google-site-verification=1GZWcCCTENExPKRkYzK_tzoEhTPFZVvQ5bF9tCQwSxo Kathryn Johnston Journalist Author Belfast
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Labour Party in NI must face realities

September 14, 2017

 

Boyd Black’s recent column (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/northern-ireland-needs-the-chance-to-vote-labour-36110905.html) ignores some of the central issues facing Labour Party for Northern Ireland.

 

I'm no economist, so I won’t find fault with Boyd’s figures - though I must point out that his guesstimate that LPNI members pay as much as £75-80,000 annually into central Labour funds sounds like wishful thinking, rather than the hard-headed analysis of a former senior Economics Professor at QUB.

 

Before I wander off the point, there is a lot more needed to make Labour NI fit for purpose than merely following the money - not least of which is a recognition of the multicultural realities of living in post conflict Northern Ireland.  

 

Yesterday a link to a Newsletter column was posted on a few LPNI FB sites by an LPNI administrator (‘The only Irish unionists saw during Troubles was tiocfaidh ar la’).

 

I am no Gaeilgeoir, but I am proud to own a Gael Linn cupla focal fainne and I am pleased that there are several members of LPNI who speak fluent Irish.  And quite frankly, this public endorsement on official LPNI social media of what reads as a sectarian point of view ignores the realities of the true diversity of LPNI’s current membership. 

 

The former Chair of LPNI, Anna McAleavy, who resigned from the EC with me in July this year, highlighted this diversity at last year’s Labour Irish Forum meeting at Labour conference in Liverpool to Labour General Secretary Iain McNicol and Jim Kennedy, Chair of the NEC team which is reviewing LPNI’s right to stand.

 

Let’s hope that Mr McNicol and Mr Kennedy are not Facebook friends with LPNI and haven’t seen this post.

 

If LPNI truly want to engage with the realities facing post conflict Northern Ireland, they could do worse than listen to Len McCluskey of Unite the Union.

 

At last year’s 1916/2016 Unite commemoration in the Mac, myself and some comrades met Len.  We explained the diversity of views within LPNI, where some would support a United Ireland, while others would support the continuing link with the UK. Many others simply view the border question as an outdated question with little to do with Labour politics.

 

The Vice Chair of LPNI, Damien Harris, who also resigned in July this year, illustrated this diversity by addressing Mr McCluskey in fluent Irish.

 

Earlier this year, Mr McCluskey told a public meeting of Unite members in a Belfast hotel that the Irish Executive of Unite now back LPNI’s right to stand, and that he would follow their lead. McCluskey, he said, recognised how far LPNI and Northern Ireland have progressed since the days of the old NILP.

 

Boyd, rather than facile demands to recognise our ‘right to stand’ we need to focus on the business of building a party base here.

 

It is time to recognise the realities of organising a party from the bottom up - instead of from the top down.  Failure to recognise this will only result in the NEC Review team laughing in the face of a vapid but well-intentioned submission from LPNI which will accomplish nothing other than snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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