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29 March 2007 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column


Parties in Executive must plan now for future

It has often been stated that the peace process has transformed Irish society.  Problems that only a decade ago seemed intractable are now being addressed one by one.
In the post-Good Friday Agreement period, increased all-Ireland co-operation is creating huge opportunities for everyone. As a relatively small island, duplication and replication of vital areas of economic, public services and administration make no sense whatsoever. In today’s reality of global economics and increasing competition, any refusal to accept this imperative is courting economic disaster.
The historic announcement jointly delivered by Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams and DUP Leader Ian Paisley at Stormont on Monday opens up all kinds of opportunities. The Assembly and Executive are scheduled for restoration with full powers on 8 May. But the parties who are mandated to form that Executive administration need to start now on the task of planning for the future.
Sinn Féin is prepared for the next step. We are ready for government.  We look forward to sharing power with the DUP and the other parties on the basis of equality and to using our strengthened mandate to press for maximum social change.
Sinn Féin believes that the all-Ireland economy should be developed with a harmonised tax regime, a single currency and integrated economic strategies that benefit the island as a whole. The Six County economy is retarded through its dependence upon and domination by the British economy. The Northern economy has suffered by being cut off from the economic expansion of the rest of Ireland over the period of the ‘Celtic Tiger’.
The North has never been central to strategic economic planning ‘within a UK context’ and will always be peripheral to Whitehall thinking.  Across every economic indicator the North of Ireland is consistently at the bottom of the league.  This inevitably has generated greater poverty levels, greater levels of social need, of welfare dependency, high economic inactivity rates and an unacceptable failure rate of indigenous businesses.
The admission by Peter Hain, that the Six County economy is unsustainable on its own is the first such public admission by any British Government minister.  It reflects what they have been thinking and saying privately in business circles for a long time. The North’s Department of Enterprise Trade & Investment has already conceded that the key problem facing the North’s economy is that fiscal policy, taxes and public expenditure, and the regulatory framework are set in Whitehall.
This lack of fiscal independence will be the most crucial problem facing the Executive on 8 May as the Assembly gets down to business. We cannot set overall budgets or tax rates and we have limited borrowing powers.  The costs of redressing the infrastructure deficit in water and roads cannot be met within the existing levels of economic inactivity, low incomes and child poverty.  Direct intervention is therefore needed to meet the burden of paying for the infrastructure deficit, to aid economic recovery and increase income levels so that we can increase the tax base in the long term and become economically self-sustaining.
So the question remains, is the British government prepared to meet it’s obligations and invest in political stability and economic regeneration? Until they are, fiscal matters will be a constant negotiating issue between the Assembly team and the British Government.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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