Sinn Fein and the painful learning curve

If, as some believe, Sinn Fein is in dire need of critical friends, it could do worse than get Damien Kiberd to come along and talk to their economic policy unit. Whilst he throws a big McCarthyite haymaker at RTE and others in the southern media, he reserves his cleanest punches for Sinn Fein’s fiscal policy makers.He criticises the EIU for basing its critical analysis of Sinn Fein’s role in politics, “on negative political assumptions about the direction being adopted by Republicans, rather than on any worked out projections of the consequences of Sinn Fein’s future role in government”. But he then goes on to argue that Sinn Fein has left the barn door wide open:

The party apparently wants to increase the rate of capital gains taxation (CGT) but its (leaked) document is unspecific about the rate it would prefer. The party is apparently ignoring the fact that Charlie McCreevy’s decision to cut the basic rate of CGT from 40 per cent to 20 per cent some years ago triggered a massive surge in asset transfers which generated huge revenues for the state and trebled the aggregate yield from capital taxation, while simultaneously pumping up the yield from stamp duties on property sales to a level equal to about 40 per cent of the total garnered each year by the British exchequer. This is the money that pays for state services.

Why Sinn Fein’s think-tanks are spending their days concocting ways to raise overall tax revenue in a state which has been running substantial budget surpluses defies belief. It is the application of public monies that has been the central economic problem south of the border in recent times, not the manner in which taxes have been collected. The Dublin government has trebled the amount of cash allocated to health since 1997 yet this has not resulted in a better deal for the sick. The numbers qualifying for medical cards have fallen substantially, the hospital networks have been cored out with large geographic areas stripped of emergency treatment facilities. The extra cash has simply been dissipated in the form of higher wages for a 100,000 strong health workforce that is simultaneously top-heavy on administration and apparently unable to improve front-line services for the poor and those on modest pay.

The southern economy tried super-taxation in the not-too-distant past. Dr. Garret Fitzgerald (ex-Taoiseach), Alan Dukes (now head of the Institute for European Affairs) and John Bruton (now EU ambassador to Washington) imposed a marginal tax rate of 65 per cent on incomes that were about 1.5 times the average industrial wage. The policy failed abysmally. It did not create equality, it simply discouraged real economic activity. The public does not want to re-visit these failed policies. What it does want is a state apparatus that delivers services appropriate to the 21st century. What it would tolerate would be a rationally constructed insistence that the resources that are available be allocated in a way which provided a better deal for those people and districts that have lost out in relative terms in recent years.

Perhaps the air of unreality is not so much a reflection on Sinn Fein, so much as the product of a polity (Northern Ireland) that has been for too long disconnected with the harsh realities of having to find a practical way of covering the costs of what you spend. For all the deficit in its current fiscal thinking, the party may simply be starting a long and painful learning curve that may eventually have to be climbed by all the local parties in Northern Ireland.

  • Pete Baker

    Having it both ways? Criticism from everywhere else is [on shrill]McCarthyite[off shrill].. except when it’s from Damien?

  • Gum

    I think the ‘learning curve’ is probably a correct way to look at Sinn Fein and their slow development of an economic policy. It’ll take some time. But they have the time to get this right. They wont be in govt. anytime soon, and will probably continue to grow in strength in the meantime since at the moment they are better than FF at representing people who feel left behind by the celtic tiger and simply work harder and quicker at answering even the most basic concerns of their constituents. They have the time to get an economic policy worked out, and they probably will. The current leadership were very successful in long-term planning on a political front; there’s nothing to suggest the ‘next generation’ wont get a more comprehensive economic strategy designed.

  • Pete Baker

    Except, Gum.. the recent statements regarding SF’s newly fashioned economic policy were reported as coming at the end of a year-long process of examining and assessing those policies.. by a party grouping headed by Mitchel McLaughlin.

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    It’s not merely a question of policy. The economic policies of political parties are all very good and idealistic before they’re elected but once they’re in government it’s a different story. Then we find out that they’re incompetent and incapable of implementing them and the civil servants run rings around them in order to preserve the vested interests.

    The real question is competence. Does anyone really believe that the politicians of FF, FG, Labour and PDs are competent given the amounts of money they have managed to squander over the years through various bungles such as the overspend on roads, the electronic voting fiasco and umpteen other disasters?

    Myself I’d bet on Gerry, Martin and co to outflank these so called ‘democratic politicians’ without any problem.

