Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Working-class unionists have a right to be heard

The PUP will give a voice to the old, the sick, the jobless and the poor, says Brian Ervine

The PUP has emerged stronger and more resilient as a consequence of the crisis of 2010. The party that negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and showed the way forward in Northern Ireland is still alive and kicking.

The fears and needs of working-class unionism have been shamefully neglected by the main parties and have not benefited from the comparative peace Northern Ireland has enjoyed this past decade.

The five core principles of Progressive Unionism are:

1. Respect for Northern Ireland's place in the UK;

2. The material and spiritual wellbeing of the Northern Irish people;

3. The right to peaceful opposition and protest;

4. Civil, religious and cultural liberty for all;

5. Equal access to education.

There also needs to be greater provision of services to tackle mental health problems. With the rising number of suicides (100% rise in one year in east Belfast) - especially among those in deprived communities - preventative measures need to be put in place.

We wish to see a return of the matron to hospitals to improve standards of care and hygiene. We can reduce costs by changing the packaging of prescription medicines.

We will also propose a levy-per-prescription for those who can afford it. Those chronically ill, or on benefits, would be exempt.

We have always campaigned for greater respect and care for our elderly population. We will engage in a pro-active campaign to reduce fuel poverty. State agencies need to do more concerning this problem.

We also wish to see the creation of neighbourhood watch schemes. We believe in tougher penalties for those who offend against the elderly. We wish to mobilise communities to deal with educational underachievement. One in four in the UK is functionally illiterate. This figure is higher in Northern Ireland.

Reading should be embedded in the community. Skills can be passed via literacy stations in churches, community centres and private homes. Financial incentives should be given to encourage parents to enroll their children in integrated schools. We must abolish this educational and social apartheid.

The elephant in the kitchen as far as education is concerned is discipline. There should be greater powers for school staff to discipline unruly children.

We would also like to see the expansion of the Dickson Plan, currently used in Co Armagh. Academic selection at 11 is detrimental to late developers. As regards the economy, reliance on banks must end. Credit unions should be encouraged to expand products to include mortgages, credit cards and current accounts.

The Progressive Unionist Party will lobby banks to increase lending to potential homeowners and small businesses. Increased regulation of the banks will prevent the irresponsible lending which helped bring about the present recession.

We advocate a new nominal text-message levy to generate revenue to be spent on public services. Almost £25m could be raised locally with a 1p charge on each text message. This would be levied on mobile phone operators and they would then have the choice on whether or not to recover it from customers.

We also support a reduction in corporation tax. Likewise, millions of pounds could be saved by taking action against 'tax avoidance'. Some claim that a saving of £1.3bn could be recouped by the Treasury.

We intend to speak out against cuts disguised as so-called 'reforms'. We intend to be a voice for the old, sick, jobless and poor.

Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, once disappeared for a few days. After hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, he commented: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Many people have written this party off. Some have written its obituary. I can only echo Mark Twain. Reports concerning our death are greatly exaggerated.

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