All five main NI parties in unified call over NHS

Signs in north Belfast, December 2014
Signs in north Belfast, December 2014

The Province’s five main political parties have all put their names to a statement calling for the NHS to be exempted from a vast planned EU-USA treaty.

The trade union Unite has today (Monday) released the full text of the statement concerning the controversial TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and a roster of signatories across the UK.

Signs in favour of protecting the NHS against the TTIP agreeement in north Belfast, December 2014

Signs in favour of protecting the NHS against the TTIP agreeement in north Belfast, December 2014

The revelation that all five Executive parties have issued a unified call on the matter comes amidst severe political discord at Stormont, with unionist parties in stark disagreement with republicans over reforms to the welfare system and the continued existence of IRA structures.

TTIP has been billed as a trade-boosting treaty, but Unite and others say it is largely concerned with removing government regulations on business, and that it would let firms to sue states whose laws impede their profits.

Unite (which has around 40,000 members in Northern Ireland) has suggested that this could therefore lead to the forced privatisation of the UK’s healthcare system.

Campaigners against TTIP have also claimed that it has been negotiated largely in secret.

The joint statement reads: “We the undersigned believe that the provision of public healthcare by the NHS is much too important to be put at risk by the EU-US trade agreement, known as TTIP.

“In particular TTIP must not restrict the scope for decisions by any level of government, public authority or NHS organisation, relating to public healthcare.

“TTIP must not give current or future US investors new rights that they could use to sue any level of government, public authority or NHS organisation because of their policies or actions relating to public healthcare.”

The signatories include the leaders of the DUP, SDLP, UUP, Alliance Party, NI21, UKIP in Northern Ireland, and the Green Party.

All except the DUP were already understood to have backed the call by February.

Unite senior organiser Tommy Kettyles said last night that DUP had actually joined too several months ago, but this was not announced because it happened during the pre-election purdah period.

Then after the election there were changes in Labour leadership, and the union decided to wait for the new leaders to take office before announcing the statement.

In the mainland UK, the leaders of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (plus the leaders of the Welsh and Scottish Labour parties) have all signed the pledge.

Meanwhile, environmental legal firm ClientEarth has claimed parts of the TTIP deal could be illegal.

Lawyer Laurens Ankersmit said the deal could create “an alternative court system allowing foreign investors to sue governments and the EU over any government action affecting their investments”.

Unite said the text of the deal – which still needs to be signed off by the European Parliament – is expected to be made public in the new year.