NO RIGHT TURN
Sinn Féin's call to action against the Thatcherisation of Ireland
The Government's long list of broken promises are now well-known, but underlying them is a shift to the political right which, if it is allowed to continue, will do lasting damage to Irish society and the Irish economy.
The terms "right" and "left" are not just meaningless political labels, they are a useful shorthand for the policy agendas that affect people's everyday lives.
What are "left" policies?
As a left republican party, Sinn Fein believes that equality must be the cornerstone of our society and our economy. People should be treated as citizens with rights, not just consumers with more or less spending power. Government policies should be driven by the needs of citizens, not the demands of the market.
What are "right" policies?
Right-wing parties believe in survival of the fittest, which means they favour individualism and private enterprise, and the privilege of the establishment and the market. They believe in freedom and rights for the wealthy and for business first, and they see true equality for all as a threat. They believe the state should have minimal responsibility to the people. The policies of the right-wing Thatcher government are a classic example of the logic of this agenda: lower taxes (at all costs) and withdraw public services; privatise state businesses and assets; deregulate sectors and industries; make all other policies subservient to fiscal constraint. Sound familiar?
The result in other cases of rightward drift has been that the state grows increasingly unaccountable except to those that line their party's pockets, people's rights are eroded, economic growth is not sustained, and the gap widens between rich and poor. Sound familiar?
In the past six years of FF/PD government, relative poverty has grown very significantly; in other words the gap between rich and poor has widened. The better off have benefited disproportionately from the tax policies of Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, thus setting a headline across all government polices.
The Government Coalition between the avowedly right-wing Progressive Democrats and the allegedly more centrist Fianna Fail coincided with a period of unprecedented economic growth that cushioned the worst of the impact of their policy agenda. Now that the boom is over, however, it is more obvious that the poorest and weakest are being made to pay.
After one year of the Government's new mandate -- regardless of their penchant for pseudo-consultation and Fianna Fail's sympathetic-sounding "lefty" spin -- it has become clear that they are bent on adopting more and more right-wing policies. They have gone on a privatisation binge, given the wealthy all the tax breaks, favoured their developer, industry and big business friends, introduced a range of draconian laws, and to facilitate all of this they have gutted the Freedom of Information Act to ensure that they operate in greater secrecy. This "Thatcherisation" agenda represents a very negative development in Irish politics and will exacerbate the problems of gross inequality and injustice that exist in the state already.
We must not forget the damage that was done by Thatcherism and Reaganomics to other societies in the 1980s. They gutted whole communities with their austerity measures while the rich got richer. We cannot allow this Government to take Ireland down this same road to ruin.
It is open to question whether the people REALLY voted for these policies -- as the Government now claims -- or were instead deceived. While some of their right-wing measures were signalled in the Programme for Government, many others were not, and have been brought in by stealth. While their "right-turn" is a reality, the Government has never announced its intention as such.
We in Sinn Féin will hold this Government accountable for their litany of deceptions since they took office. We will join with others in our communities to campaign inside and outside the Dáil against their right-wing policies.
But in order to fight these policies we need to be able to identify them and recognise where they fit in an overall right-wing agenda.
Come election time, Fianna Fáil will sell you the lie that the PDs are to blame. But we cannot blame the PDs alone. With Fianna Fáil's large majority, claims to domination by the PDs just don't ring true. Sinn Féin has therefore produced this informal audit of the right-wing policies of each Government Minister -- whether PD or Fianna Fail. We conclude that Fianna Fail itself has shifted to the right, and is taking our future with it. This must be stopped.
The Government will also sell you the false claim that there is no alternative. Sinn Féin knows that there IS an alternative, and we have outlined other policy options that we believe are better for the people, and will contribute to a socially just Ireland for everyone.
Gross inequality in the Health Services
Health Minister Micheál Martin has published a package of proposals which promises reform of the health system but really offers only bureaucratic change. It fails to tackle the basic inequality in the system. Here, above all, the right-wing ideology that dominates this Government is preventing real reform based on the equal right of all to the best healthcare, regardless of ability to pay.
It is a tragedy and a scandal that healthcare is delivered by means of a fundamentally flawed two-tier public-private system. The Government's Health Strategy opted to retain this system. There is now a vicious cycle. Waiting lists and bed closures in the public system have meant that more and more people who can afford it - and many who cannot - have opted for private health insurance and private care. The public system suffers as a result. Health apartheid divides our society on income lines. Many hospital consultants very profitably straddle the two systems and it is the public patient who loses out.
