4 August 2022 Edition
DUP are holding society to ransom
In May, the people of the North had their say in an Assembly election. They voted for real change, for hope and for an Executive that would deliver for all. They voted for parties and political leaders to work together. They voted for a First Minister for all.
From day one after that election, Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O’Neill has been ready to lead our team into the Executive to agree a budget, put money into people’s pockets and start to fix our health service. Months have now passed, and we still do not have a government in place.
Why? Because the DUP are unwilling to respect the democratic outcome of that election and are blocking the change that people voted for. The DUP are holding society to ransom over the outcome over their own Brexit project. And they are doing so at a time when people are struggling to heat their homes or put fuel in the car.
As we approach the winter, the economic picture is bleak. Prices are set to continue to rise with inflation spiralling out of control. The coming weeks will see another at least 30 percent hike to the price of gas here, and that it is only the beginning.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of pounds are stuck in a Stormont bank account and cannot be spent without an Executive. Jeffrey Donaldson’s boycott of the Assembly and Executive is a cruel dereliction of duty at a time when people are crying out for help. At a time when people wait years on hospital waiting lists while others struggle to see their GP.
• Big energy companies are walking away with eye-watering profits and action needs to be taken urgently to shift the burden off workers, families and businesses
The health service has suffered from a decade of Tory cuts. Earlier in the year, I set out a plan to invest an extra £1 billion in our health service. This would help tackle waiting lists, hire more doctors and nurses, and fund mental health and cancer services.
It is ordinary people who are paying the price for the DUP’s boycott, despite the party’s glossy manifesto commitments to make health a priority and deal with the cost of living.
And the DUP are being aided and abetted by the Tories, who have absolutely no regard for the interests or the democratic wishes of the people.
The Tories are deliberately picking a fight with the EU. This helps distract from their abysmal domestic record. It also serves to bolster the anti-EU credentials of individuals with leadership ambitions.
In pursuing this reckless political agenda, the British government has abandoned any pretence of the rigorous impartiality demanded by the Good Friday Agreement. That must stop now.
Having dragged us out of the EU against our wishes, the Tories are now intent on tearing up the Protocol which is helping to create jobs and giving our businesses unique access to both the EU and British markets.
The recent contracts awarded to Wrightbus to produce hydrogen buses to Germany and Dublin are just one example of the Protocol’s benefits.
There are parties, just like Sinn Féin, who are willing and ready to do something about it. The majority of people in the Six Counties support the Protocol and they voted overwhelmingly for parties that support the Protocol. 53 of the 90 MLAs support the Protocol – a clear majority.
It protects people and businesses here from the damage caused by Brexit, and it protects the North’s economy from the destructive Tory Brexit. In fact, the Six-County economy is now outperforming most of Britain.
While the Tories undermine our economic interests and help deny people a government, they have made little or no effort to cut household bills. They are allowing big energy companies to walk away with eye-watering profits as they rip people off with huge price hikes.
Action needs to be taken urgently to shift the burden off workers, families and businesses. That means cutting taxes on fuel, ensuring that big energy companies pay their way, and cutting VAT on energy bills for our businesses to ensure they can protect jobs.
I have repeatedly told the British government they need to step up and provide more money for Executive departments to deal with the rise in inflation and the huge spike in the cost of living and the cost of doing business.
There are big challenges and a tough number of months ahead for workers and families, but also for political leaders. As the Assembly returns from the summer recess, Sinn Féin is ready to do the business and form an Executive immediately.
There is a huge opportunity to deliver a three year Budget that would give certainty to our public services and departments like Health, to plan and deliver real change.
We need locally elected Ministers in place now, working together and doing what they can to ensure people and businesses are supported through this cost of living emergency. Workers and families need that help urgently. They cannot wait any longer. We need an Executive now.
• Conor Murphy is Northern Ireland Executive Finance Minister and an MLA for Newry-Armagh