With new research showing that of the North's most deprived regions are located in the North West, CONAL McFEELY argues that Ireland cannot sustain a hard border - and calls for people to make their opposition heard on UN Human Rights day.

So we are told that the 'People’s Party’ - as Arlene Foster defined the DUP at last week's conference - will now look after our interests in a fair and equitable manner. They will, they say, represent all the people with impartiality regardless of their politics. But why are so many of Ms Foster's 'people' now feeling so short-changed?

Any fair minded independent thinker can see that we now have a society without any political accountability and governance which denies its citizens: fair and equitable investment and job opportunities; marriage equality; and

a bill of rights.

At the same time, the People’s Party in concert with the British Tory party continue to preside over the current British government austerity policies and deny the majority of people their democratic right as citizens of a devolved region which voted to remain in the European Union.

In our particular devolved region, there are currently 35,000 people unemployed, with another 600,000 cast aside in the ranks of the economically inactive. Over the past few recent years almost 50,000 jobs have gone. Now, the outworking of Brexit will cast more gloom and doom.

Our construction industry has been demolished; the indigenous retail sector, as we know, is on a permanent ‘closing down sale’; and manufacturing is also in serious decline.

The National Health Care and Education systems are being held together with tape and string, families are living day-to-day in a permanent state of debt, and our rapidly aging population is creating an economic and social time-bomb for future generations.

But the People’s Party and the Tories do not recognise or accept any sense of crisis.

Politics as we recognise it - is about power. The power that is being adopted and imposed from London, in partnership with the DUP, is misplaced and detrimental to people here and to the island of Ireland as a whole.

Irish society simply cannot sustain a hard border, we crucially need to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market as this is key to the rights of citizens and economic and social wellbeing of everyone. Any version of a ‘border’ undermines our journey towards a truly peaceful society and has massive wide-reaching ramifications, in particular, for our city.

From a community and social economy perspective, I would argue that we need to understand that the best solution to the major issue of poverty and social exclusion is proper employment. Work that is well-paid, and unionised.

Locally here in the Northwest our physical and social infrastructure is not remotely up to scratch. We have been overlooked by successive Stormont and British governments in terms of expenditure and investment, and any improvements we have had was as direct result of Europe. Now even this support is under threat by those who claim to be the 'People’s Party’.

It is important to record that the latest deprivation figures published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency inform us that that one fifth of the poorest areas in the North of Ireland are located in Derry and Strabane: the Fountain Street area of Strabane being the most deprived; and Creevagh which covers Creggan in Derry being the third most deprived area in the North.

It is clearly apparent and supported by historical evidence that we continue to lack a fair and equitable investment policy directed towards west of the Bann. And it is our responsibility, as well as the duty of our elected political representatives, to challenge government about this fact until the situation is remedied. We must raise our collective voices above the level of the often-maligned ‘whinge’ – to ensure we get a fair portion of any budget, instead of fighting for the scraps discarded by Belfast.

The recent report on urban economic wellbeing from PwC and Demos (November 2017) informs us and to quote: "It’s worth noting that Derry’s position on the border with the Republic of Ireland is distinctive as a significant number of the city’s population are Irish residents, commuting across the border. As one of the few City Regions within Europe that will potentially now see an EU / non-EU international frontier cut across it, Derry faces particular challenges from Brexit."

Indeed the report highlights the distinct lack of investment and growth which our city has undergone over the last number of years (as part of a devolved region), and underlines the fact that the North West is again at the very bottom of the table when it comes to economic activity.

Discourse

We need to embrace open discourse, compromise and creative thinking to protect us and Irish society against the fallout from Brexit so we can continue build a rights based society to protect and rebuild our economy and local environment.

It is the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups and communities who are bearing a disproportionate burden of poverty and inequality as result of the ongoing injustices brought about by a denial of social and economic rights.

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the world on December 10 every year. The United Nations under the Universal Declaration tells us that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The Universal Declaration promises to all their economic, social, political, cultural and human rights.

We cannot allow the political mistakes that gave rise to the birth of the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago to be repeated, the time is long overdue to implement a Bill of Rights enshrined within the Good Friday Agreement to be realised.

If our society is to move forward then our system of political governance must be rooted within the UN human rights framework.

On Human Rights Day, December 10 2017 everyone should exercise their democratic rights and make their voice heard by letting ‘the People’s Party’ and the British Government know that we will no longer tolerate the continued denial of our economic, social, political, cultural and human rights.

We need to encourage the Irish government and the leaders of the EU 27 to ensure the UK government honour its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement and protect this island’s access to the Single Market and Customs Union – no to any hard border.

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