Posted By: April 24, 2013

IRISH NEWS. Wednesday, April 25, 2013


THERE’S a danger that people might take Jonathan Powell’s remarks about the state of loyalism seriously because he was Tony Blair’s bagman and chief schmoozer with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. People might think his comments about the need for government help for the economic future of working-class Protestants had some basis in fact.

The whole basis of his comments that Sinn Fein has looked after ‘their communities, the working-class Catholic communities’ and the DUP has looked after middle-class unionists is completely without foundation even in terminology never mind statistics. First of all his assumption that Sinn Fein only receives support from working-class ‘Catholic’ communities has no basis. Why bring religion into it when he refers to the DUP supporters as “unionists”? Powell seems to have no idea that Sinn Fein picks up a huge amount of support from republicans in rural areas who are far from working class.

However, terminology is not the main flaw. What is disappointing is that Powell thoughtlessly subscribes to the notion that “the Protestant working-class trapped in their ghettoes” are at the bottom of the heap. They’re not. For years the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA) has been producing figures which provide an objective breakdown of poverty across the north. The figures centre on electoral wards and sections of electoral wards. It’s called the Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure (NIMDM) based on a range of measures like unemployment, education, distance from facilities like hospitals and so on.

In the worst 20 areas in the north there are three loyalist districts including part of the Shankill and Tiger Bay as opposed to 17 nationalist. Extending to the worst 30 areas brings in one extra loyalist district to make four to 26 nationalist. The places with the worst multiple deprivation in the north are Whiterock, Falls, New Lodge Road. You can go deeper into the statistics and look at say, unemployment. The worst area is, you’ve guessed it, Whiterock at a staggering 44 per cent. The best, if you’re interested, is Aldergrove with, wait for it, zero. None of these figures has changed much over the years. Go back to the NISRA figures for 2005 and you’ll find Whiterock was 42 per cent.

Ah yes, well what about the economic future that Powell was rabbiting on about? Let’s be clear to begin with that unemployment is far, far worse in nationalist districts. So what’s being done to improve job prospects? Last October the SDLP tabled an assembly question asking for investment per constituency over the past five years in the north. Guess which constituency ranked first in new jobs promoted, financial assistance offered and total planned investment? Well, surprise, surprise, poor old deprived east Belfast. Where did west Belfast with Sinn Fein “looking after its working-class constituents” come? Thirteenth out of 18 constituencies, that’s where. West Belfast had £5.45 million offered in assistance since 2007 while east Belfast had £58.81m offered. East Belfast had £750.17m in planned investment compared to £51.21m for west. Could have been worse. West Tyrone, another Sinn Fein stronghold, came 16th out of 18 in new jobs. In short Powell was spouting balderdash.

Where he was correct was when he said people in loyalist ghettoes were trapped “with those gangs the UVF and UDA’.

Now while, contrary to Powell’s assertion, loyalist districts do not need any more government economic help being very well provided for thank you, they do need government help in ridding themselves of the loyalist gangs which dominate those districts. But they’re not going to get it. Why? The NIO created and artificially sustained those same loyalist gangs throughout the troubles using them as proxies for the security forces to kill republicans.

 Now they’re bribing them with public money to keep them quiet and not disrupt the political process. They’re trying to turn them into, all together now, ‘community leaders’. Unfortunately for the NIO the people who live under their thumb despise them and will have nothing to do with them. When they present themselves to the electorate in the form of front parties for the paramilitaries even their own members don’t vote for them.

 Apart from being factually up the left, Powell’s recipe would mean more money for these gangs.