Northern Ireland: And here’s to you Mrs. Robinson

The scandal involving the wife of the First Minister has revealed the utter hypocrisy of the politicians who run Stormont. While they are perfectly prepared to impose draconian spending cuts on welfare, they line their own pockets. The workers of the North require a fighting working class political representation and not the present bunch of parasites.

A prominent politician and wife of the First Minister is exposed as having had an affair with a 19-year old and bribing him with the finances for him to start his own business. No, it’s not the plot to a bad TV drama or B movie; it’s the latest scandal to shatter confidence in the leaders of Unionism in the North of Ireland. As if these events couldn’t seem any more cynical the woman in question, Iris Robinson, is a proud evangelical Christian moralist. In 2008 she called homosexuality an “abomination” and claimed gay people needed saving and could be turned around. Yet seemingly having an extramarital affair and using political influence to further the interests of your lover is perfectly acceptable!

Aside from being a farce in itself this development only further demonstrates the massive gulf that exists between the leaders of the Unionist parties and the protestant workers that vote for them. These events follow on from the MPs’ expenses scandal which revealed that politicians from across all the parties had their snouts in the trough. It’s now clear that such attitudes prevail at Stormont and even at local government level! Be it the Robinsons’ £30,000 MP’s expenses claim for food or massive undisclosed backhanders to the tune of the tens of thousands of pounds, it’s quite clear that whilst the working class has to pay for the capitalist crisis in the form of unemployment and public sector cuts some have never had it so good.

Unionism currently lies in crisis; the Ulster Unionist Party has become little more than an annex of the Tories, whilst the DUP is now on the rocks following Mrs. Robinson’s antics which could well topple Peter Robinson from his position as First Minister. He has already been forced to stand down for a six-week period as an inquiry decides whether he knew of his wife’s activity or not. Regardless of its result, many working class unionists will no doubt conclude that there is no smoke without fire.

Alongside this we have the rise of the Traditional Unionist Voice, standing to the right of the DUP. This party effectively opposes the power sharing set up. Yet TUV offers no solution to the problems of the working class. It is more concerned with entrenching sectarian division, having referred to Irish as a “Leprechaun language” and permitted its members to petition for the released of ex-UFF paramilitary Torrens Knight, currently in jail for assaulting two women in a bar.

We can only agree with Peter Tatchell’s view that Iris Robinson is a “hypocrite” and “sad and two faced”. (BBC News, 7/1/10). Yet this does not answer the question of the problems of protestant workers. Only a clear break with the sectarian parties can grant this.

In truth there is a huge vacuum in working class political representation in the North. Stormont, which is little more than a glorified county council, represents a cul-de-sac for both protestant and catholic workers. This impasse means that there are huge contradictions building up on both sides. The arrival of the capitalist crisis in the north – which was delayed for reasons we have explained elsewhere ‑ means that particularly the class contradictions will begin to emerge. We already know the scale of threatened public sector cuts in the north; workers will be forced to struggle to defend their livelihoods as they already have in the south. Fightback stands for a mass non-sectarian party with a clear socialist programme, based on the existing mass organisations of the working class, the trade unions. Workers’ political representatives must take the wage of the average skilled worker to insure they remain materially tied to the class and represent our interests instead of joining the ranks of the ruling class politicians laughing all the way to the next expenses claim or dodgy deal.