The two-tier system is inherently unjust and inefficient and no amount of better financial management or administrative restructuring can change that reality. The report of the top-level National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) on 'Equality of Access to Hospital Care' clearly demonstrated the failure of government health policy and confirms Sinn Féin's view that the two-tier system within the health services must go.
The vision and the political will to truly reform that fundamentally unequal and inefficient system is absent from this Government. Sinn Féin offers that vision and the determination to make it a reality. We will campaign for an end to the two-tier system and its replacement with a truly national health service with free care for all at the point of delivery and funded from general taxation.
Housing driven by profit not by need
One of the greatest problems currently facing Irish society is the housing crisis which has seen escalating house prices, rising numbers on housing waiting lists, increased numbers of homeless, an unregulated private rented sector and un-addressed traveller accommodation needs. Rather than acting to address these problems the government has taken measures which have worsened the crisis. At the root of the problem is the Government's right-wing, totally market-driven approach to housing championed by Environment and Local Government Minister Martin Cullen and his predecessor Noel Dempsey. These regressive policies have been implemented by the current Minister of State Noel Ahern and his predecessor Bobby Molloy. .
• Following pressures from speculators and developers the end of 2002 Martin Cullen introduced legislation to repeal Section V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Developers can now offer local authorities either other sites or money for not having to have social housing on their developments.
• The ending of the first-time home buyers' grant has made the prospect of owning their home even more remote for young people.
Sinn Fein believes that the fundamental role of a house and a home in a person's life cannot be overstated. A lack of adequate housing and homelessness are inextricably connected to increased levels of mental illness, marginalisation and disenfranchisement. Sinn Fein is calling for a constitutional right to housing; a Minister for Housing with a full cabinet position; a properly funded national housing strategy; the establishment of a National Housing Agency to coordinate all aspects of housing provision; the capping of the price of building land and wider powers for local authorities to use CPO's to procure land for housing. Sinn Fein is also committed to the abolition of ground rents.
Environment neglected - Local Government disempowered
Martin Cullen, a former member of the Progressive Democrats, since his appointment as Minister for the Environment and Local Government has driven the right-wing agenda.
The man who once said "I am not interested in more great debates" has used his first year at Cabinet to demonstrate his disregard for democracy.
• During the last year Minister Cullen has further centralised power in an already excessively centralised system of local government. The Local Government Bill 2003 further diminished local democracy by deleting the provision in the Local Government Act 2001 for the direct election of Cathaoirligh of city and county councils.
• Under the PD/Fianna Fail Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 which was rammed through in the last Dáil term local councilors no longer have any function in deciding on household waste charges or regional waste management plans. Unelected county and city managers will be able to impose increased waste charges on people without any discussion at council level.
Sinn Féin is committed to the reform of local government to bring about an accountable, properly funded local government with active community involvement. Sinn Fein is opposed to the double tax that bin charges represent. Building on Sinn Féin's proposed amendments to the Protection of the Environment Bill in 2002 which sought to ban incineration, we will continue to campaign for sustainable and environmentally friendly waste management. The closure of Sellafield is also a priority.
Transport chaos costs us dearly
Since the Cabinet was appointed few Ministers have matched Seamus Brennan in his gung-ho single-minded devotion to a blinkered right-wing economic agenda. With a condescending attitude to workers evident in his policy of little or no consultation or debate with unions he seems set to continue privatising semi-state bodies involved in public transport
• He proposes to break up Aer Rianta, a profitable state company, which successfully manages the State's airports, including Dublin Airport, one of the three highest growth airports in Europe.
• He proposes to break up CIE and leave tens of thousands of Dublin commuters at the mercy of a poorly thought out replica of the failed 'London Model' of public transport, while funding the break-up through selling off property owned by CIE to developers.
Sinn Féin wants vibrant, dynamic well run public sector companies in control of an All-Ireland public transport system. Public transport in Ireland is improving, but the subvention must be brought up to at least European levels. Such a system will benefit all of the economy not private sector concerns driven by short-term profits and little focus on the bigger picture. For the limited amount of support provided by the State and the relatively low fares in comparison to the rest of Europe, our public transport system represents real value for money.
