26 February 2009 Edition
Fixing the economy
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2009
BY RUADHÁN Mac AODHÁIN
AS the Price Waterhouse Cooper and Anglo Irish Bank annual reports gave more damning evidence of fraudulent activities in the financial sector, Sinn Féin delegates and public representatives queued in large numbers to vent their anger at the Government’s decision to continue protecting the banking executives.
Proposing the Ard Chomhairle Motion 102, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Arthur Morgan TD set the tone for a lively and passionate debate on the economy.
“For too long, Irish banking executives were let away with embezzlement, reckless lending and fraud. As our bankers were ransacking the deposits of workers and pensioners, the Taoiseach, the Regulators and successive Ministers for Finance all turned a blind eye.”
To a rapture of applause the Louth TD declared:
“All of those involved in banking corruption must be investigated, charged and sent to jail. All those responsible for the financial crisis must be sacked and the boards of our banks and regulators must be cleared out. And if Fianna Fáil and the Greens are unwilling to bring in these changes, then we need to find a new Government which will.”
The Ard Chomhairle motion on the economic crisis reiterated Sinn Féin’s goal of an equitable and sustainable economy; recognised the abject failure of the Irish Government’s economic policy over the past ten years and called for a three-year strategy for job creation and retention.
There was renewed confidence in Sinn Féin policies and positions which had been castigated by the media and leading Government members before the 2007 general election.
Maurice Quinlivan (Limerick) argued that Sinn Féin was the only party to express grave concerns about free market fundamentalism:
“Sinn Féin argued that economic growth based on developer-led construction of over-priced residential and commercial projects was unsustainable. We argued that the wealth of the Celtic Tiger should be invested in lastingsocial infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, affordable housing, local regeneration and community, sporting and leisure facilities.”
A motion by the Patrick Cannon Cumann in Donaghmede, Dublin, declared:
“The Irish economy should never again be beholden, vulnerable to or over-dependent on a small number of individuals, sectors or companies.”
The Sinn Féin position on the establishment of a state bank was described in further detail by Deputy Morgan who called for the amalgamation of AIB and Bank of Ireland into a single public bank. Such a bank would open up credit to the Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME) sector, give relief to families in difficulties with their mortgages and create a stable place for people to put their deposits into.
All motions on the economy passed, including emergency motions which called for executive and non-executive directors to return all of the bonuses collected over the past three years, for their salaries to be capped and to introduce new criminal penalties for illegal and fraudulent banking activity, tasking the financial regulator to police the new legislation.
Delegates and Sinn Féin public representatives alike were united in their condemnation of the Government’s proposed cut backs and the introduction of the pension levy on public workers.
Dublin City Cllr Críona Dhálaigh (Dublin South Central) said that the real question is not about whether public sector workers were faring better than private sector workers but whether the lower paid in both the public and private spheres were suffering more than higher earners.
Cllr Ní Dhálaigh told delegates:
“The Government’s solution is to keep throwing money at banks, smear hard-working public servants and think about cutting the minimum wage. There is an alternative.
“Let’s invest in jobs and in our communities. We can build the social housing units we need and put people in the construction industry back to work. We can ensure the regeneration of communities like St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore goes ahead.”
SAVING €2 BILLION
A number of delegates described the ever-increasing unemployment in their local areas.
Cllr John Brady (Bray) told delegates that there are now 9,228 people unemployed, with over 327,861 people signing on in the state. The issue of our deteriorating public finance was dealt with by Dublin City Cllr Killian Forde who warned that over the next 18 months the state could be bankrupt. The Donaghmede councillor insisted:
“Cowen, Coughlan and Lenihan are part of the problem. There will be no recovery with the architects of this fiasco in charge.
It was Deputy Arthur Morgan who pointed to a number of ways where savings in public spending could be made.
The Louth TD argued that an end to out-sourcing, the use of Public-Private Partnerships, and a number of fairer taxation proposals such as abolition of the PRSI ceiling, and raising the income levy for the rich would raise €2.7bn, which goes beyond the €2bn saving objective which the Government has set out.
But the Louth TD re-emphasised one of the key themes at the Ard Fheis, which is that real recovery can only be achieved through investing in jobs.
Job retention and job-creation is paramount if the economy is to recover, he said. A number of proposals were set out by Deputy Morgan including “fast-tracking business start-ups, investment in training, up-skilling workers and enhancing our infrastructure”.
“To create jobs we must invest in jobs. Front-loading our infrastructure, focusing on areas of growth such as renewable energy and agri-food industry and growing our SME exporting capacity.”
Despite the current economic problems, Derry City MLA Martina Anderson stressed that huge opportunities are available to us. In highlighting many of the progressive moves made, Anderson said:
“We are building social requirements into procurement contracts for job creation and apprenticeships for the unemployed.”
As the VAT differentials coupled with the decreasing value of sterling have led to a severe haemorrhaging of shoppers to the Six Counties, there is renewed focus on VAT harmonisation. The serious effects of tax disparities and currency differentials were highlighted. The objective of an all-Ireland economy has never more necessary, which Pádraig Mac Lochlainn described an all-Ireland economy as “an economic imperative”.
The North-West candidate for the European election told delegates and activists:
“Republican values and republican politics have never been so relevant or so necessary. Irish unity makes sense - politically, economically and socially.”