Sinn Féin’s attempt to ride two horses in different directions on either side of the Irish border is becoming increasingly untenable writes Declan O’Neill. South of the border it is trying to position itself as the leading anti- austerity party, committed to reversing massive cuts in the public sector and leading the fight against water charges. In the North it is coalition with the right wing DUP and has signed up to the Stormont House Agreement which will see the welfare cuts imposed in Britain since 2010 extended to Northern Ireland.
Justifying this position Martin McGuinness, the SF Deputy First Minister, has claimed “There has been progress on significant issues including a financial package and we have protected the most vulnerable in society against the Tory welfare cuts.”
The reality is rather different. The agreement is primarily about imposing the British Government’s austerity agenda on the North and clearly demonstrates the subordinate role the “Executive “in Northern Ireland plays in relation to Westminster. In essence Sinn Féin has agreed to sign up to welfare changes, which it had previously vehemently opposed.
What is in the agreement?
A final balanced budget to be agreed in January 2015.
A Welfare Reform Bill which will implement the changed in provision decided by Westminster. Implementation of these welfare changes will begin to take place in the financial year 2015-16 and implementation will be complete by 2016-17
A comprehensive programme of public sector reform and restructuring including a public service “exit scheme” designed to trim about 10,000 teachers, civil servants and other workers from the public sector payroll.
The devolution of corporation tax in April 2017
Sinn Féin’s Ard Chomairle [party executive] has endorsed the proposals. They claim that the grants and loans package agreed as part of the deal will protect the most vulnerable people, but the reality is that at best any protection is transitional and partial. In essence the deal confirms Sinn Féin’s position as a junior partner in a devolved local administration with little more real power than local councils in Britain.
As for the devolution of corporation tax this will bring further cuts in public expenditure in the North – to “compensate” for the loss of revenue to the British exchequer. Worse it confirms that is quite Sinn Féin is happy to join the race to attract foreign capital to Ireland by offering the lowest tax rates, a race that will benefit no one but the multinationals involved.
How will this play south of the border? Sinn Fein has refused to rule out joining a coalition with Flanna Fail after the next general election in the Republic. It is desperate to part of government both sides of the border as part of its strategy of bringing Irish unity closer. Playing the role of a junior party in enforcing austerity in both parts of Ireland is probably the best way of ensuring this will never happen.
A thorough analysis of the wider implications can be found at The Pensive Quill blog.