The Annual Conference of the Co-operative Party Northern Ireland took place on Saturday 22nd June in
Opening the Conference, Party Chair Tony McMullan said “ Our Party want to see a society where power & wealth is shared, although the Political wing of the Co-operative Movement we are much more than a shop. A party with policies to deal with the economy, health & social care, childcare, financial services, Community Wealth being, employee ownership, housing, Alleviating Poverty amongst others. A Party with a proud past & a bright future. “
The Conference listened intently to a presentation by the Financial Journalist & Commentator Paul Gosling on the Party’s detailed Policy Agenda to deal with Northern Ireland’s broken state. He said that “ Northern Ireland is a failed society on almost every level “ Expanding this with reference to the failure to teach children to live in Integrated societies, the millions of pounds spent , in duplicating public services , the highest level of suicides in the Uk , the loss of many of our brightest students to Britain & the Republic , the highest rate of economic activity in the Uk , , one of the UK’s highest level of school leavers without basic English , Maths & IT skills & the longest waiting lists for hospital treatment in the UK.
There were detailed policy discussions on the Party’s policies on Climate Change, the Environment & Food Justice by the Party’s NEC Member Jim Lee & Policy Officer Anna Lee.
There were very enlightening presentations on the history of the Co-operative movement in Ireland, north & south by the renowned Historians Professor Tony Webster of the University of Northumbria & Dr Patrick Doyle of the University of Manchester.
Sid McDowell, Chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Co-ownership spoke about the huge numbers of people who have been helped into home ownership through co-ownership. “ The Jewel in the Crown of Housing in Northern Ireland “ he quipped.
Michael Fenton gave a talk on the Credit Union Movement in Northern Ireland.
There were two major speeches by politicians in the UK & Ireland.
Jim McMahon, Labour & Co-operative MP for Oldham & Royton gave the keynote address. As well as being the Shadow Minister for Local Government, Devolution & Finance, McMahon is the Chair of the Co-op Parliamentary Group.
He advised Conference that the Labour Party were committed to doubling the Co-operative economy if elected. He expressed his admiration of the local party’s Policy Agenda, launched at the Conference by Paul Gosling & promised to give Jeremy Corbyn a copy of it when he meets him this week. The MP also gave a detailed update on the Brexit situation & his challenges as someone who canvassed to remain in the EU but whose constituents voted in huge numbers to leave.
Finally Ged Nash of the Irish Labour Party addressed the Conference Dinner. He welcomed the opportunity to have friendly relationships with fellow progressives. He said he had learnt a lot from the discussions during the Conference, especially on housing. The former TD for Louth gave a spirited defence of Irish Labour’s part in the coalition government which had to save Ireland from economic ruin after the disastrous Fianna Fáil mismanagement of the economy. He honestly admitted that his party had faced a very difficult choice, allow a very right-wing Fine Gael Government to rule alone or join a coalition which helped stave off the worst excesses of Fine Gael, particularly their objective to have widespread public sector redundancies. He also expressed his & his party’s genuine disappointment & concern at the SDLP’s decision to have a joint policy partnership with Fianna Fáil, something which he said was incompatible with membership of the Party of European Socialists.