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Column: Sinn Féin's policies ARE aligned across Ireland

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan responds to David McCann’s column which claimed there is a gulf between the party’s policies north and south of the border.

Phil Flanagan

DAVID McCANN, in his column of 7 August, outlines his belief that Sinn Féin policies across the island somehow differ upon crossing the border.

Sinn Féin Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Phil Flanagan responds.

While David McCann did not go into detail examining any Sinn Féin’s policy, he has at least managed to come to a conclusion, albeit, by taking an over-simplified approach to the situation.

However, I would have to disagree with him.

Sinn Féin, across this island, has a clear consistency at the heart of all of our policies. Regardless of whether someone lives in Derry or Dublin, or indeed rural or urban Ireland, Sinn Féin is very clear on the type of society we want for that person.

We want to see people treated fairly.

We want everyone, regardless of his or her income to have access to a first-class healthcare system.

We want all of our children to have the right to a free education system.

We want the most vulnerable people in our society treated with dignity and respect.

We want the people of Ireland to have the right to elect their own sovereign and independent government, free from outside interference.

David McCann focused on education and the ‘Sustainable Schools Policy’ currently being implemented by Sinn Féin Minister John O’Dowd in Stormont.

“It is not about closing schools”

Anyone who has bothered to read this policy, which was published in 2006, long before the current recession, will clearly understand that it is not about closing schools and it is most definitely not about saving money; it is principally about improving the standard of education, giving children access to a broader curriculum and making every school a good school.

The way funding is provided to schools in the north is very crude and they simply receive a payment based on the number of students they have.

So regardless how many schools there are, the expenditure from the Department of Education will largely remain the same.

At present due to a range of demographic changes over the last generation, there are currently 85,000 surplus school places across the north of Ireland. That is not something that we should ignore.

There are too many schools and one of the reasons for that is the level of division that has existed in our society for hundreds of years and the blatant discrimination that was exercised against Catholics and Irish citizens by the British government and by the old Stormont regime under the Ulster Unionist Party.

For that reason, local communities were forced to build their own schools and employ their own teachers without any assistance from the state. Thankfully, that is no longer the case.

David McCann also skirts around the notion that Direct Rule from fly-by-night ministers from London would be no different to the current situation, where locally elected and accountable ministers take the key decisions affecting our people.

Surely a man in David’s position knows the difference between the two.

“The Dublin government withdrew most of the funding they pledged for development of the A5/N2″

Surely David would acknowledge that the Executive has taken decisions that have benefitted the people of the north greatly, which the British government would not have taken. Decisions such as refusing to introduce separate water charges, abolishing prescription charges and delivering strategic road projects in the North West of Ireland, even though the Dublin government withdrew most of the funding they pledged for the development of the A5/N2.

The British Treasury unilaterally decides how much money to provide the Executive for the provision of public services. No one on the island of Ireland has any say in it. We firmly believe that is wrong and must change.

Sinn Féin is very clearly and very consistently seeking the transfer of all fiscal powers to the Executive.

This would enable the Executive to set the rates of income tax, corporation tax, rates of social welfare and the rate of VAT instead of simply having to comply with the decisions of the British government of the day.

The Executive can only tinker around the edges in growing our economy and protecting our most vulnerable people; but those are the priorities that continue to lie at the heart of both Sinn Féin and Executive policy.

The current political situation is not a solution to all of our problems; we have never argued that it was or would be. But it is a marked improvement on direct rule and a stepping-stone in the right direction.

When we do see the transfer of fiscal powers to the Executive and local ministers put in a position where they can affect real and meaningful change, then you will clearly see that Sinn Féin’s policies are consistent across themisland and that a unified and independent Ireland is a very real possibility and makes economic sense.

David McCann column: Sinn Féin is partitionist when it comes to party policy>

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