Why I’m backing Eamonn McCann as the best candidate for Foyle

Bernadette McAliskey.
Bernadette McAliskey.

‘What has McCann done for us in the past year?’ ’ is the cut-and -paste Facebook question from his opponents.

Notwithstanding the motivation and implicit demand that on election Eamonn McCann should have singlehandedly rolled back the waves of incompetence, corruption, and cronyism, which have become the hallmark of Stormont and done the Executive’s work, the question is valid.

Everyone paid out of the public purse should be held to account. He might however be forgiven for breaking into a verse of Dolly Parton:...‘I never promised you a rose garden’…a revolution, maybe, in the fullness of time, but he made no claim to deliver the revolution by the next election.

Eamonn has always been explicit about the collective action, mobilising and organising needed to fight back against the failure of the ideology and system that destroys our living standards and humanity.

His politics are not about how to make this system work. He is clear and unapologetic about that. It doesn’t work, won’t work and can’t work in the interests of the working class (that’s all of us who exchange our labour for wages to keep ourselves and our families afloat- even if some are paid far too much and some not half enough).

No part of his manifesto included a puncture repair kit for Stormont. The core of his mandate was to hold power to account, challenge and expose the failure that is Stormont and the underpinning political and economic system and mechanisms on which it built – sectarianism; imperialism and capitalism. In plain language, the system that keeps working people divided, in poverty, and powerless.

Nonetheless, an audit of his activities as an MLA in pursuing the agenda on which he was elected is a fair thing to ask, as he seeks a further mandate to continue that work. Let’s examine that.

Eamonn’s constituency office, in nine months, has dealt with over 1,000 individual requests for help. The private business of his constituents is not talked about, or exploited to create and impression of ‘having influence and pulling strings.’ This is rights-based constituency work helping people in need to secure that to which they are already entitled.

He has diligently attended Stormont; endured the ‘slings and arrows’ and the irritation of the mike that would not stay out of his way, and at every opportunity he could get, he defended the rights of working people; gay, lesbian and transgender people; people with disability; women; children; older people; those wrongfully denied their liberty because of their perceived politics or their mental health; refugees and those denied the basic entitlement to health, wellbeing and a roof over their head and decent wages for their work.

He did not defend some people at the expense of others equally entitled or argue that those whose politics he supported should be protected while others could be hanged, if it suited.

He also sat on the Infrastructure Committee where he very effectively held that department to account as well as those who appeared before the committee to account for their own publicly funded work on crucial issues of toxic waste; pollution; coastal erosion; transport; roads infrastructure; power and water supply.

A quick search on www.niassembly.gov.uk will verify all that. The number of written and oral questions, prolific and to the point, submitted to individual Ministers is also verifiable, and the answers are on the public record.

Moreover, his presence and Gerry Carroll’s in the assembly gave sustained oppositional radical voice outside the contrived and suffocating circle of ‘power-sharing’, creating the necessity for the SDLP and UUP to take to the opposition benches or be held to account in the chamber and outside without control.

Only in opposition could they credibly expose the abusive relationship of DUP/Sinn Féin, forcing Sinn Féin to finally break free from the DUP for their own survival.

Did Eamonn McCann reform the Health Service? No. Did he build roads? Create Jobs? Empty the toxic waste dump? No, he didn’t. Was that his job? No, it wasn’t. His job was to hold Power - the NI Executive and its agencies - to account. Did he do that? Yes, he did. Eamonn has long argued that change is not brought about by simply holding power to account but by changing the balance of power; by campaigning and organisation in the work place; the street; in the community to create change.

Campaigning for teachers, and schools; against the closure of services; demanding the release of Tony Taylor and equally freedom for those wrongly incarcerated elsewhere; campaigning for justice for Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough is how that is done, and he has continued that work not abandoned it on election to the hill.

In doing so, he has given voice and leadership to a growing swell of people of all ages and all backgrounds who want change and are up for the fight. Did he do that? Yes, he did!

Did he get everything right? No. In my book, People Before Profit got the referendum wrong. I respect the integrity of their viewpoint but believe their conclusion to vote NO was a mistake made in post-election haste. The hard reality remains that whether we stayed inside the EU or left it, we must fight the same fight. ‘Brexit’ is not the dividing line of class solidarity but complicates the issues and in the short term at least will make that work a bit harder. I have significantly less in common with the motivation of some who voted remain than I have with People before Profit.

When all is weighed in the balance Eamonn McCann MLA is still the best candidate in this field for exposing and opposing and deposing the abuse of power, authority and democracy that Stormont represents. That was and remains his mandate.