16 November 2006 Edition
Conference Activists discuss finance policy
Economic policy offensive
Sinn Féin activists from across the country gathered in Dublin last weekend to discuss a draft policy document on public finance policy. The document entitled 'Sharing the Wealth' is the second module of Sinn Féin rights-based economics policy. It follows ratification by the 2006 Ard Fheis of the first module of that three part policy which dealt with enterprise and job creation. Like module one 'A Strong Economy for an Ireland of Equals', 'Sharing the Wealth' focuses on achievable, immediate, short-term and medium-term transitional goals that will advance towards the society and economy that Sinn Féin is seeking to build.
The policy conference was opened by Sinn Féin's Dáil group leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD who gave an overview of the proposals contained in the document.
Ó Caoláin opened by saying "Public finance policy is of keen interest to all of us who are committed to delivering equality. A strong coherent public finance policy is crucial if we are to ensure the highest possible quality of public services, if we are to guarantee that everyone's basic needs and rights to food, housing, health and education are met and that all citizens have the benefit of a comprehensive regime of social protections. It is our goal to eliminate poverty through the progressive achievement of the equitable distribution of the wealth of Ireland amongst the people of Ireland. This is made clear in this policy document.
"We recognise that our social and economic objectives cannot and will not be delivered if the Government cannot pay for it. What Sinn Féin is committed to doing is raising the needed revenue fairly and equitably. The introduction correctly states that Government decisions to raise or reduce overall taxation revenue must be made on the basis of what is needed to meet social goals and other spending demands. It is of course also possible to raise taxes on certain sections of society while lowering them on others".
Ó Caoláin then went on to give a brief overview of the main sections of the document - which dealt with bringing about economic sovereignty, taxation justice, maximising non-tax sources of public finance and finally a section which deals with public spending policy.
Towards economic sovereignty
Outlining the contents of the section on delivering economic sovereignty the Cavan/Monaghan TD emphasised the impact of British rule in the Six counties and of the European Union on economic sovereignty on the island of Ireland. Section Three of the draft document dealt with repatriating taxation powers to the Six Counties, ending the Barnett Formula, ending the regional rate and double taxation and meeting the cost of reunification through the provision of a peace dividend of at least £10 billion by the British Government. Reminding those present of the effort that has been put into obtaining the latter Ó Caoláin said: "Sinn Fein has consistently pressed the British Government to deliver on this peace dividend. We have also raised the issue with the Irish Government pressing the Taoiseach and his cohort of advisors on the importance of there being a complimentary investment in the Southern Border Counties". That section of the document concluded by dealing with the need to challenge EU rules in relation to state investment as well as the need to challenge the constraints to economic sovereignty imposed by EU membership and Euro Zone constraints on Irish Fiscal policies.
Setting out the proposals under the taxation justice section Ó Caoláin spoke of the need to address fundamental flaws in the existing tax systems including ending unjust advantages for high income earners, redressing the fact that there are minimal taxes on wealth and eliminating legitimised tax avoidance mechanism. "We demand fair personal taxation" said Ó Caoláin as he outlined specific proposals to reduce the regressive features which as present penalise low and middle income earners. He also spoke of the necessity to end tax expenditures with no social benefit as well as the need to introduce equity into social insurance. Sinn Féin demand for ending indirect taxes which constitute double taxation was reiterated.
On the offensive
Following a summation of Sections Five and Six on maximising non-tax sources of revenue and on public spending policy respectively Ó Caoláin stridently made clear Sinn Féin's intention to go on the offensive in relation to economic policy: "I would like to conclude by saying that Sinn Féin has always been and remains willing to debate our economic policies with anyone. This document, in conjunction with the Enterprise and Job Creation policy ratified at this years Ard Fheis, demonstrates that Sinn Féin has a far more comprehensive economic policy than the other parties. I would encourage all members to engage with these documents. The analysis, arguments and proposals put forward within them should be used to engage in economic debate with people in the communities where we are active and indeed with our opponents, and in particular with those who in the past have mischievously suggested that we have no economic policy. It is time we all played our part in exposing the fallacy of their claims."
During the debate which followed delegates spoke of the fact that the present low rates of taxes on high income earners, on wealth and on property are paid for by the ordinary householders who end up paying a disproportionate amount of tax as a result of the high rates of VAT. The need to keep those on the minimum wage out of the tax net was raised as was the demand to end the ability of the wealthy to evade tax by availing of tax exile status. There was considerable discussion about how to make the tax system more equitable and progressive and how to ensure that government has adequate funding to provide for necessary public services and social protections. Also discussed were stamp duties and the introduction of a tax on second properties to help first time buyers by reducing competition from investor-buyers.The policy document on Public Finance "Sharing the Wealth" is due to come before Ard Fheis 2007 for ratification. Any member of the party who wishes to make a submission on the draft policy can do so by emailing [email protected] before Saturday 25 November and marking their submission for the attention of the Public Finance Policy Review Group.