Socialist challenge to sectarian status quo

By Daniel Waldron

In Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Socialist Party member Donal O’Cofaigh is fighting for a council seat in the election on 2nd May under the banner of Cross-Community Labour Alternative. Donal works for Unite the Union and is the secretary of Fermanagh Council of Trade Unions.

A proven fighter

He has been to the fore of every local campaign against cuts and privatisation in the last decade and was central to the movement which defeated the threat of the toxic fracking industry in the county.

Healthcare is a key issue in the campaign. Fermanagh faces a GP crisis, with many surgeries under threat of closure, while stroke and other services at the local hospital are also at risk, thanks to the austerity policies agreed to by all the main parties at Stormont. Donal was a founding member of Fermanagh Save Our Services, which has mobilised the community to successfully push back attacks on the NHS.

Donal is supporting those impacted by the Tory welfare cuts – voted through by Sinn Féin, the DUP and Alliance in exchange for the power to cut corporation tax – which are hitting working-class communities hard. He is fighting for fully-funded and accessible welfare support services. Donal is also campaigning alongside trade unionists to oppose threatened attacks to free school transport provision. In this campaign we will also be raising the need for Marriage Equality and the right to choose for women and pregnant people, two fundamental rights that are still denied in the North.

Anti-sectarian, socialist alternative

Crucially, Donal is standing to provide an anti-sectarian, socialist alternative to the Unionist and nationalist blocs. Both historically and today, only the trade union and labour movement has been capable of bringing together working-class people across the sectarian divide in support of their common interests. If elected, he will challenge the cosy carve-up between the main parties, who cynically use sectarianism to shore up their support while co-operating when it comes to attacking jobs and public services.

In general, this election is likely to see a further sectarian polarisation and strengthening of the DUP and Sinn Féin. However, the election of even one councillor from the labour movement who refuses to fall in behind either sectarian bloc and instead represents the independent interests of the working class – Protestant, Catholic and neither – could have a huge impact. It could raise the confidence of trade unionists and workers that it is possible to challenge the sectarian status quo, and point towards the building of a new, mass party of the working class which unites people to fight for a better future in a spirit of solidarity and mutual respect.

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