Although the crisis surrounding the ’sidestepped’ Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, and his wife, Iris, has appeared to temporarily subside, the fact that the whole structure of power sharing and the power-sharing Executive might be in danger of collapse over the controversy, graphically illustrates the artificial nature of that entity.
A structure fashioned to reflect the sectarian differences in Northern politics, it institutionalises sectarianism and panders therefore to the most backward, sectarian tendencies in both communities.
Usually if a Prime Minister or major Party Leader is forced to resign over a scandal, he or she is replaced and it is more less ‘business as usual.’ However, an edifice constructed on the treacherous quicksands of sectarianism can have its very existence threatened by such an eventuality.
The other fact that leaps out of the present crisis – but goes totally unremarked upon , such is the narrow focus of most media commentators – is how utterly unrepresented in any real sense, working class people are in Northern Ireland. The DUP commands considerable votes from workers, unemployed and poor people who are Protestant. The leaders of this party, however, live in a different galaxy as far as income and lifestyles are concerned.
Public records show that Peter and Iris Robinson could command a combined income of over half a million pounds Sterling or £9,600 per week. By contrast, over half of the population of Northern Ireland have incomes of £300 per week after housing costs, while a single unemployed person must live on the princely sum of £60 per week.
Just like the Fianna Fail /Green Party Coalition government in the South, the Power Sharing Executive in the North is presiding over an economic disaster that is having severe repercussions on the lives of ordinary people. Official unemployment has rocketed in the past twelve months by about 80% to 7.1% but figures from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, including all those ‘economically inactive’, but looking for work, would suggest a real figure of 14%. One in five young people between 18 and 24 years of age are unemployed.
The Robinsons, however, move in different circles. As a leading Member of the Assembly and of the British Parliament, Iris Robinson obviously wielded major influence, since she could get substantial amounts of money from major developers for the private business venture of her friend Kirk McCambley as well as use DUP control of an elected Council to get him a business lease.
This kind of sleaze was not confined to Iris Robinson. It will be recalled that Ian Paisley Jnr was forced to resign two years ago, following revelations that he was pushing the interests of a developer friend. How reminiscent of Fianna Fail’s relationship with the building industry over forty years and of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael Councillors swinging votes on Dublin County Council for favoured developers in the 1980s and ’90s.
As is usual, sections of the media have run with lurid headlines, highlighting the intimate relationship between Mrs Robinson and Kirk McCambley, whom they have persistently labelled as a ‘toyboy’. No doubt a young woman finding herself in a similar situation would be labelled a ‘bimbo’. There is a massive hypocrisy here in that one can be sure that among journalists, editors and newspaper proprietors are some who get their personal lives entangled in complicated ways. However, they will never be the subject of such lurid headlines, especially in newspapers with which they are associated.
In the case of Iris Robinson, it is wholly legitimate to point out the public hypocrisy of using reactionary, Biblical denunciations to demonise gay people while being secretly involved in activities which the same Bible would also characterise as an ‘abomination’. There is also the fact that Peter Robinson, like his predecessor Ian Paisley Senior, ruthlessly used sectarianism in advancing his and his party’s selfish interests.
It is not just the DUP which is out of touch with the reality of working class people in the North. Ulster Unionist Party leader, Reg Empey, recently referred to young unemployed people as ‘vampires’ in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph. What an insult to young people offered nothing but a dead end by the system which he represents, but no such condemnation of the real vampires, the speculators and banks who have sucked the economic lifeblood from the economy.
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly built on the institutionalisation of sectarian division and populated by parties and politicians who rule on the basis of crisis-ridden capitalism have no solutions for the real problems of Northern Ireland. Working class people and youth, Protestant and Catholic, need a new political force that strives to unite them in a fight for a better society pushing to the side the Robinsons, Paisleys and their equivalents on the catholic side.