The Assembly election in Northern Ireland on 2 March will take place in the context of the rage over the energy scandal that provoked it and the divisions it has exposed.
There is a lot of anger around the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme. The scheme was designed by Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), as a way of handing money to large companies. For every pound the companies spent on renewable energy they gained £1.60 back.
What has come to light in the last few weeks is that the people who are benefiting from the scheme are, for example, car showrooms with Ferraris at the front and empty sheds in Ballymena that had seven or eight heaters on full blast simply in order to gain from the scheme.
It is one of many policies that were designed to give more handouts to corporations. One really telling fact that has emerged is that Foster wrote to the Bank of Ireland several years ago advising it to let potential investors know that the scheme existed and that corporations would be eligible.
At the same time as that scandal is emerging, corporation tax is being cut. The executive’s whole ideology is to reduce taxes on corporations and give them as many benefits as possible in the mistaken belief that this will attract businesses to Northern Ireland and magically create jobs.
Alongside these policies there are record levels of poverty, people are living rough on the streets, 25 percent of the population is living in fuel poverty and the bedroom tax is soon to be introduced here. So people are saying it’s one law for the ministers and another for everyone else. People are furious.
In the upcoming Assembly election Michael Collins and I are standing as candidates for People Before Profit in West Belfast. Other PBP candidates are standing in North Belfast, South Belfast and South Antrim and Eamonn McCann is standing in Foyle.
This is our biggest electoral intervention yet. Our message is more relevant than it has ever been.
We are the ones who have always said we need to go down a different path than cutting taxes on corporations, and that the Assembly parties need to be putting money into public services and teachers’ and nurses’ pockets, and funding our communities.
It was always a lie when the executive said there was no money — but it’s more obvious now than ever because it has just burnt £600 million of taxpayers’ money.
We have every chance of increasing our overall vote and real potential to gain more seats in the Assembly. We have a good chance of getting a second seat in West Belfast. That would transform the situation.
People Before Profit members were the first ones to call for the election. We said the energy scandal is an issue of public money being wasted and the public need to have their say — not just on the DUP but also on Sinn Fein and the whole conduct of the executive.
We called for the election first and foremost so that people would be able to have a riot at the ballot box.