Irish Republican News · January 20, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Politicians clash as poverty deepens

Over 80,000 children in the Six Counties are living in poverty, according to a new report published this week, with nationalist areas such as west Belfast experiencing the highest figures.

The report, produced by the Campaign to End Child Poverty, found that over 1 in 5 children in the North live below the poverty line - the point at which families struggle to pay for basic necessities such as food, heating and clothing.

That number rises to over 2 in 5 in West Belfast, where 46 per cent of children live in poverty). The figures reach a staggering 64 per cent in Whiterock, 63 per cent in Falls, 56 in Clonard and 53 in the Upper Springfield.

In North Belfast, the figure is 41 per cent, with Derry close behind at 36 per cent.

Sinn Fein expressed concern over the statistics, with West Belfast MP Paul Maskey saying the figures are “not surprising”.

“For decades these wards have seen huge underinvestment by successive British governments in terms of job creation, housing, infrastructural investment and other such factors that affect the quality of life for the people living here,” he said.

eirigi representative John McCusker said families were being forced to choose between feeding themselves or heating their homes, “and it’s a situation that’s more common than many people are willing to admit”.

“This already intolerable situation will only worsen as our communities feel the bite of the Tory cuts agenda. People in work are having their pay frozen or reduced and, and people in receipt of benefits are finding these slashed. Add to this that more people are finding that their income cannot keep up with inflation and it’s clear that many families are struggling to afford even the basics.”

While their nationalist rivals in the SDLP also expressed alarm, that party’s credibility on the issue of poverty was gravely undermined by the continuing furore over party leader Alasdair McDonnell and his recent demand for a pay raise.

Mr McDonnell’s own party colleagues - including deputy leader Dolores Kelly - spoke out against him after he claimed that MLAs (Assembly members) should be entitled to a “small increment” on their current #43,000 ($67,000) basic salary and suggested they receive increased pension provisions to avoid poverty.

Criticism heightened when Mr McDonnell attempted to defend his position by comparing the salary to a “starvation wage”.

[In addition to his salary as an assembly member, McDonnell also receives the wages of a Westminster MP, claims annual expenses of over #150,000 and operates his own medical practice, a health clinic as well as other business interests.]

Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey accused the SDLP leader of being out of touch with the general public.

He said: “It is ridiculous for the leader of a political party to advocate an increase in MLA salaries in the current economic climate. It shows that he hasn’t a clue how the ordinary working or unemployed person is suffering today.”

eirigi also said McDonnell was seeking to “line his own pocket” in response to the current economic crisis -- and claimed his constituents would not be surprised at his “callous disregard”.

“He is, after all, the same man who blamed the people of the Lower Ormeau Road for bringing upon themselves the massacre in Sean Graham’s bookmakers, which left five dead and a community traumatised, for refusing to lie down and accept the British state in Ireland, doing his best to absolve the unionist death squad and their handlers of any responsibility for the attack.

“One of the weapons used in the attack was later handed back to the death squad responsible by the RUC. Has McDonnell raised this with his paymasters in London? Has he ever called for an inquiry into the matter? No. He remains content to blame the victims.

“McDonnell embodies some of the worst aspects of Irish political culture: the vulgar money grubbing of the gombeen man coupled with the lickspittle mentality and moral cowardice of the shoneen.”

Amid indications of increasing social unrest in the North as a result of the economic downturn, a group of protestors associated with the ‘Occupy Belfast’ movement entered and occupied the disused former Bank of Ireland building in the centre of the city on Monday.

The action was described as a protest against growing unemployment, homelessness and home repossessions in the Six Counties.

In a statement, the group said: “In response to this social crisis our local politicians have proven themselves to be unprepared, unwilling, incapable or all of the above. Housing executive houses lie empty as people are evicted daily. There is no other option but to take action ourselves.”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News