  • Henry94

    Except, Gum.. the recent statements regarding SF’s newly fashioned economic policy were reported as coming at the end of a year-long process of examining and assessing those policies.. by a party grouping headed by Mitchel McLaughlin.

    That is a mere step on the road to economic sanity.

  • Zorro

    Is that Mitchel McLaughlin the great economic strategist?

    Everyone knows that you’re not really Irish if you don’t support Spinn Fain. Nobody comes close to them when they are on their well scripted and well practiced anti-Brit rant (eg Barry Mc on TalkBack 08-11-05) But really, I ask you, what do they really know about the Irish economy? Any published policy documents on the economy are great with trite inspirational content and severely lacking on content.

  • Bogexile

    Zorro – you’re discriminating against Fridge Salesmen – I’ll have the equality commission on to you. Long live Mitchelomics!

  • Pete Baker

    That is a mere step on the road to economic sanity

    At least you’re acknowleging the current insanity of SF’s economic policies.

    As for the mere step.. Centenary Celebration anyone? You’d think by now they’d have come up with some policies that were a little more sane.. except, of course, in circumstances were they actually think these ones are.. sane that is.

  • Zorro

    I apologise if I have inadvertently offended fridge salesmen! If indeed that was Mitchell’s previous employment I have no reason to doubt he was and still could be a perfectly good fridge salesman.

    I do however question the ability of SF to offer a credible view of an all-Ireland economy. I should stress that I am NOT offering an opinion as to whether or not this is a viable/desirable possibility. Rather SF is great at media spin, promoting inspirational aims but they fall short on detail. SF has produced nothing which recognises the structural and functional difference of the two economies; let alone how these two can operate together and avoid massive inflation. SF claim to want it but fail to show in detail how they believe they can achieve it.

    “Sinn Fein and the painful learning curve” is a good title for this blog!

  • Brian Boru

    I am not a SF voter but our media is definitely biased against them down here. Some of the criticism is valid, but the apparent questioning of SF’s motives just hands more false-arguments to the DUP to use to block the restoration of powersharing. It should be remembered that excluding SF from power in the North means excluding the majority of Catholics and therefore demonstrates an intent to exclude Catholics from a say in NI affairs.

    This endless and hysterical witch-hunt against SF in the Southern media and from Minister McDowell has done great damage in recent months to SF’s public image. But it doesn’t seem to be harming their core vote, as demonstrated by the Meath by-election and constant 10-12% poll ratings of the party. The criticism of SF’s economic policies is something I agree with, but not the endless questioning of SF’s conversion to democracy. It would not make sense for SF and the PIRA to have moved away from conflict and holding arms if it was really part of some labyrinthine conspiracy to restart conflict at a later stage.

  • Alan

    *This endless and hysterical witch-hunt*

    Yes, but you can’t let yourself be distracted from the fact that the key political objective of any political party has to be economic or it is disengaging from the real lives of people.

    If there is a clear and present question over SF’s economic competence as evidenced by their policy, does that not bring their political competence into question? Or do you ignore it because some people haven’t caught them out yet.

  • William The Conquerer

    Await your accusations of I’m this or that.

  • Brian Boru

    Alan, as already said, I share many criticisms of the SF economic policy. But that does not excuse the wider witch-hunt in which every single action or statement of SF is viewed in a conspiracy-theorist manner which excludes all possibility of bona-fides on AF’s part.

  • Zorro

    Never being one to disappoint, I openly admit that I can agree with much of what the SDLP stand for. But then again many do. This in itself does not represent the mask of Zorro. As a Moderate I can fully recognise the fact they are not an extreme party and do not feel threatened by them. This of course can not be said of the plastic green supporters of the ideology that states “you’re either with us or against us”

    If at all, you are a regular visitor to this site, you will note that I have, on many blogs, applauded SF for their success at media manipulation. As the song goes Nobody Does It Better You will also have noted that I view with equal disdain, ALL those who lend any support to the men of violence on either side.

    In short for those who seek the re-unification of Ireland, SF represents the ideal choice for the lazy Nationalist who is happy being wet nursed, sucking on the breast of the eternal soundbite. The intelligent choice however is offered by the SDLP which provides a clear vision of how to achieve their aims. It may take over thirty years, but what the SDLP say SF say tomorrow – a kind of Irish Nationalism for Beginners so to speak.

    Finally, you seem somewhat perturbed that someone should criticise SF… get over it!

    PS obsession has three S’s not four – it’s back to school for you William!