Keynote Address on the Economy by Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald MEP
Keynote Address by Sinn Féin Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP to the party Ard Fheis, Friday 20th February 2009
Nócha bliain ó shin bunaíodh An Chéad Dail Éireann agus thug an Clár Oibre Daonlathach aisling radacach do mhuintir na hÉireann. An cuspóir a bhí ann ná Poblacht saor a chruthú, tír ina mbeadh cothromas don bpobal, ina mbeadh saibhreas roinnte agus ina mbeadh comhchúram do chlann uile an náisiúin.
Is ionann an cuspóir sin inniu agus is fiú agus is féidir é a chur i gcrích. Thug Sinn Féin treoir nócha bliain ó shin agus tá treoir againn anois.
Ireland has had its share of challenges, the people have met difficult circumstances with a determination, hope and belief that, I believe, defines us as a people.
Ours is a great country. We are a capable people.
But Ireland is in deep trouble. Incompetent government, corrupt bankers and greedy developers have brought this state to the edge of an economic abyss.
In the blink of an eye we have gone from boom to bust. The years of budget surpluses have been squandered. Those who claimed that they, and they alone, knew how to run the economy have been exposed for the fraudsters that they are.
Sinn Féin was berated when we pointed out the obvious flaws in government policy – the creation of a property bubble, the over reliance on consumption taxes, the growing gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, the rewarding of private greed at the expense of the public good, the failure to think strategically and in the long term interests of the citizens.
We were right on these matters.
Ní mar thoradh ar mhí-ádh a thit geilleagar na hÉireann. Ní fiú mar thoradh ar an meathlú domhanda mar níl ansin ach cuid den meathlú sa tír seo.
At the last general election promises were made to create 250,000 new jobs and to bring Ireland to a debt free position within five years. That’s what Fianna Fail promised. Record unemployment, soaring debt and a public finance catastrophe. That’s what they delivered.
The ‘main opposition parties’, have little to crow about for they showed no more foresight than the government. Fine Gael and Labour made promises to cut taxes and increase spending. The people were sold a pup - promises that could never be honoured.
That was then.
Now the spectacle of bankers wallowing in self pity while workers struggle with the prospect of redundancy, reflects just how empty all of the promises were. Government propping up its cronies in the banks while cutting special needs assistants to children in our schools provides the clearest insight into what this government is all about.
Support the rich and punish the rest. Protect your cronies and target the rest. That is what they are about. But it’s not what the people of Ireland are about, and the people will not tolerate this warped approach. Brian Cowen and his government need to know that.
We need a new ethos in public life and we need to ensure that in these difficult times that taxpayers get value for money.
There is waste in the public service. Civil servants doing constituency work for Ministers is waste; taxpayer subsidies for the private health industry is waste.
Paying workers that provide essential services for our people is not waste. This party will not stand idly by as a discredited government, aided and abetted by opportunists in Fine Gael, attack public service workers. The pension levy is inequitable and indefensible. We demand that it go.
Let no politician lecture the people on pensions until they relinquish their own unfair pension advantage. Let all of them, Enda Kenny and the rest, do the decent thing. Stop drawing ministerial pensions, do it now.
Let no politician lecture teachers and parents on the cutbacks in education whilst members of the Oireachtas hold down teaching posts. Relinquish those posts. Do it now.
Let no government politician seek sympathy from workers who have lost their jobs, from thousands who cannot make their mortgage repayments, from broken hearted families who see off the latest wave of Irish emigrants. From the victims of government incompetence, there is no sympathy only anger.
The golden circle has had its day.
The Irish people will tighten their belts but only when we see those at the top tightening theirs. Sinn Féin will not protect any privileged clique. We demand that they are held accountable to the people.
It is now clear to all that the government has no plan, no strategy to lift Ireland from recession. They are out of ideas and out of time. Many of their short sighted policies run the risk of deepening the recession and undermining our ability to re-build the economy.
Hope is not lost. There is a way forward.
We can build a country and an economy that creates wealth and shares wealth, that is based on enterprising excellence and social solidarity. A country defined by Irish values of decency, fair play and celebration of achievement.
We can do this because that is who we are. That is what we are about, that is what our economy must be about. We need a plan to achieve this. We need leadership and Sinn Féin can offer it.
The government cannot simply tax or cut its way out of this crisis.
In January 1000 people lost their jobs every day in this state. More than 100,000 jobs have been lost over the last year. The unemployment rate is not just a statistic. It is an index of failure. The government’s casual acceptance of growing dole queues is a most damning indictment.
Our number one priority at this time is to get Ireland back to work. The time for action is now.Targets for job creation must be set and met.
All of those involved in job creation and training – statutory agencies, unions, employers and educationalists - must come together to plot the job creation pathway. We need speedy and deliberate targeting of those sectors where growth is possible – sectors like agri-food, research and development and green technology.
We need to build the skill base to create and fill new jobs. We need to build the critical infrastructure, schools and houses, public transport and Information Technology.
Business start ups must be supported by creating one stop enterprise business points offering advice, funding and expertise to entrepreneurs.
An aggressive export Ireland strategy is urgently required. This is an area of huge potential. Currently 90% of exports from this state are from foreign owned multinationals. Irish enterprises must develop their export capacity. Government policy must drive this.
