Cuts ordered by the Conservative-led British government are “ideological vandalism”, a leading trade unionist told a Belfast rally today.
Thousands of demonstrators from across the North gathered in cold and wet conditions in the city to protest against the impact of the Chancellor’s Spending Review.
Irish Congress of Trades Unions’ (ICTU) assistant general secretary, Peter Bunting, said the elite of the financial world had caused a catastrophe that the poorest people in the UK were set to pay for.
He was joined by other speakers who heaped criticism on the Government. The Stormont Assembly is set to lose £4bn (€4.5bn) over the next four years and job losses of 30,000 to 50,000 have been predicted across the public and private sectors in the North.
The organisers of the march that converged on Belfast City Hall said it recalled previous trade union-led peace rallies.
“In past times of crisis, the people of Northern Ireland came out to show that they wanted a future free from violence,” said Mr Bunting.
“Now, the people are looking for a future free from economic austerity and for an alternative to the miserable menu of cuts and unemployment which some of our politicians believe is the only choice.
“Thousands of good people came on the streets, braving awful weather, to say a clear ’No’ to the plans outlined by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne.”
He made a sideswipe at Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson, who said rallies against the cuts would have no impact and offered false hope.
Mr Bunting said: “Despite what Sammy Wilson thinks, these people are not wasting their time. Democracy is about choice, and when Government makes the wrong choices, then the people have not only a right, but also a duty to peaceful and good-humoured protest.
“Today is only the start. This issue is not accepted or acceptable. The trade unions are determined to build the alterative coalition required to defeat these cuts and provide a better and fairer future.”
Secretary of State Owen Paterson has claimed that the North fared relatively well in the Chancellor’s spending plans. But First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have hit out at the Government’s spending programme.
Mr Bunting told the rally that international financiers had created the crisis, but it was the Government’s response to the economic problems that would hurt the most vulnerable.
“Shame on the Liberal Democrats for providing a cloak of respectability for the Nasty Party, which the Tories were and always will be, with or without Thatcher,” he said.
“Shame on those Liberal Democrat collaborators for clapping George Osborne on the back after he condemned over half-a-million workers to the dole queues - what an obscene sight.
“Over 30,000 public and private sector jobs are facing Osborne’s axe here in Northern Ireland, as he slashes away at the essential services which all of us rely on.”
He hit out at business leaders in support of public sector cuts for “backing this ideological vandalism”.
Pamela Dooley of the public sector union Unison attacked the British government, but also the
Government south of the border where she said cuts were also hurting those in greatest need.
“In both parts of this island front-line public services are under the greatest attack since their creation,” she told the demonstration.
“The enemy is doing a vicious job of discrediting the workers and the services they provide. Hysteria is whipped up in the press.
“That hysteria creates a climate where politicians can cut the heart out of the health service, close hospitals and schools, abandon public housing projects and attempt to sell off and privatise. It is short-term and it is a disaster for the economies North and South.”