SDLP embraces integrated education
The SDLP manifesto strikes a distinctly jaunty air claiming it is a tonic “to the cynicism which has seeped into our political arena and its discourse.”
At its heart is a commitment to what it calls “Progressive Nationalism” and the party believes that to achieve a united Ireland it is first important to fix Northern Ireland. The solution it comes up with is more devolution.
So the SDLP wants Northern Ireland to have borrowing and tax raising powers. This would equate to us having a separate tax and welfare system.
It does not spell out who and what would be taxed but business bosses can relax: the commitment to lowering Corporation Tax remains.
Despite the desire for new powers the SDLP told Scope that all the pledges in the document have been costed without having to raise additional taxes.
It contends that more cash could be raised through the European Union. Needless to say the party is unequivocally in the Remain camp.
One of the more surprising policies in the document is the party’s new found commitment to integrated education. The key passage is: “Our plans to develop integrated education will still operate in a context where parental choice remains paramount. In addition we are not confined to the current model of integration – there is scope to develop integrated education which builds upon the faith element of schools. For example there is no reason why a Catholic school cannot become an integrated school.
“The SDLP’s view is that the current DUP/Sinn Fein ‘Shared’ education campuses initiative does not go far enough. Their model, which brings Catholic and Protestant schools closer together to share some facilities, actually maintains and institutionalises segregation. The SDLP model for integration means all children wearing the same uniform being taught by the same teachers in the same classroom.”
Integration is also a theme in housing with the party promising to legislate to impose a statutory duty on social housing providers to promote and develop shared housing.” The party wants to end what it calls the “institutionalisation of division in housing management. “
Ironically the one demand that will most impact the media has yet to receive any coverage. The SDLP wants power over the broadcast media to be devolved to Northern Ireland. This to include regulation: “The SDLP calls for Northern Ireland to have further powers over broadcasting devolved to the Assembly to ensure that our unique cultural, social and creative landscape is given the best possible platform and exposure.”
Given the often fractious relationship between political parties and the media, this will certainly cause sleepless nights in the BBC and UTV, and raises questions about the capacity and capability of the new Department of Communities to develop broadcast policy.
The party supports a higher living wage than the current Westminster-devised “Living Wage” but stops short of calling for a complete ban on zero hours contracts.
The health section is interesting as well. There is strong support for Transforming Your Care, an acknowledgement of the crisis in domiciliary care, and a commitment to greater investment in mental health provision. However there are also pledges to maintain services in both Downe and Daisy Hill hospitals. It is not explained how this is consistent with Transforming Your Care, which highlights the need to close hospitals.
The Justice section makes for interesting reading. The party highlights the high cost of imprisonment: “It costs £58,000 to keep a person in prison for a year in Northern Ireland. It is clear that the imprisonment of those who cannot pay fines or debts is not a cost effective way of achieving redress. The SDLP will introduce a progressive approach towards securing compensation by supporting community mediation methods and non-court approaches of dispute resolution.”
There is also a commitment to a 12 month support programme for offenders released from prison.
However the party takes a hardline on alcohol related offences: “Those who cause fear, inflict violence and commit crimes fuelled by alcohol must feel the full force of the law. Any person convicted of an offence where alcohol is an aggravating factor must serve at least a community service order if not a prison sentence. Suspended sentences for alcohol-related crimes are no longer acceptable. “
This policy is mirrored by a commitment to introduce a levy on alcohol pricing to deter binge drinking.
Earlier this week, when party leader Colum Eastwood disclosed his tax return it transpired that he had overpaid his student loan. The party’s commitment to reduce the portion of the tuition fee paid by students to minimise their debt burden will therefore come too late for him.
The manifesto, which runs to 48 pages and is the longest published to date can be accessed in full here
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