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14 May 2012

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Shallow, cynical and wrong – A reply to The Irish Times editorial attacking Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin’s alternative economic strategy is based on progressive tax reform, reduction of waste in the public sector and investment in jobs and growth with costed Budget alternatives

THE good people of Tara Street are troubled. The rise of Sinn Féin has caused consternation among the well-meaning liberals at The Irish Times.

In response they have deployed their most deadly weapon, the anonymous leader column, in an attempt to warn the electorate of the dangers of the republican menace.

The editorial (published on May 12th) is based on a series of misrepresentations and barefaced lies.

It takes Sinn Féin to task for criticising the British Government, the Irish Government and the European Union for their bad decisions and policy failures. A damming indictment indeed.

The editorial complains that Sinn Féin is critical of the British Government's unilateral cut to the Stormont block grant. This is true. But the editorial fails to mention that we are also campaigning for transfer of full fiscal powers to the Assembly so that we have the tools to remedy these cuts locally.

The editorial complains that Sinn Féin criticises the Troika for the content of the austerity programme while opposing the Governments proposals for increasing tax revenue. This is also true. But the editorial fails to mention that last November Sinn Féin outlined our own proposals for raising €3.6billion of additional tax revenue.

In fact, in every Budget since Fianna Fáil and the Green Party collapsed the South's economy, Sinn Féin has met the Government's deficit reduction targets in our own pre-Budget submissions. But, crucially, our alternative proposals demonstrate that these targets can be met in a way that distributes the pain fairly while avoiding damaging the domestic economy.


TDs Gerry Adams with Pearse Doherty and Peadar Tóibín launching Sinn Féin's pre-Budget plan 'Route to Recovery'

The editorial also accuses Sinn Féin of ignoring the implications of a 'NO' vote on May 31st and wanting Ireland to follow the example of Greece. Neither of these claims is true. The economic and political instability in Greece is the direct result of the imposition of austerity by domestic political elites and the EU and IMF.

The only way to avoid following Greece down this road is to abandon the failed policies of austerity and to change of direction. The Austerity Treaty referendum offers us an important opportunity to tell the Government that austerity is not working and that we want them to change track.

The editorial also uncritically repeats the Governments claim than a 'NO' vote will lock us out of emergency ESM funding in the future. Yet the leader writer knows that the ESM Treaty and the amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which gives the ESM a basis in EU law have not yet been ratified. They also know that the Government could, if it had the political will, seek to remove the link between the Austerity Treaty and future access to ESM funds. But it seems more interested in colluding with the Governments scaremongering than in presenting the facts.

The editorial is right when it says that Sinn Féin wants to renegotiate the terms of our existing EU-IMF programme. And why do we want to do this? Because the current programme is not working. Most commentators believe that the Government will not be able to re-enter the sovereign bond markets come 2014. If they can’t, and I don’t believe they will, it will be because the current programme has failed.

The editorial also claims that Sinn Féin wants to default on Government debt. This is not true. Sinn Féin has consistently argued for the Government to honour its debts. What we do not accept, however, is that the citizens of this state should pay the toxic debts of the banks. We believe that a negotiated write-down of the Anglo Irish promissory note is possible. Unfortunately, the Government, according to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, has not even put this option on the table.

The editorial accuses Sinn Féin of ignoring and misrepresenting economic and political realities and of peddling fiscal fantasies.  

Sinn Féin is acutely aware of the political and economic realities, as are the people we represent. The steady rise of our party in the opinion polls reflects a simple fact. Our critique of the failures of the Government and their EU counterparts is resonating with more and more people. So too are our alternatives.

Sinn Féin does not believe there is an easy way out of our current economic and social crisis. However, there are alternatives to the failed policies of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. You can-not cut and tax your way out of a recession.  Four years into the economic crisis and six austerity budgets later, and where has this approach got us?

Sinn Féin’s alternative economic strategy is based on progressive tax reform, reduction of waste in the public sector and investment in jobs and growth. We have produced detailed and costed Budget alternatives and will continue to do so in order to demonstrate a credible alternative to the failed agenda of the Government.

This is the alternative that people in France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands recently voted for. It is the alternative that people in this state can vote for on May 31st by rejecting the Austerity Treaty.

The Irish Times editorial ran under the headline of “Shallow, cynical and wrong”. It is a fitting description for the poor quality analysis in the paragraphs that followed.

For this writer at least, the content of the editorial was not only an example of the poor standards that have increasingly become the norm in Tara Street. It also speaks volumes about the world view of its author and the section of society that he or she speaks for.

It reveals an anxiety felt by certain sections of liberal middle-class Ireland faced with the prospect of Sinn Féin as the second largest political force on the island. This is the anxiety of those well-meaning liberals who say they want change but never so much as to threaten their privileged position in society.

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