Sinn Féin and its ‘New Labour’ policies – by Fra Hughes

Sinn Fein was once Ireland’s leading revolutionary political party alongside the Irish Republican Socialist Party both of whom laid claim the legitimacy of James Connolly’s legacy.,

The rhetoric and the war-cry was, ‘Onward to a 32 county socialist republic’.

I like many others believed in that vision, of National reunification under a socialist government, putting the needs of the people before the profits of big business. After all, had not the Irish been exploited long enough by British capital and British occupation?

When Sinn Fein was running for council elections prior to the restoration of devolved local government at Stormont as part of the Good Friday Agreement, people were voting for a revolutionary republican party, demanding a withdrawal of British troops from the island of Ireland and an end to Partition.

The Hunger strikes of 1981 propelled Sinn Fein into the electoral battlefield with an Armalite in one hand and a Ballot Box in the other.

The transition from militant armed insurrection to electoral politics oftentimes championed by the British Government led eventually to two ceasefires and one agreement between two competing warring combatants.

The gun in many respects was taken out of Irish politics and replaced with manifestos, stirring speeches, and a call to rally the troops as it were into constitutional politics.

The latest instalment of Sinn Fein in power in 2020, in the devolved power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland, has seen a call for the public housing body here, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, to have legislation enacted to enable it to borrow private monies to build public housing.

The need for adequate public housing provision is undeniable. It is an ever-present sore for many who live in overcrowded homes or privately rented accommodation, without secure tenure or living with substandard facilities.

This is not the first time that’ New Labour type policies’ have been put forward for consideration at the regionally devolved  Assembly.

The nature of the power-sharing assembly allows the parties elected, to be represented in the ministerial positions as reflecting their mandates. The more Members of the Legislative Assembly you have elected for your party, the more ministerial seats you will be allocated.

Sinn Fein at various junctures in the past have held many if not all the various ministries to include Finance and it was Mairtin O’Muilleoir who previously promoted the policy of reducing Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland, thereby seducing big business cartels and corporations to invest in the local economy, placing their headquarters here in order to take advantage of these lower tax incentives.

It was portrayed as a great idea, a win-win for all the people here. The companies would relocate, the local exchequer now with tax-raising abilities would have money flow directly into the finance ministry, thus allowing major public works schemes to commence.

Sounds great does it not? 

Any problems I hear you say? 

Well, actually there were a few teething problems.

20-30,000 problems to be exact.

In order to sustain the shortfall in the public purse caused by lowering corporation tax, the government finance minister proposed to eradicate permanently 20-30,000 public sector jobs across the whole of the civil service and public bodies.

The people employed in these positions would be offered redundancy terms and the jobs would simply disappear.

A loss of 20.-30.000 secure government jobs with benefits and trade union won agreements, such as maternity leave, paid sick leave, statutory holidays, incremental wage increases were to be abandoned.

These safe and secure jobs were to be replaced by insecure private-sector jobs like call centre and financial service jobs.

Destroying the public sector to fuel insecure jobs in the private sector is not socialism, it is the capitalisation of the workforce.

It would in effect have placed 20-30,000 new entrants into the job market. A combined loss of 40-60,000 jobs between those lost in the public sector and those now lost in the private sector to many who could not compete with the education, .job skills, and working track record of the newly unemployed civil servants.

Eventually, this scheme was abandoned due in no short measure to the public outcry from workers and trade unions.

This should have been a warning cry to those who still thought Sinn Fein believed in the Socialist Republic.

It was for me. 

Now we have Caral Ni Chuilin, Sinn Fein Minister for Housing, proposing that the public body responsible for housing should be allowed to borrow monies from banks or the markets or perhaps even the government to build social housing and repay the loans? 

Did not Tony Blair instigate this very policy of allowing hospitals and schools and other public bodies to borrow monies from private equity? 

The Public-Private Finance Initiative proved to be a colossal mistake.

The Education and Health sectors will be paying interest on those loans for decades to come on these shameful deals. The loan interests in many cases is larger than the loan itself.

They are illusory and they are a dream come true for big business and the banks.

A government-backed schemes with no chance of payment defaults, creating millions in revenue for private business.? Fill your boots.

We are informed that the rates to borrow are historically low, but what happens when they raise again, which inevitably they will? 

What is the amount envisaged to payback?

Over how long will these payments be made? 

Are we burdening our public bodies will private loans that will bleed the coffers dry? 

We have no right or left politics here in the North of Ireland in government, just centrist and right politics as espoused by the cabal of Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party. In many respects they are two polar opposite reverse mirror images.

One is for ending partition and national reunification.

One is for maintaining partition and the union with Britain.

One claims to be progressive and is on many issues while the other is a fundamentalist type conservative party.

Yet when it comes to decisions like reducing corporation tax, the potential loss of 20-30,000 public sector jobs, encouraging private finance to put its feet under the table of public expenditure and their snouts into the public purse, it is Sinn Fein who appear to be encouraging this. 

Can we expect, if this proposal or some version of it is accepted by the coalition of the unwilling in power in Stormont that, Health, Education, Infrastructure and the Economy ministers will then suggest Private financial support to alleviate public-finance distress? 

Are we looking into the abyss here?

Sinn Fein like ‘New Labour’ may have socialists in the party but they are not a socialist party. 

Like Podemos and Syriza the policies of opposition are not mirrored by the practices in government.

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