For much of the media the summer is the political silly season. It’s a time when they fill column inches and news reports with fluff and nonsense.
For the people of north Belfast the summer was far from silly. This year’s orange marching season and the blatantly sectarian actions of some orange bands as they passed St. Patrick’s Church in Donegal Street; the behaviour of the orange order at Ardoyne; the UVF fuelled attacks on the PSNI around Carlisle Circus; and the defence of all this by leading unionist politicians, was a reminder of the undercurrent of sectarianism which remains a major problem in the north.
South of the border the disastrous health policies of the Irish government, and their impact on health provision and hospital services, has seen growing public dissatisfaction with that government. This was brought into sharp focus when the HSE announced cuts of €130 million in August. There was immediate and vocal public outrage at its proposal to cut the personal assistant allowance for disabled people. Seven people with disabilities and several carers picketed Government Buildings, staying overnight in protest at the threatened cuts.
The Health Minister was forced into a u-turn. However, Minister Reilly said that while the government would try to maintain existing services he could not guarantee that the upcoming budget would not include cuts around disability.
This and Minister Brian Hayes remarks at the weekend that some wealthy pensioners should pay more has heightened fears around the budget. Government Ministers indulged in the scare tactics this time last year.
At the same time as Ministers are openly talking about December’s budget the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore have been refusing to answer questions on it or to speculate about the content of the budget other than to say that it will be ‘savage’.
This will be this government’s second budget and it will see the imposition of almost another three and a half billion euros in cuts and taxes. It is effectively planning to take a kango hammer to the public services.
The madness of this approach is evident in the fact that AIB, which is owned by the state, will hand over €1 billion to unguaranteed bondholders on October 1st. This is almost one third of what will be cut in December’s budget!!
While Sinn Féin agrees that the state has to cut its debt and deficit we believe its approach to achieving this is wrong and deeply flawed and isn’t working. It is making the wrong choices and taking the wrong decisions.
Sinn Féin’s approach in the north, where we are in a mandatory coalition government with unionist parties that are deeply conservative, or in the Dáil where we are the lead opposition party, is about defending working people from the worst excesses of Tory government policies and opposing the punitive policies of Fine Gael and Labour.
Our policies are framed by our core republican values. These are about freedom and Irish unity, and equality and citizens’ rights, including the right to a home, to a job, to a decent standard of health care, to a clean environment and social solidarity. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
On Monday we held a planning day in Dublin with our 17 strong Oireachtas team and Leinster House support team. The all-day session took place in Clasac, the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann resource centre in Clontarf which is a very fine building. Our purpose was to discuss our strategy for the new term of the Dáil which began on Tuesday. We were joined by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and key support staff from the north.
The reality is that we have two states on this island which since partition have evolved different systems. It is important therefore that we have a joined up approach. This is particularly pertinent as London still exercises fiscal control in the north. This is deeply frustrating as it limits the Executive’s ability to challenge the imposition of some measures which are still in the provenance of the British.As a result of work ongoing at this time Sinn Féin will shortly be launching a major jobs strategy for the 26 counties which we believe can create more than 150,000 jobs while retaining thousands of current jobs. This can be paid for from a €13 billion additional investment in job creation and economic growth over the next four years. How can this be paid for at a time of recession?
It would be funded from €5.8billion in discretionary funding in the National Pension Reserve Fund, €1.534billion from the European Investment Bank, €3 billion incentivised investment from the private pension sector and we would not cut the €2.6 billion which the government cut from it’s capital budget spend.
Following months of intensive conversation with rural communities across the island, involving Martin Ferris TD, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Senator Kathryn Reilly and myself, Sinn Féin will also be publishing a new document setting out proposals for the regeneration of rural Ireland with a particular focus on the west.
And in November, in advance of the Fine Gael/Labour budget Sinn Féin will present a fully costed, alternative – one which is fair, takes account of the hardship that people are facing and which will boost recovery.
For example the government is going to bring in a property tax which will add an additional burden on households on top of previous stealth taxes like the Universal Social Charge, the Household Charge, septic tank charges, increased costs for parents with children at school, increased VAT and much more. The government claims this property tax would raise around €500 million.
Sinn Féin is opposed to the property tax. We believe that those who can afford to pay more should pay more. We have consistently called for the introduction of a third rate of tax for those earning over €100,000. This would raise around €410milion. We have also argued for the establishment of a wealth tax on assets above €1million, excluding working farmland which on last years figures would raise about 800million. These measures would be far more equitable.
So, there is a lot of work ahead. Sinn Féin is developing policies north and south and with an all-Ireland perspective, to meet the challenges of the here and now while planning for the future. Monday’s discussion was very useful and informative. Making progress; defending working families; opposing harsh government policies, whether from London or Dublin and advancing our objectives of unity and independence, will not happen by chance or because its right – it requires strategizing and planning and that’s what Sinn Féin is all about.