Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

3 July 1997 Edition

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First seat - first step


Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin O Caoláin took his seat in Leinster House on 26 June. Hundreds of election workers and supporters from Cavan and Monaghan, from Dublin, and from parts of the country as far away as West Cork, gathered in Molesworth Street to greet the new TD. There were cheers and flurries of Tricolours as he arrived with MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Addressing the crowd from the steps of Buswell's Hotel Caoimhghin O Caoláin said it was another historic event that showed republicans were ``marching forward to freedom, justice and peace''.

The main business of the opening day in Leinster House was the nminations for Taoiseach.

As mandated by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle Caoimhghin O Caoláin voted for Bertie Ahern for Taoiseach ``solely on the basis of the peace process''. On the vote for the new cabinet he abstained. Below is carried Caoimhghin O Caoláin's statement on why Sinn Féin lent its support to the formation of a new coalition government.

Earlier today I voted for Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach, solely on the basis of the more positive contribution of his party and himself to the peace process.

On the wide range of social and economic issues Sinn Féin shares nothing with a Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government which will be implementing many policies with which we fundamentally disagree.

The policies of successive governments in this state have failed to harness the present period of economic prosperity to build equality and social justice in our society. These governments included both Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. The wealthy were rewarded and the inequality gaps were widened between the low paid and the well-paid, and between those in work and the unemployed. It may be hard to believe in the midst of all the talk of the Celtic Tiger Economy but more people are living in poverty now than there were 20 years ago.
We seek real democracy - political and economic - at community and local government level. The politics of patronage and privilege must be replaced by people power.

Sinn Féin is a campaigning party. Our political programme is about empowering communities. As political activists and elected representatives at local level we work within our communities to bring about real change which will improve the quality of their lives.

In Cavan and Monaghan our representatives have broken the domination of the two major parties. I look forward to continuing in this House the consistent representation our councillors have provided at local level.

We seek real democracy - political and economic - at community and local government level. The politics of patronage and privilege must be replaced by people power.

There is no evidence of any such transformation in the proposed programme for government of this incoming administration. A much broader vision and a more radical programme of action is necessary. Only an all Ireland economy based on equality and social justice can overcome the grave social and economic problems which we face. Foremost among these is long-term unemployment. Successive governments have effectively abandoned large sections of our society to generations of unemployment and consequent social decline. This programme also fails to address this tragedy.

On taxation once again the inequities of the system have been overlooked. While the lowering of the burden on the PAYE sector is most welcome the parallel plan to reduce corporation tax from its already record low level is wrong. There must be tax equality, not just tax cuts. There is also no mention of the need to tackle the problem of unpaid tax. Last year's Comptroller and Auditor General's report showed that there is over £2 billion in uncollected outstanding taxes.

The promise of a minimum hourly wage is welcome but it will be meaningless unless the level is set to ensure a proper standard of living. Behind the hype about the Celtic Tiger lurks the reality of a low-pay economy for many thousands of workers.

The sections on agriculture take no account of the crisis in which Irish farmers currently find themselves.The objective to keeping the maximum number of family farms and to achieve a more equitable distribution of support payments is welcome but is something which previous governments have failed to make a reality.

In the section on drugs there is no mention of the need to include local communities who have been ravaged by the drugs crisis in the formulation of policy. The input of those most effected by the drugs crisis into policy formulation is crucial. I take this opportunity to commend those courageous communities, particularly in this our capital city, who have organised themselves to combat the drugs menace which has ravaged so many families. It is only because of their campaigning that this issue is on the political agenda at all.

Sinn Féin's main policy priorities for the coming parliamentary term include:

National self-determination for the Irish people and the independence of Ireland as a sovereign state. The active pursuit of this goal by all nationalist parties including the Irish government.
The rebuilding of the peace process on the basis of inclusive negotiations without preconditions.
The full restoration of the Irish language to its rightful place as the first national language.
The harnessing of prosperity to create economic equality and social justice
Fundamental tax reform to ensure equality
A comprehensive programme to tackle the drugs crisis in all its aspects
Environmental strategy which encourages recycling and re-use and provides jobs
The regeneration of rural communities
A new local authority housing programme to eliminate waiting lists
The strong defence of Irish neutrality and opposition to Western European Union membership and the militarisation of the European Union
Accordingly I will not be voting for this new coalition cabinet or its programme for government. I look forward during the term before us to the debates and work of this House and particularly to achievements in the interest of my constituents, my party and the people of Ireland.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1