[Updated] Sinn Féin behaves like the Tories in North and talks like Syriza in the Republic

To be fair, I nicked that headline from Derek Mooney, a former FF special advisor, so there is an evident and intended spin to it. And yet it contains more than just a grain of truth to it.

Having nearly collapsed the Assembly [Aye right! – Ed] Sinn Fein accepted the outline of a deal it had originally co-produced with the DUP with very little clear detail on what extra money would be forthcoming.

Courtesy of Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times, Martin McGuinness was playing one of those eccentric word games SF is so fond of playing to suggest that somehow the tabling of amendments to the Welfare Bill was a case of dissident SDLP MLAs defying the party leader [Is that Gerry, or Al? – Ed].

“The SDLP dissidents are clearly now in charge of the party and are prepared to risk the collapse of the Stormont House Agreement – and thereby the power-sharing institutions themselves – for the sake of party political grandstanding,” he said.

[Aye right. – Ed] It’s called politics Martin. There’s no good reason why the Assembly should not table and debate Amendments, other than to run covering fire for, as Ulster Unionist Party MLA Roy Beggs put it, “the DUP shamefully ‘killing off discussion’ of the bill”.

Next, Niall Collins of Fianna Fail:

“Sinn Féin has stated its support for the bill which to date includes sweeping cuts to social welfare supports in Northern Ireland with no alleviating measures. They have not put forward any amendments to the bill,” he said.

Mr Collins said the “bill shows up the sheer hypocrisy of Sinn Féin on both sides of the Border”.

“The cuts to welfare in Northern Ireland flies in the face of what they have been calling for in the Republic. They haven’t even put forward amendments to the welfare bill before the Assembly.

“Estimates range from £130 million to £290 million per annum being cut from the welfare support in Northern Ireland. The proposed £70 million in alleviating funds has yet to be agreed,” he added.

Alasdair McDonnell…

“On the one hand, Gerry Adams announces that he wants to lead an anti-austerity government in the South, while Martin McGuinness tells us an austerity budget in the North is ‘the best deal possible’,” he said.

Dr McDonnell added: “Sinn Féin knows that the ground is slipping under them. The SDLP led on the National Crime Agency. The SDLP led on and opposed the budget. On welfare, the SDLP continues to hold the line for social justice and a fairer deal for those in need. Yet Sinn Féin baulked on the NCA, accepted an austerity budget and seeks to hide behind the DUP and their petitions of concern on key aspects of welfare reform.”

That’s populism for ya. The figures are smallish, and the fact is (as we reported faithfully when Sinn Fein was pretending otherwise) that given the macroeconomics there wasn’t much prospect of getting further concessions from Whitehall.

There is always the option of re-allocating budgets to Welfare from other parts of the block grant. The figures aren’t prohibitively huge and the kinds of safety net that even Tory councils in England (which lack Stormont’s direct control over Welfare) have long since put in place aren’t rocket science.

But it is clear that Sinn Fein lack the political will (or capital) to effect such concessions. Talk left, but lean to the right in government. It’s the tried and tested Irish way of doing politics. Make way for another pick and pick political franchise: there’s plenty of room for one more inside?

Adds: Excellent summation here from Sam McBride (who rarely falls asleep on the job), the parachute deal has sell by date:

although the Stormont House Agreement secured some more money for Stormont, it did not extract from the Government a single additional penny for welfare reform.

And most of the money which it moves across the Irish Sea is borrowed, with the largest loan of £700 million to be used to pay off public sector workers.

Rather than ‘stopping Tory cuts’, it is now increasingly apparent that what Sinn Fein actually secured in December was the agreement of the DUP to use some more of Stormont’s existing budget to top up the benefits of those who will lose money under the reforms.

In coming years, with an already shrinking Stormont budget, increased debt payments from increased borrowings and what are sure to be continued pressures on the NHS, the benefit top-up payments will be fighting with funding for hospitals, schools or the police.

Effectively, everything which Sinn Fein has secured for welfare claimants will come from other Stormont services.

Sinn Fein has pragmatically extracted the best deal which was possible from its perspective.

But that stance goes against two years of rhetoric which led some to believe that Sinn Fein would never allow welfare reform to pass.

So close to an election, this U-turn is either based on extraordinary confidence or desperation.

As Stephen Agnew noted in his contribution yesterday, re the bedroom tax (scroll down):

I am sorry to say this to Sinn Féin, but if that is what they signed up for, it is not what they committed to. Mr Maskey alluded to the previous petition of concern that three parties were going to sign and that would have stopped the bedroom tax. What we are being presented with is a five-year deferral. It is not the ending of the bedroom tax in Northern Ireland, but a deferral so that we can build more houses.

Is it what was promised: to ensure that the bedroom tax did not apply in Northern Ireland? No, because, right now, the Department for Social Development is ensuring that more one-bedroom houses are being built. It would not be doing that were it not for the intention to introduce the bedroom tax at a later stage. [Emphasis added]

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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