Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin call for Peace Dividend with no strings attached

7 December, 2004


Writing in the Irish News today Sinn Fein national Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said that the British government must take responsibility for investing sufficient resources to underpin the work of any new Executive to address the decades of under funding and to address the legacy of British policy here by tackling poverty.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"There has been serious under-investment by successive British governments creating huge infrastructural deficits in water, sewage and transport and severe crises within health and education.

"We are a society emerging from conflict and are dealing with partition and the resultant distortion of economic development on the island as a whole.

"The British government must take responsibility for creating these problems and invest sufficient resources with no strings attached. Neither PPP/PFI nor Reform and Reinvestment Initiatives (RRI) are substitutes. They will only result in further tax and rates burdens. An immediate resource should be a shift from military/security spending to economic and social development.

"The British government have agreed that a significant peace dividend is required. I obviously welcome that. But the content and terms suggested to us by Paul Murphy fall very short of what is required.

"Sinn Féin has also raised the issue of a Peace Dividend with the Irish government. Such a commitment should be used to underpin and advance the Human Rights and Equality agendas and the work of the all-Ireland institutions and the issues facing the border counties." ENDS

Full Text of Article

Headline figures can promote a 'feel-good' economic climate. But behind these headlines is an economy in crisis. Half a million people are 'economically inactive'. Many others are in the part-time, low wage economy, levels of poverty are unacceptably high and there is an over-dependence on the public and service sectors.

There has also been serious under-investment by successive British governments creating huge infrastructural deficits in water, sewage and transport and severe crises within health and education.

We are a society emerging from conflict and are dealing with partition and the resultant distortion of economic development on the island as a whole.

The British government must take responsibility for creating these problems and invest sufficient resources with no strings attached. Neither PPP/PFI nor Reform and Reinvestment Initiatives (RRI) are substitutes. They will only result in further tax and rates burdens. An immediate resource should be a shift from military/security spending to economic and social development.

If the North was to reach Britain's average economic activity rate it would require an extra 112,000 persons in employment. This is equivalent to a net annual injection of £1.6bn into the economy. The current situation with civil service job losses and new entrants in the labour market will require an additional 142,000 jobs over the next ten years. This job creation programme alone would cost £1bn.

Conflict resolution also requires concerted initiatives to support communities directly caught up in the conflict, including ex-combatants. Any peace dividend must promote equality and social inclusion with realisable targets. Tangible differences must be seen on the ground.

An all-Ireland economic development strategy is also important. North and south should not be rivals but should work to a common agenda. Island wide strategies would avoid duplication.

The Border is an artificial construct - an impediment to social and economic development acknowledged by the EU INTERREG III programme. The Border Corridor is characterised by low wages, relatively high unemployment, poor roads, inadequate or non-existent public transport, insufficient energy supply and ICT networks.

The spatial strategies/development plans in both jurisdictions on the island recognise the need to develop the Border Corridor on a collective basis. They explicitly state the centrality of community regeneration and social inclusion initiatives (National Development Plan & NI Structural Funds).

Both strategies share a 'Common Chapter' that makes specific commitments to cross-border co-operation and integration of services and infrastructure in Energy; Communications and Electronic Commerce; Human Resource Development; Agriculture and Rural Development; Tourism; Transport; Environment; Education and Health It is essential that these commitments are not mere aspirations, as many of them have been up to now. They need to be acted upon and accelerated with a focus on real delivery within definite timeframes. There are a number of initiatives that may be regarded as flagship projects which have been slow but which are essential elements of the peace dividend.

· Health Services Co-operation. There has been little progress in delivery of the Common Chapter commitments to co-operation between health services.

· Renewed commitment to the extension of the existing mechanisms for co-operation is needed between the Western and Southern Health Boards in the Six Counties and the North Western and North Eastern Health Boards in the 26 Counties. In addition, there should no further diminution of acute hospital services in the border region.

· The Middletown Centre for Autism. This all-Ireland centre of excellence has been slow in coming on stream. The real expectation of families of children with autism has not been met.

· Public Transport. A Border Region Public Transport Taskforce should set targets for improved bus services throughout the region, and across the border, by the end of 2005; increased funding for the Rural Transport Initiative; an action plan for the strategic extension of the rail network within the Border region should be brought forward as a matter of urgency.

· Economic Development. The north is much closer to the south in terms of unemployment, economic activity and participation rates. Any economic development strategy must deal with removing the barriers to north/south business development and trade. Invest NI and IDA Ireland must work together to harmonise investment regimes, sectoral development strategies and the geographical share out of inward investment. In the border region InterTradeIreland should bring together a taskforce to develop strategic flagship projects.

· All-Ireland Travel Pass for the Elderly. This simple measure is another example of an expectation thwarted by a sluggish approach. Both governments should ensure that delivery is achieved in early 2005.

The British government have now agreed with us that a significant peace dividend is necessary. I obviously welcome that. But the content and terms suggested to us by Paul Murphy fall very short of what is required.

Sinn Féin has also raised the issue of a Peace Dividend with the Irish government. Such a commitment should be used to underpin and advance the Human Rights and Equality agendas and the work of the all-Ireland institutions and the issues facing the border counties

Sinn Fein will ensure that any peace dividend is significant enough to make a real impact, particularly on the human rights and equality agendas. Having brought the British government to this position, we will continue to press them to ensure that any financial package is significant and falls within the parameters outlined in this article.

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