we also know that over the last decade, the Executive has sent back more than £1billion to Westminster.
“If we identify what needs to be done, there has to be the political will to make it happen. We believe that the 'business as usual' approach hasn't worked over this last year with the hardship crisis. We need to be taking unprecedented radical action to protect people – that includes hardship payment, above-inflation payrises, it includes finding ways to put forward price caps and finding ways to tax huge big energy companies that are making massive profits while people literally can't pay to heat their homes.”
Harkin insists that if the Executive parties are correct that 'the money isn't there', then that fault lies at the doorstep of the parties that had the money in the first instance only to blow it on discredited schemes and scandals such as Nama, Red Sky and of course, RHI.
He added: “The number of scandals where hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds have been squandered by the Executive is shocking and scandalous. Nama – massive money squadering, RHI – not that long ago and hundreds and hundreds of millions wasted, Red Sky as well....even some of the policies and schemes that the Executive have come up with during the pandemic – like the '£100 Spend Local' – we need to have a look to see who needed direct help during the pandemic and who ultimately benefited.
Cllr Shaun Harkin of People Before Profit who is contesting the Foyle seat in May's Assembly Election.
“The priorities of the Executive are shaped by the needs of elites, of corporations and the politically-connected. And if you're not part of that club, you're not getting any help during the hardship crisis.
“If you just contrast two other examples that sum up the inaction of the Executive when it comes to helping workers and the least well-off. One is the fact that Capita Corporation got its contract renewed over the last year.
“This is a corporation that was found to be abysmally treating people who were trying to access benefits. They should have been booted out and they should have been denied access to any government contracts.
“Instead they got rewarded with another contract worth tens of millions and I'm sure the bosses that owned Capita were clapping their hands all the way to the bank.
“The second example is that during the pandemic, the Royal County Down Golf Club – an organisation which was not struggling financially and not in need of government help – got nearly £2million from a Department for Communities scheme. They were also given future profits. I would say that workers would love to receive 'future profits' but there's nobody handing out cheques to workers for their future wages. Nobody's handing out cheques to workers for work that will be done next year.
“These things constantly expose the fact that there's a cosy relationship in Stormont between the political establishment parties and big business. In this cost of living crisis, there is cause now to ask those with the broadest shoulders – such as the big corporations and the super-wealthy – to pay more.
“But yet the Executive parties are still lobbying for tax cuts for Moy Park, P&O Ferries, for Capita, for the big energy companies that are making massive profits. I think people can see that there's a gap between the claims by the Executive parties that they're going to take action to help people – which of course is all going to happen after the election – but what they continue to do is prioritise privatisation and promoting tax cuts for big businesses instead of devolving tax-raising powers to impose windfall taxes. Not to forget the continued pay-cuts for health and social care workers and other public sector workers.”
Another stick constantly used against PBP is Brexit – which other parties accuse them of supporting. Something that Harkin completely rejects.
He said: “I think there's been an attempt to mischaracterise People Before Profit's position on Brexit.
“We never supported a Tory Brexit – indeed much of what we said, in terms of what the Tories have done, has come to fruition. We attempted to say, 'look, we neither support what the UK is proposing, nor do we support much of what the EU bureaucrats are doing in Brussels.
“You look at what the EU are trying to do right now. They are using the sufferring of the Ukrainian people to try and undermine Irish neutrality and have Ireland fully join up with the EU who themselves are obviously at one with NATO.
“This is dangerous. It's dangerous for people here in Ireland and it's dangerous for the world. The EU leadership is certainly not progressive – they've not been progressive towards Palestine and they've been complicit with the apartheid regime in Israel that is in a state of permanent war against the Palestinians.
“We were right to speak out and we will continue to speak out about the role of the EU.”
The Brexit settlement itself brought about the Northern Ireland Protocol that allowed the North special access to both the British and European Single Markets.
Because of the Irish Sea border that was created because of it, the DUP has tried to make this election about trying to rid the North of the Protocol.
Harkin insists that this is another smokescreen designed to blindside voters of the DUP's botched-up handling of Brexit – a move that he believes the public are wise to.
He continued: “In terms of the Protocol, has seen some parties attempt to make the Protocol the main issue in this election – the DUP in particular.
“That hasn't worked as their attempts to whip up sectarian division have been a desparate attempt to cover up for their own failure to protect working-class communities.
“So we reject the use of the Protocol as a tool to whip up division and divide people. We need to bring people together right now and that's what's happening on the ground. The issue that people are talking about in this election is not the Protocol – and even the DUP have had to admit that to us when they're canvassing in places such as Tullyally, the Clooney Estate and elsewhere, they're not being asked about the Protocol but the hardship crisis instead.
“The DUP are desperately trying to deflect from their own failure to protect people through a year of hardship. As we know, the DUP collapsed the Executive and ensured that hundreds and millions of pounds that should be making its way by now to help workers and the least well-off hasn't gone there.
“They have now fully embraced the divisive, reckless and sectarian politics that people like Jamie Bryson have been promoting on the margins. This is very disappointing and it's dangerous.
“What we would urge is for people is to reject the DUP's attempt to whip up division. Workers from all communities, from all backgrounds, people – in all communities – who are vulnerable are in desperate need of help right now.
“Yet we've seen a year of inaction by the DUP and the rest of the Stormont Executive. The last thing we need right now is more division. The last thing we need is violence and threats to people for challenging this type of politics.
“We need to bring people together. When you look at what council workers (during the recent strike) are doing by uniting and talking about using people power to fight for better wages and better respect at work, they get the Executive to actually do something about the hardship crisis instead of sitting on its hands.”
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