Clare Bailey has represented the Green Party at a hustings hosted by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, which represents the voluntary sector in the province.
Along with members of six other parties, the Belfast South candidate answered a range of challenging questions posed by representatives of various organisations within the sector, which makes a vital contribution to the Northern Ireland economy, employing 33,000 people, and to service provision.
At present, the sector faces major funding challenges due to planned cuts to public spending cuts – public money accounts for 45% of the sector’s budget.
Clare Bailey, who works in the voluntary sector and describes herself as a lifelong volunteer, assured those present that she understands the pressures they feel due to funding cuts and legal obstacles to volunteering.
“Volunteering gives a sense of being involved in things you are interested in. I have been a volunteer all my life – if something interests me, I go to find out what it is about and you usually end up at least licking a stamp and sticking it on something.
“The household where I grew up was very community driven – a whole bunch of women who got their kids interested, brought the community with them. It was all voluntary, it was never recognised. These days it is much harder for people to get up and volunteer just because they want to.”
The other panel members were Simon Hamilton (DUP), Caral Ni Chuilin (SF), Anna Lo (Alliance), Bill Manwaring (UUP), Gerry Carroll (People Before Profit) and Alban Maginnis (SDLP).
Issues raised and Clare’s response:
Making health services deliver for the most vulnerable
Health and wellbeing should be at the centre of every political decision. We need a healthy environment, a healthy society and healthy people. To date we have thought of health in seclusion; we need to start taking more preventative measures and focusing on what we can do to grow a healthy community and environment rather than simply focusing on cures. Taking funding away from organisations that are already doing these things does not help us address the problems. The impact of this on the confidence and self-esteem of staff is phenomenal – people are still in the same jobs, but their roles are changing faster than they can adapt.
The coalition government’s approach to reducing the deficit
Northern Ireland does not have a booming private sector. If we want to emphasis of our economy, we need to change some of the bad choices that are being made. The private sector can grow if we help it – it is all about what sort of business we are going to encourage. There is a renewable infrastructure that needs to be put in place – we can become frontrunners in the industry and reduce the cost of living.
We are heading in the wrong direction if we are talking about reducing corporation tax. Corporation tax is only 17th on the list of priorities for businesses in terms of what will entice them into Northern Ireland. A report in Canada has found that when they did it the benefits were minimal.
Right to housing in the European Social Charter
My children and I found ourselves homeless three years ago. That was the only way I was ever going to be offered social housing before I was drawing my pension. We need a Green New Deal so people can afford to pay their energy bills, we need more social housing, we need lifelong homes. When you have one person buying swathes of property just to rent them out, that is directly linked to the homelessness problem.
This isn’t the first recession in my lifetime and I don’t expect it to be the last. This is another example of the vulnerable being attacked. There are better ways of addressing the issues – people can be employed, a Green New Deal can establish industries to employ 33,000 people in a relatively short space of time, build apprenticeships, provide a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for the unemployed.
I am delighted to hear that NICVA is fully behind the Green New Deal. Other parties are starting to pick up on it – they have been dragged kicking and screaming, now they have to get behind it and support its full implementation. It is the best way to create employment, address issues of sustainability, lower the cost of living and become world leaders in new industries. Historically, the working class in Northern Ireland has come from trade backgrounds. Now we keep hearing that members of that community are the lowest achievers in education and employment – that needs to be tackled because we are sitting on a goldmine of underused skills.
The divided education system
I am very proud to be a founder pupil of Lagan College. I went there when there were 28 pupils and 28 sets of parents. There was no support from Peter Robinson then, quite the opposite. Now there is a waiting list as long as your arm. We cannot accommodate all abilities within a one size fits all system, but within one school we certainly can – we can have whole families and explore different models of education within one school.
Ensuring the next Executive works in a more collegiate way
A lot of cross-community work has been done, Sinn Fein and the DUP are working togetyher and there is no reason to believe that is going to stop, but we need to look at how their decisions are being reached. A big issue that needs to be addressed is corporate donations to political parties. If we don’t know who is funding our parties, we don’t know who they are making their decisions for. There is also an opposition missing, which raises questions about how we can have an effective government and Assembly.
Not every question was put to every panel member. Here are the Green Party’s responses to some of the issues raised which Clare did not have the opportunity to address at the hustings:
Is your manifesto fully costed?
Yes. While some panel members admitted their manifesto would not be fully costed, every new spending commitment in the Green Party’s manifesto is matched by savings elsewhere, new revenue raising measures or the reinstatement of revenue raising measures removed by DUP finance ministers in the last four years.
Action to address mental health problems
The Green Party is committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Bamford review.
How can the introduction of a two-tier pension system from 2015 be justified?
The Assembly does not control pension policy. However, Caroline Lucas MP, the leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, is making the case at Westminster for a universal citizen’s pension that will allow everyone to enjoy a comfortable retirement.
Early years education
The Green Party would introduce universal preschool education and provide additional support for parents of very young children to provide a good learning environment at home.