We must fight to save existing jobs under threat. Workers and their families deserve no less. Economic recovery demands no less.
Jobs can be saved. The jobs on the line at SR Technics can be saved. Jobs in construction and retail can be saved. Waterford Crystal can have a future. These and other vulnerable jobs will be lost if the current lacklustre approach by government continues.
Sinn Féin would not meekly accept the ongoing haemorrhage of skills and global brands from our country. The government needs to get its act together. Recovery will not be possible unless we sort out the banks. This requires forthright, decisive actions. Let me spell out clearly what needs to happen:-
• A clear out of the higher echelons of bankers. All of them.
This means sacking the bankers, not retirement with golden handshakes. Investigations of Anglo Irish and all other banking institutions with cases referred to the DPP for prosecution. Corrupt bankers must face jail.
The golden circle involved in dubious investment at Anglo Irish must be named and shamed. They are not heroes. There was no patriotism in their actions. Fianna Fail and the Greens must stop protecting the Anglo circle.
To the back slapping clique, Ulick McEvaddy and his friends Mary Harney and Charlie McCreevy, we say: - The taxpayer owns this bank. - The taxpayer is now in charge. - The taxpayer cannot be left in the dark.
We demand answers.
• Mispaid bonuses and overblown salaries must be retrieved, there must be a cap on salaries of banking executives and an immediate abolition of their bonuses.
• Above all we need to know the extent of the banks bad debts. The time for speculation as to the state of the banks balance sheets is over.
We need to have the truth. An independent inspector must, on behalf of the taxpayer, establish their liabilities.
• We need a new, robust financial regulatory system.
These actions are required immediately if we are to restore domestic and international confidence in financial institutions. The banks are now reliant on taxpayers’ money. The banks must now be forced to impose a moratorium on home repossessions for a minimum of two years.
Banks must support struggling mortgage holders - by rescheduling repayments and allowing movement from fixed to variable rates without financial penalties. Banks must be obliged to make loans available to small and medium businesses. Viable businesses and jobs will be lost if the credit drought is not resolved quickly. We cannot allow enterprise and workers to suffer at the hands of self centred and self seeking banking practices.
The banks must pay back the taxpayers money while working in the state’s interest. The need for a state bank, long advocated by Sinn Fein, is now undeniable.
Then we must deal with the shortfall in public finances.
Saving must and can be made in a way that is equitable and does not injure our long term goal of a sustainable economy. Sinn Féin set out proposals for raising the €2billion which the government is now implementing through totally unfair cuts. We argued that the government should immediately increase the flat rate levy on those earning more that €100,000 a year, make discretionary tax relief available only at the standard rate and remove the PRSI ceiling.
These proposals involve some pain, but are equitable and fair.
We also called for the end to the misuse of taxpayers money in supporting private healthcare and the outrageous pay packages of CEOs of public bodies.
This state will have to borrow over the next five years. This is the right thing, and the necessary thing, to do. But let’s be clear that borrowing must be for smart, strategic investment. The days of shoddy management, sloppy costings and project overruns are over.
All of this must happen but the establishment of a fair and progressive taxation system is at the core of sustainable public finances. Sinn Féin has long demanded reform – the ending of tax shelters and tax exile status, the ending of the scandal where middle income workers are taxed at the same rate as those earning hundreds of thousands of euros. We are calling for the creation of a third tax rate for these high earners.
Never was tax reform more urgent than now. Never was it more necessary for the rich to pay their share. We must regain our competitiveness.
The costs of doing business in Ireland is prohibitive. Misguided government policy has driven Energy costs higher here than anywhere else in Europe and has resulted in a telecommunications infrastructure that is third rate.
Government must act now to address these issues. Competitiveness will not be secured on the back of cheap, insecure labour. Families on the breadline is not the answer to our problems, reductions in the minimum wage or running down protections for workers is not the solution.
The government needs to wake up to this fact.
Investment in skills and education will be the cornerstone of realising our potential. The short-sighted cuts in education, at all levels, must be reversed. There will be no knowledge economy, no ‘smart economy’, if we allow government to vandalise our education system
This is the time to build the All Ireland economy. Partition is costing Ireland hundreds of millions of euros each year. The simple fact is we cannot afford the border.
Currency differentials and VAT rate differentials hurt business and the consumer. We need economies of scale, we need joined up thinking. Rather than criticising people who shop in Newry, the government must work for VAT harmonisation, tax harmonisation and nurture a dynamic all Ireland economy.
That is the patriotic thing to do. It is also the wise thing to do.
Now is the time for transformation, for government with the bold ideas and courage to create a fair and prosperous society. We need to get Ireland back to work. This is the stuff of long term strategy, of solidarity and vision.
We need thoughtful, purposeful government. We need a government that is on the peoples’ side. We need a new government.
The past is another place, we must learn from it and vow never to return to it again.
The future is full of challenge and opportunity. Ours is a great country. We are a capable people.
We can rebuild Ireland. Nothing is surer.
The politics of Me Fein has failed. Now is the time for the politics of Sinn Féin.
The people of Ireland are in this together. To succeed we must stand up together and stand up for each other.
An Phoblacht Abú.