This is a guest post from Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh:
Sinn Féin recently published its plan for the cuts which offered a few populist measures as window-dressing e.g. a marginal pay-cut for MLAs, reduced use of business consultants and slashing bonuses to hospital consultants but aside from these few positive policies, the document masked the party’s 180˚ u-turn on its previous opposition to the cuts:
We fundamentally disagree with the Tory government’s slash and burn approach to the economic crisis, but we are nevertheless forced to deal with the consequences of its approach.
Sinn Féin plans to quietly administrate the cuts, safeguard business interests and slash workers wages hoping that big businesses will eventually be attracted to set up here and exploit local workers. Meanwhile, they will make a big play of their ‘opposition’ locally and hope to prevent any political fallout.
The document proposes a number of regressive taxes e.g. on plastic bags (raising £4 million) and on mobile phone masts. The latter will simply result in phone companies ‘passing on’ the costs to consumers and in rural areas masts may be removed altogether as they will not be ‘profitable’.
Instead of shilly-shallying around the telecoms giants, the industry should be nationalised and democratised to ensure all profits are either reinvested in improving local infrastructure or to supporting other public services.
A Financial Services Mentality
The party has adopted the mindset of financial capitalism, their vision is for “financial engineering instruments…to help regions and cities meet their investment needs”!
They propose a bank bond to pay for private sector investment. This policy will guarantee massive profits for the bankers at the very time when working people are demanding that they be nationalised and run in the interests of the people.
The party also proposes the privatisation of future Housing Executive rent payments through creating a ‘special financial vehicle’ to ‘take advantage’ of accounting rules that allow a ‘body outside government to borrow’. The party appears to have forgotten that this was precisely why the 1990s Tory government implemented this ‘off-balance sheet’ accounting rule in the first place. Since then it has been instrumental in driving the widespread use of PFI with the aim of creating lucrative returns for speculators – something Sinn Féin appear to have no problem with.
But the speculators who lend money to the Executive will require annual payments for inflation, interest, so-called risk, as well as their profits. Surely a better deal would be secured if new social housing was simply paid for with increased taxation?
Lower Taxes for Big Business
Sinn Fein talks up their demand for ‘fiscal powers…to tackle the fiscal crisis. Without the necessary tools we are simply reduced to redistributing a smaller pot of money’. But before you assume that the party is seeking to increase the burden of tax to help protect public services you might notice this hidden sentence:
“The Tory party has articulated a public position around designating the north as an enterprise zone with the ability to vary [read lower] corporation tax rates. Sinn Fein believes that the British government should implement these proposals as part of a Budget Settlement.”
Far from using fiscal powers to protect the public services and workers from the devastation of the cuts, Sinn Féin seeks to lower business taxes even further!! The cost: £500 million a year to be paid for by further cuts and more stealth taxes.
It is an irony of history that after 30 years of divisive and fruitless struggle, Sinn Féin in government content themselves to implementing cuts that Margaret Thatcher could only have dreamed about.
Socialists must seek to build a cross-community opposition to the cuts involving workers and those affected in the wider community – that’s the only real alternative to the Tories in Westminster and in Stormont.