Education hamstrung by funding shortfall
Rather than challenge the lack of funding for education at all levels by a Government for whom tax cuts for the rich are more important than classrooms for children, Education Minister Noel Dempsey has turned right in a desperate attempt to make up for years of neglect. This neglect has resulted in sub-standard school buildings and persistent inequality of access to education.
• Minister Dempsey supports the use of Public Private Partnership to build schools, at a cost of E214 million over 20 years for five schools, despite the negative experience with such schemes in Britain and the dubious safety record of the company involved. Nowhere is the failure of this privatisation by stealth more evident than in the debacle taking place over the Cork School of Music.
• He also seems determined to bring back fees, if not openly following massive opposition from students and the Opposition, covertly, through massive increases in the student registration charge, up 70% last year alone to 670 Euro.
Sinn Féin remains the only party absolutely opposed to the use of Public Private Partnership and committed to the idea that schools are not a place for companies and businesses to make money. They are places of learning, education and empowerment. Investment in education, especially at primary level, can transform society and liberate a people but must be sourced from the State, through a tax system that will truly redistribute the wealth created by our educated workforce.
Ministers Cowen and Smith
Irish Neutrality abandoned
Ministers Brian Cowen and Michael Smith publicly pride themselves on their progressive foreign policies, and sell this state as a world leader on the promotion of peace and human rights. They have repeatedly assured us that this Government supports neutrality. The Programme for Government specifically commits to UN primacy and promises that Ireland will only participate in UN-mandated or endorsed operations. But on many occasions since their election this Government has both contradicted and violated their own stated policies.
• Far from standing firm on Irish neutrality, they involved Ireland in supporting the illegal invasion of Iraq based on concocted evidence. They repeatedly denied this was so, and refused to put any decision before the Dáil until it was too late. Then they claimed that Ireland does not need to conform to internationally accepted definitions of military neutrality and publicly signalled their intention to review the policy.
• Far from asserting and supporting UN primacy, they recently said that a UN mandate "may no longer be necessary" for the deployment of Irish Defence Forces overseas.
• They have also avoided stating their position on the Common Defence provisions of the draft EU Constitutional Treaty. We don't know whether they will accept or challenge those Articles that will further militarise the EU by building an EU military industrial complex, enabling deployment of an EU Army within and beyond EU borders, and expanding its remit beyond humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks.
• At a time when the state is bleeding from cuts in healthcare and education, they plan to spend E100 million in property divestment revenues on retooling the Defence Forces to make them EU-compliant.
We can only conclude that the Ministers have not been honest with us about their real future intentions. Their track record leads us to believe that their plan is to abandon neutrality and UN primacy and commit Irish soldiers to an EU Common Defence. Ultimately their
There is an alternative. Sinn Féin believes that true security is universal, and based on social justice, fully meeting human need, and respecting human rights and human equality.
Sinn Féin supports full foreign policy independence, underpinned by support for UN primacy and complemented by positive neutrality in action. We therefore believe that neutrality must be enshrined in the Constitution. We see our commitment to demilitarisation of the EU and universal nuclear disarmament as an extension of our commitment to demilitarisation of conflict at home.
Sinn Féin are calling on this Government to end their secrecy, come clean to the people and submit to their will by referendum on this untested policy shift away from neutrality that was never signalled in their Programme for Government.
Employment on PD terms
Mary Harney has infused the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with the right wing ideology of the PDs and this has been the driving force behind the majority of decisions taken in that Department.
• Mary Harney cut 5000 places on Community Employment thus adding to the rising level of employment. The cutbacks in CE schemes has represented one of the most vicious elements of the coalition government's offensive against the poor and vulnerable in Irish society. The government fails to understand the value these schemes bring to the community, as they are uninterested in anything that doesn't make a quick buck.
• The current agreement Sustaining Progress has been scripted to a right wing agenda and represents a poor deal for Irish workers and the low paid. It offers nothing on real issues facing workers -- health, childcare, education. The Government and Employers organisations are increasingly forcing workers to bargain for rights which are rightfully theirs as part of the wider social partnership deal.
Sinn Féin supports the role played CE schemes in providing badly needed services to local communities and in giving many people an opportunity to make the transition from welfare to work. Sinn Féin calls for an economic development strategy that creates a balance between inward and indigenous investment; a trade policy which promotes poverty reduction and respect for human rights and labour and environmental standards and legislation to protect the health and safety of workers.
