I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate today and to outline the Sinn Féin view.
This Budget proves that together we can work to achieve a better deal for our people; what started off as a reduced Tory / Ulster unionist imposed block grant on the Executive has been significantly improved by those of us who have engaged in trying to achieve that and have put in a mammoth effort to identify additional funds towards the Budget.
I accept we have much yet to do but I believe where there is a willingness by parties in this chamber to work together we can improve the lives of people.
Sinn Féin is a republican party. We envisage a future, not based on partition or partitionist economics, which has not served the people of this Island North or South well.
We have much higher aspirations than to be dealing with the ungraciously named Block Grant, and despite the claim earlier by a senior UUP MLA all the money does not come from London.
Billions of pounds of Taxes leave this Island every year and go into the coffers of the British Treasury. It is simple. People in the North pay a full range of taxes on their income and goods purchased and excise duties.
The British government has restrained the economy of Ireland for centuries through economic, political and when it suits them military means.
Sinn Féin want to reshape those relations. We want an Economy on the Island of Ireland that serves the needs of the people, not corrupt bankers or greedy developers with no social conscience.
We want an economy which works with our nearest neighbours in England, Scotland and Wales based on mutual respect and growth of our nations.
We want an Economy that delivers prosperity and social justice to all of our people equally.
In the short tem what is required is an All Ireland Economic recovery plan.
We will not build our way out of recession by ignoring the fact that we have two competing economies on our island with huge duplication across the public sectors.
It has not served the people of this island well, in the past and it will not work for all us in the future.
This is a significant day for Sinn Féin and for the advancement of Republican politics; 14 of my comrades have taken their place in Dáil Éireann and today we continue to work to defend citizen’s rights here in the Assembly.
This is all-Ireland politics and activism in practice.
While others, especially in the SDLP, told us they could go to Westminster, swear an oath to an English Queen and prevent Tory cuts, we have shown that there is a better way here in Ireland. Our focus remains on a New Ireland.
Sinn Féin TD’s will continue the work of opposing the bad EU/IMF bailout, and the attack on the low waged the poor and vulnerable now being carried forward by the Fine Gael/ labour coalition in their newly agreed programme for government, an economic strategy endorsed in this chamber yesterday by Conall MC Devitt of the SDLP, despite the earlier assertion that the SDLP does not interfere in Irish Politics.
Many have held the opinion for years that the SDLP are irrelevant to politics on the island of Ireland.
Margaret Richie also endorsed the author of the economic collapse in the south when she said and I quote,
“Brian Cowen excelled as Finance Minister”
Sinn Fein’s party leader is heading to Leinster House and Margaret is getting on a plane to her beloved Westminster, where she promised to make a difference.
At Westminster on 28th October 2010, her challenge to the Tories was and I quote
“The impact of the CSR settlement on Northern Ireland can be assessed in three parts. First, on current expenditure, we are facing a cut in real terms of 7% by the final year of the CSR. That is challenging, but it is not insurmountable.”
We have listened with interest to the many contributions from the dysfunctional SDLP / UUP axis.
In particular the SDLP leader claiming that we were engaged in ‘Ostrich Economics’, but sure weren’t they also telling us only last week that all the revenue raising ideas within the Budget were theirs? So what is it?
Ostrich Economics or great SDLP ideas?
Yet another contradiction exposed for all to see.
The reality is that if Sinn Féin had not have been to the fore in securing additional monies then it simply would not have happened.
We saw clearly the outworking of the dysfunctional SDLP/UUP axis when they were the lead parties in the Executive. What did they deliver?
As a direct result of Sinn Féin’s work and working together with parties willing to engage, the Executive Budget now has an additional £1.5 Billion.
The SDLP and UUP are set to vote against a budget that includes an additional £1.5 Billion for Health, Education, Housing, and the Economy.
Not one penny has been produced by those parties shouting from the sidelines.
The SDLP and the UUP position does not stand up to scrutiny. The amendment tabled to the Budget is too little to late. The only financial commitment made by the proposer’s is to take £80m off the most disadvantaged in society.
Lets be clear The cuts to money available to the Executive is as a result of a tory imposed budget.
Their policy of Cuts was rejected by the people here in the Westminster election. They have NO mandate to introduce cuts.
Sinn Féin set our opposition to Tory Cuts and more importantly our alternative by identifying ways to promote economic growth and deliver public services in our economic paper released in October 2010.
This paper identified potential savings and revenue raising mechanism which would release £1.6 billion of additional money to the public sector.
Despite repeated calls by other parties to set a budget based on tory cuts we have consistently advocated the need for additional revenue to be added t the Block Grant.
We have been successful in identifying additional revenue which is now reflected in the final budget.
The amendments before us today from the SDLP and the UUP deliver nothing.
In conclusion, the Executive Budget before us presents major challenges as a result of Tory cuts. Those parties who have worked together have made major improvements.
However as I have said Sinn Féin see the long term economic way forward as Irish unity
It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the SDLP and the UUP.
I would appeal to the SDLP even at this late stage to take a step back before they too become the franchise for the Tories in the North.