GUE/NGL Study days in Ireland: Left must continue fight against austerity
The final day of the GUE/NGL study days to Ireland saw MEPs and guest speakers alike discuss both the ongoing resistance to austerity as well as the challenges ahead for the Left.
This morning the MEPs heard interventions from guest speakers about the austerity fightback in Ireland.
Peadar Toibín (Sinn Féin TD) from the Save Navan Hospital Campaign described the community response to savage cuts to health services, and Jimmy Kelly (UNITE Regional Secretary) explained that a lack of union recognition in Ireland was rendering freedom of association rights meaningless.
Matthew Waine (Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes) talked about the unfair nature of making working people pay for the crisis and the effectiveness of mass mobilisation through a boycott of the tax. Michael McCabe (Centre for Independent Living) outlined the practical and physical effects of cuts to disability allowances, describing how many people are being effectively institutionalised in their homes.
GUE/NGL MEP Paul Murphy said: "Austerity is a nice word for robbery. It is a weapon that moves wealth from the poor to the rich and from labour to capital. We are told that Ireland's economy is recovering but we need to explode that myth."
The afternoon session saw invited guests set out possible economic alternatives.
Michael Burke (Socialist Economic Bulletin) explained that investment was needed and not cuts. He also called for debt cancellation to be given serious consideration. Dr. Sheila Killian (University of Limerick) mooted the idea of equality proofing budgets and taking real action on tax evasion.
Stavros Evagorou (AKEL), Jarmo Linden (Finnish Left Party), and Niels Jongerius (Dutch Socialist Party) explained their respective parties' approaches.
GUE/NGL MEP Martina Anderson said: "The Irish government might choose to blame the Troika for the austerity policies it is pursuing, but the fact is that governments have choices. The Dublin government has made a conscious choice to place the burden of the crisis on those who can least afford it. Taxation of wealth in order to invest in jobs and growth are essential in order to get out of the crisis."
GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer said: "We need a new approach that redistributes wealth to the most marginalised. We need to mobilise people. National governments play the national card in order to pit people who have been affected by the crisis against each other. We need real European solidarity to help those who are being forgotten."
Abortion rights now! GUE/NGL MEPs take part in debate on access to abortion
GUE/NGL MEPs and guest speakers took part in a debate on abortion rights in Ireland today as part of the Group's study days in Ireland event.
GUE/NGL MEP Mikael Gustafsson, Chair of the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality committee, chaired the discussion. He said: "Although abortion policy is not an EU competency, we, as elected representatives, have a responsibility to campaign for universal reproductive rights that do not criminalise women."
The MEPs heard interventions from Sarah Malone at the Abortion Rights Campaign who described how the pro-choice movement had intensified in light of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.
Niall Behan from the Irish Family Planning Association outlined that although preventative policies like better access to sex education and contraception are essential, they cannot replace access to abortion. He also talked about how denying access to abortion puts a huge physical, psychological and economic burden on Irish women, particularly among the poorest women and undocumented migrants.
Jacqueline Healy from the National Women's Council explained that women remain largely voiceless in the debate and urged the Irish government to legislate to give effect to the X case.
Commenting after the guest speakers' interventions, GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer and GUE/NGL MEPs Martina Anderson and Paul Murphy added their views to the debate.
Gabi Zimmer said: "A woman's right to make a choice about her own body is a human rights issue and is central to the struggle for gender equality. Universal abortion rights are inherent to the values of the Left and we must fight for them wherever they are being denied."
Martina Anderson set out the Sinn Féin position on the issue: "Sinn Féin supports legislation that protects women where their lives are in danger. We also support legislation that protects doctors and provides them with clarity and certainty."
Paul Murphy said: "At every stage in the struggle for free, safe and legal abortion, the backwards nature of the political establishment and the Catholic church in Ireland, which remains hugely influential over the political establishment, has blocked progress. Change can only come from action at the grassroots level among working people."
Two days of debates in Derry draw to a close
GUE/NGL MEPs and guest speakers have taken part in two days of fruitful and dynamic debates in Derry, Ireland.
GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer said: "We are delighted to be here in Ireland as solidarity between progressive movements across all parts of the EU, particularly on the periphery where the crisis is hitting hardest, is crucial to the GUE/NGL."
The background to the conflict and the current political situation in Ireland was discussed.
In yesterday's opening session Joe Higgins TD strongly condemned the Irish government's continued implementation of 'nefarious austerity policies' and warned that despite the Troika programme nearing its end the situation remains precarious for working people in Ireland. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness spoke about the dangers of the British government's ongoing welfare cuts for people in the North of Ireland as well as the importance of support and funding in the context of a society emerging from conflict.
GUE/NGL MEP Martina Anderson said: "Both communities have been plagued by suffering and we need to continue the healing process so we can move our society to a better place."
In this morning's session Bill Rolston (Transnational Justice Institute) discussed the historical context of the conflict and the role of British state collusion, and Peter Shirlow (Queen's University Belfast) described how poverty only reproduces sectarianism and called for class unity so that people get passionate about welfare cuts and not flags.
GUE/NGL MEP Paul Murphy said: "Capitalism uses the method of divide and rule and we want to see the development of a new working class where people struggle not as protestants or catholics but united as workers."
This afternoon's session saw four speakers - Patrick Mullholland (Socialist party member and trade unionist), Maureen Collins (Pink Ladies), Declan Kearney (National Chairperson of Sinn Féin), and Brian Dougherty MBE (St Columbs Park House) - share their experiences of community activism and dialogue in Derry.
GUE/NGL MEP Takis Hadzigeorgiou said: "We need dialogue across both communities. Without such cross-community dialogue lasting peace is not possible."
The MEPs also took part in a political tour of Derry which saw them visit the Bloody Sunday Museum and the Bogside.
The study days continue in Dublin from tomorrow until Friday.
Austerity, women's rights and cross-community dialogue on the agenda in Derry and Dublin
GUE/NGL MEPs are in Ireland this week for the Group's study days which are being held in both Derry and Dublin.
Participating GUE/NGL MEPs* and international guests, including Joe Higgins TD, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Rita Fagan (Spectacle of Defiance), Jaqueline Healy (National Women's Council of Ireland), Declan Kearney (National Chairperson of Sinn Féin), and Jimmy Kelly (UNITE Regional Secretary), will contribute to discussions on: the background to the Troubles and the international dimension of the peace process; cross-community dialogue; abortion rights in Ireland; and austerity and the fightback.
From 13-15 May the study days will take place in the City Hotel, Queens Quay Derry, and from 15-17 May at The Gresham Hotel, 23 Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin.
Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party are two of the 17 political parties that make up the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), a European Parliamentary Group made-up of 34 Members
hailing from 12 European countries.
Study days are held biannually in different regions by each European Parliamentary Group. It is a chance for MEPs to meet with local activists, experts, and national parties.
GUE/NGL Press Contact Ireland :
Emily Macintosh +32 470 85 05 08