Natural Resources squandered
The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern, has refused to consider any changes to the current licensing conditions governing oil and gas exploration. The enormous loss which this represents for the Irish people was most recently highlighted by the announcement of a major find in the Dooish Basin off the coast of Donegal. As we pointed out at the time, this will bring almost no benefit to the Irish economy unless the state revises the current scandalous terms available to the multi-nationals. In pursuit of this, Sinn Féin will continue to demand:
• the restoration of the state's 50% stake on all oil and gas finds;
• the re-establishment of a state exploration company to carry out research and generally supervise the sector;
• that all companies are required to pay adequate royalties;
• that exploration companies pay the full rate of Corporation Tax;
• that so-called 'frontier licences' are abolished;
• that all gas pipelines are built with full regard to the concerns of local communities; with least impact on the natural environment; that they are integrated into a long term plan to supply cheap and safe fuel, and that any pipeline will be capable of integration into an all Ireland grid
Rural Development undermined
The Government has completely undermined the commitments made in the Programme for Government to rural communities by a range of cutbacks. Not only are people feeling the effects of the cuts in public services but also experiencing the economic effects of cutbacks in the Agriculture budget. These have forced the scaling back of schemes such as Early Retirement and Installation Aid, and have also led to a programme of closures of Teagasc centres. Sinn Féin demands:
• an immediate reversal of all cuts in Agriculture and Rural Development programmes contained in the last
• that the current Dublin Government establish a Commission to examine the farm crisis to be representative of all involved in the sector as well as independent experts and researchers
• that the Dublin Government plays a more proactive role in the development of cross border harmonisation of animal health, food promotion, pricing, and subsidies
• that all EU funded rural development programmes are made representative of the communities in which they operate, and that they are designed to be self-sustaining
• that rural proofing be applied in such a manner as to ensure that people living in rural communities are entitled to the same level of public service and provision as any other citizen
• that positive steps are taken to encourage the participation of rural women in community development programmes and that this entails the provision of adequate childcare, transport, meeting places and information technology resources
Attacking citizens' rights
Nowhere is the Government's rightward shift more evident than in its so-called "justice" policy. They have adopted a classic Thatcherite "law and order" agenda that expands state and police powers while reducing hard-won rights and safeguards for the people. And PD Minister Michael McDowell is not shy about his plans: he has openly and publicly declared war on a rights-based society.
The Minister's escalating War on Equal and Human Rights is directed at all those in this state who stood to gain most from the equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement. Not only has the Government "downsized" their commitment to equality and human rights by stalling, minimising, or rolling back on virtually every rights-related provision it signed up to, but the Minister has actively made it his business to pass laws and authorise actions that attack the most vulnerable groups. Nothing illustrates this approach better than his plan to deny 11,000 Irish children their full citizenship rights by expelling them from Ireland with their non-national parents. .
The Government has decided that Rights for All are "too costly". This conclusion explains many of their most shameful recent decisions, including the Laffoy Commission debacle, their continued stalling on a rights-based Disability Bill, their gutting of the public's right to Freedom of Information, and now, their proposed privatisation of prisons (a policy which has proved a failure in other jurisdictions).
While stalling on urgently-needed Garda reform and deployment of adequate Garda resources to working class areas that need them most, the Minister has been very busy expanding police powers of intrusion and repression both here and at EU level.
There is an alternative.
• We want this Government to live up to its own commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, including a repeal of the Offences Against the State Acts, dissolution of the Special Criminal Court, and release of the remaining political prisoners qualifying under the Good Friday Agreement.
• Indeed, we want the protection and promotion of equal and human rights to go even further than the Good Friday Agreement. We want adoption of legislation making the promotion of equality and protection of equal rights a statutory duty. We want mandatory equality and human rights-proofing of all existing and proposed legislation. We want a rights-based Disability Bill and the abandonment of the "Fortress Ireland in a Fortress Europe" policy in favour of a positive and compassionate immigration policy that will strengthen our economy and society.
• Sinn Féin also wants to see a comprehensive, preventive approach to crime that recognises and redresses underlying social and economic factors, urgent comprehensive Garda reform in-line with the Patten Principles, and targeting of Garda resources in the areas where they are most needed.
• Sinn Féin calls on this Government to halt its rightward march and embrace social justice -- to return to the rights-vindicating and rights-maximising approach signalled under the Good Friday Agreement, and make a vigorous and unambiguous commitment to civil liberties and transparent accountable government.