FRESH from his first meeting as a Belfast City Councillor, I spoke to People Before Profit’s Matt Collins. Matt has been co-opted to replace Gerry Carroll who previously held a seat in the Blackmountain ward until 8,299 people in West Belfast upgraded him to MLA.
Collins’ constituency takes in Andersonsonstown, Ballymurphy, Beechmount, Colin Glen, Falls Park, Shaw’s Road and Turf Lodge.
So who is he and why has he been elected on our behalf?
Matt Collins was born and reared in West Belfast. He was educated at St Mary’s Grammar where he joined People Before Profit.
He then went on to Queen’s University where he graduated with a degree and a Master’s in History and Politics.
Seeing himself through University, he worked in Primark, Castle Place. For around five years, he was a shop steward for retail union Usdaw. His work here saw him supporting workers involved in pay disputes.
At Queen’s, Collins was elected as Welfare Officer for the Union of Students Ireland. He was involved in campaigns such as tuition fees.
Matt Collins knows a thing or two about campaigning, as he was Gerry Carroll’s election agent for two years. It was Collins’ strategies that saw People Before Profit’s presence in the North increase from barely unknown to topping the poll in one of the safest constituencies for Sinn Féin.
He is now coming to the end of his PhD in Irish History at the University of Ulster and is a member of the University and College Union where he campaigns against cutbacks in education. UCU held a strike for fairer pay and Collins stood with them in his first week as Councillor.
Collins says he sees the role of Councillor as an extension of what he’s already been doing because he’s always been a socialist and trade union activist for a number of years. He is willing to bring that type of politics into Belfast City Council as his predecessor has already done.
About the party, Collins said: “People Before Profit aren’t specific to West Belfast, the party is growing on a thirty-two county basis, we have three TD’s in Dublin, Councillors in Wexford, Dublin, Sligo and Belfast. We have the MLA’s representing West Belfast and Foyle. If you look at Belfast City Council, I’ll be the only PBP Councillor for the next couple of years but if we continue the work that we’re doing, next time round I’ll be joined by others in the party.” He added.
“Things are looking good for us but obviously we don’t take anything for granted. There’s a culture in this society where some parties expect a vote. We’re out on the doors all year round and we’re campaigning, so I think people appreciate that. Not just in West Belfast but in North Belfast and Derry. Especially with Eamonn McCann who has been known for decades to fight for people on a whole range of issues.”
Such is their growth, People Before Profit are now looking for a bigger office as they have outgrown their Northumberland Street home.
Collins says he’s conscious of following in Carroll’s footsteps. He’ll be taking over his constituency cases and will be sitting on all the Committee’s Gerry Carroll previously sat on. He’ll be supporting Unison and the health workers campaigning for a Living Wage and speaking against the closure of mental health services.
He has been a critic of the councillors who signed off to GLL, the private company now running Belfast Leisure services. In 2014 Collins chaired a meeting in Andersonstown Leisure Centre whereby People Before Profit predicted the outcome of the out sourcing. Last week, Collins supported workers as they went out on strike due to issues with pensions and management of services.
This week in his maiden speech he criticized a Council funded trip to Cannes to explore the benefits of cutting Corporation Tax. A tax that will see big companies pay less and the ordinary person pay more.
Raising the issue of the Assembly borrowing up to £700M from Westminster to recoup the lost revenue, Collins says that 20,000 jobs in the public sector will be at risk. In full socialist mode, he emphasizes there are no trickle down economics for the working classes.
The council meeting can be viewed here.