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21 May 2022

Hardship fund motion passed by Council but Harkin hits out at Sinn Féin amendment

Shaun Harkin

Cllr Shaun Harkin: "There is a constant attempt by the establishment to undermine proposals that attempt to redistribute wealth."

People Before Profit (PBP) Councillor, Shaun Harkin, has stated that an amendment to his Council motion calling for a hardship fund for those in need was “class politics”.

Cllr Harkin's motion at the the full meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council, jointly submitted with fellow PBP Councillor – Maeve O'Neill, called for Stormont to issue a direct £1000 payment to four fifths of households in the North to help bring some financial relief to the ongoing cost of living crisis.

However, an amendment brought forward by Sinn Féin's Cllr Chris Jackson, revised the figure of £1000 to £230.

The amendment was passed with 23 voting for it, the two PBP Councillors voting against and the two Alliance Councillors abstaining. The motion was then passed unanimously.

In his opening remarks when tabling the motion, Cllr Harkin said: “People are being crushed by the cost of living crisis. Even last week, before the election, Firmus announced an increase of 16.1 per cent on the people of Derry for energy costs.

“I don't know how people are going to find that money. The hardship crisis isn't going to go away – it's going to get worse. I think it's disgraceful that the DUP are refusing to nominate ministers for the newly-elected Executive.

“Through the election period, that's all we heard on the doors from people – the hardship crisis. There's two ways that we can do something about that – firstly, a direct hardship payment to as many people as possible.

“Secondly, we need real above-inflation pay raises. Inflation is at nine per cent so wage rises of one or two per cent just doesn't cut it anymore.”

However, Cllr Jackson, put forward his amendment saying: ““The cost of living crisis is causing anxiety amongst communities. However, I don't think it's right that we make proposals that are not costed and are not realistic and that can't work.”

Ald Keith Kerrigan (DUP) then asked: “The original motion's costing is in excess of £583million. I wonder who is to pick up the tab for this?”

Cllr Rory Farrell (SDLP) expanded further on this question and claimed Cllr Harkin's plan was unrealistic before adding that whatever the figure, funds could only be released back to the people when the DUP finally decide to re-enter the Executive at Stormont.

He said: “Lets be clear – this is a People Before Profit election pledge that is uncosted, unrealistic and undeliverable. Cllr Harkin's election pledge is back of an envelope economics.

“The sad reality is that whatever proposals are made, costed or not, nothing is going to happen until the DUP grow up and agree to nominate a Deputy First Minister.

“It doesn't matter if a hardship payment is £1000 or £200. Families won't get a penny until the DUP accept the election result and go back to work.”

Cllr Maeve O'Neill (PBP), who co-sponsored the motion, insisted that the £1000 had been costed and that money was there in Stormont to provide for the proposed Hardship Fund.

She said: “We feel that the revised figure of £230 just doesn't cut it. In terms of costing, there's over £300million in the Stormont bank account that was not spent.

“Then in the budget, the Executive budgeted for over £350million for corporation tax breaks so that corporations could have their taxes reduced and make even more money.

“Right now, corporations are not the ones who are struggling – it's ordinary people. People are dying here because of poverty which is an absolute failure of government.

“This is about political will – to help people who are struggling right now. What is government for? Is it here to help corporations make profits or is it to help people in need?”

Cllr Harkin voted for the motion to be passed but was clearly unhappy with the amendment being allowed in to water down his proposal.

He said: “The amendment sends a message to people that the littlest can be done rather than we fighting as much as we possibly can to to help people.

“As far as the DUP are concerned, money was no object for them when it was RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) – hundreds and hundreds of millions of pound that didn't exist was suddenly there.

“With regard to Cllr Farrell's comments, I remember the SDLP representatives struggling to explain how they were going to pay for anything that they were proposing.

“As he knows himself, there is a constant attempt by the establishment to undermine proposals that attempt to redistribute wealth. If he doesn't understand that, then that's about class politics.

“We don't put elites first – we put ordinary people first. Figures like £230 or £250 simply won't do – it's a drop in the ocean. We need to take radical action that's more in line with the scale of the crisis.”

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