WRITING FOR THEJOURNAL.IE yesterday, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said his party wants to “give people a break” in its pre-Budget proposals.
But, any analysis of what is contained in the party’s document shows it to be the usual mix of simplistic solutions based on uncosted, fairytale economics.
As usual, the party claimed its alternative could balance the books without making difficult decisions. Slickly presented and with lots of photographs, it craftily created the image of caring Sinn Féin standing up for the little guy.
Taking a closer look however is revealing. Take Sinn Féin’s pension tax for example. If Sinn Féin’s budget was implemented a person earning €40,000 euro a year, supporting a family and putting aside 10 per cent of his or her income for their pension, would be €830 worse off.
Sinn Féin’s budget would hammer average income workers trying to do the prudent thing and save for their future. It goes against all logic of encouraging and supporting people to plan for their retirement and is in effect a significant tax increase for those trying to do the right thing. The government’s pension fund cap of €60,000, announced last year is a much fairer way of preserving the incentive to save while also raising significant revenues.
Sinn Féin’s proposed budget would also see the government tearing up negotiated wage agreements with public sector workers and despite vehemently opposing the Haddington Road deal just three months ago, the party banks the critical savings it produces and makes no provision for their reversal. Its policy, of targeting public sector salaries and pensions, risks unravelling the €300m plus savings in 2014.
But if you look even closer at Sinn Féin’s last three ‘alternative’ budgets for 2012, 2013 and now 2014, one thing becomes very obvious. They are almost identical. In fact, €600m of the savings they identify and €1.5bn of the revenues they claim are exactly the same in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Budgets don’t work that way – you can’t make the same cuts twice, not to mind three times. The only conclusion is that Sinn Féin either has a very short memory, or accepts that this government’s previous budgets, which they so vehemently opposed, were necessary.
Digging a little further, we see that Sinn Fein’s core economic policy of a wealth tax has been sidelined in 2014. The centrepiece of their alternative in 2012 and 2013, the €800m wealth tax would shield the public from the property tax. Announced on several occasions as the holy grail of economic recovery, Sinn Féin now accepts that “a definitive figure cannot be placed on the wealth tax”.
This, despite telling the Dáil, the media and the people that their previous Budget proposals, including the wealth tax, were fully credible. Now it wants to use this tax to fund job creation but give no indication of how much that will cost or how much they will spend. It mentions a figure of €400m for youth unemployment, but it has plucked that figure from thin air.
Couple all of this with some of Sinn Féin’s other fairytale economics. In its manifesto of February 2011 the party said that Ireland didn’t need a bailout and the IMF should go home. Six months later it said that Ireland would need a second bailout.
In the same manifesto it said that Sinn Fein would “reverse the savage cuts” yet neither this Budget proposal nor any since then have ever attempted to and remember when Sinn Fein excoriated the government in 2011 for upping bank capital to deal with the mortgage crisis?
Well, now it wants that same bank capital used to deal with the mortgage crisis. Let’s not forget that it voted for the now infamous bank guarantee only to decry it weeks later. I could go on.
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein are an altogether different bunch of people. Much like Fianna Fáil once was, the party is a pragmatic group with little ideology except the imperative of the national question.
It balances budgets and makes difficult choices. Not so here. Of the plethora of examples, one in particular springs to mind because I saw it in my own constituency. In 2011, the Minister for Education changed the pupil-teacher ratios for small schools.
Some schools with one, two or three teachers would have to teach extra pupils or see a teacher redeployed. Because it was a Labour minister, Sinn Féin people attacked me, the Labour Party and Ruairí Quinn, spoke at meetings decrying the changes and vowed to oppose them.
In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin Education Minister John O’Dowd makes these measures look mild. Since 2007 he and his predecessor Catriona Ruane have actually closed 60 schools, and further declared that rural schools with less than 105 pupils must go. Yes, we are talking about the same party.
For me, there is one simple conclusion. Sinn Féin has one goal, and one goal only – to pursue electoral gain at any cost. We have seen how Fianna Fáil’s version of this has severely damaged the country and our people. Sinn Féin will use fairytale economics, ‘cut and paste’ budgets, contradictory positions and opposing policies both north and south to be popular.
Constructive discourse is rarely offered with cheap politics prevailing on the opposition benches. A case of party before country. It is for the public to judge, at a time of genuine economic crisis, whether such shallow populism should be rewarded.
Derek Nolan is a Labour Party TD for Galway East
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