Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin challenge parties to grow up and take responsibility in economic debate

10 September, 2007


Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (South Antrim) has said that 'we excluded from the economic advances of the rest of Ireland because we are locked into the "one size fits all" approach by the British Treasury'.

Speaking in the Sinn Fein sponsored debate on Tax varying powers for the Executive Mr McLaughlin said:

"I would ask the parties in this Assembly to put behind them the old politics; where what party sponsored a debate had the effect of pre-determining either support or opposition. Surely we have now grown up and emerged with a more mature approach.

"From conversations I have had with people from all walks of life, business, social, politics and academia, It is clear that all are agreed that the biggest barrier to building a sustainable economy in the North is the fact that fiscal policy, taxation and public expenditure are all determined in London. All are agreed that this has to change and we have an unmistakable mandate from the electorate to deliver that agenda for change.

"Economic policy which is designed and administered by Whitehall will always be delivered for the benefits of Britain. This is the status quo. Our needs will always be peripheral and coincidental to those of Britain, an after though. That is why the status quo has to change.

"Not only are we excluded from the economic advances of the rest of Ireland because we are locked into the "one size fits all" approach by the British Treasury but we have to work within the parameters of an inadequate, unfair Barnett Formula and a privatisation agenda which has been imposed by politicians who are unaccountable to the electorate of the North.

"All of the parties during the Preparation for Government committee meetings supported the introduction of tax varying powers to grow the regional economy, to develop and target tax incentives towards areas of high unemployment, to encourage small businesses.

"Sinn Féin want to see the introduction of an unrestricted borrowing facility to replace the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative (RRI). In the event, all parties supported, at the very minimum, the separation of the RRI facility from the so-called convergence principle under which the Treasury had introduced the hated Water Charges policy. Thankfully, this measure was successfully impressed upon Gordon Brown.

"That is a reasonable and democratic response to the collective and consensus conclusions offered by the parties to this Assembly. To fail to sustain that approach, on the basis of the out-moded zero-sum politics of the past, is simply to hand game, set and match to the Treasury." ENDS

Text of Full Speech (check against delivery)

My colleague, Jennifer McCann in her earlier remarks laid out the argument for achieving a greater degree of economic autonomy for the Executive.

I would ask the members of all of the parties represented in this Assembly to put behind them the old politics; if you like the politics of the past, whereby the issue of which party had sponsored the proposal under consideration had the effect of pre-determining either support or opposition.

Surely we have now grown up and have emerged from the travails of a deep-seated conflict with a more mature and pragmatic approach. To a form of politics which is based on an inclusive process, democratically grounded and which acknowledges the need to seek and find agreement in the wider interests of our community.

On that basis, I call on members to vote on this motion on its merits alone and for the benefits that it would deliver to all sections of the people. That will be the politics of the present and the future, the politics of change, politics which reflect the change which we collectively have already achieved.

Last week, the people of Ireland voted in the People of the Year awards. They recognised the leadership which was necessary and which was required to achieve the restoration of the Assembly and to re-establish the primacy of politics over conflict and division. That leadership was at times very difficult. It was constantly challenged and criticised by those who lacked the courage or the vision or who simply were deeply troubled because they did not understand.

At times painful decisions had to be made and long-standing friendships were put at risk. I congratulate both the First and the Deputy First Ministers who were nominated on all our behalf, alongside Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair for their achievements in bringing the Peace Process to this point. In the context of my earlier comments about the politics of the present and the future, let me on behalf of my party; make it clear that we recognise the pressure and pain involved. That we appreciate and applaud the resolve which has made progress possible, which secured advances and which have benefited our entire community.

From conversations and contacts that I have had with people from all walks of life, business, social, politics and academia, It is clear that all are agreed that the biggest barrier to building a sustainable economy in the North is the fact that fiscal policy, taxation and public expenditure are all determined in London. All are agreed that this has to change and we have an unmistakable mandate from the electorate to deliver that agenda for change.

Economic policy which is designed and administered by Whitehall will always be delivered for the benefits of the island of Britain with inadequate consideration of the special needs of the people of the North. This whilst inherently unjust, is nonetheless perfectly understandable. That is the status quo. Our needs will always be peripheral and coincidental to those of Britain, an after thought for want of a better expression. That, simply put, is why the status quo has to change, if we are to successfully plot a trajectory of growth for the Northern economy.

Consequently, not only are we excluded from the economic advances of the rest of Ireland because we are locked into the "one size fits all" approach by the British Treasury but we have to work within the parameters of an inadequate, unfair Barnett Formula and a privatisation agenda which has been imposed by politicians who are unaccountable to the electorate of the North.

Not only do these Westminster based politicians take no account of the higher cost of living here when they are calculating the block grant neither is there any special provision for the fact that we are a society emerging from conflict with all its attendant social and economic disadvantages.

While arguing for tax-varying powers during discussions with Gordon Brown, the British Treasury and latterly the Varney Review, Executive Ministers in any event, need a more realistic mechanism for calculating the Block grant that will effectively take these factors into account and ensure the allocation of funding on the basis of need and a fairer distribution of resources.

All of the parties in the many debates during the PFG process set up in the Hain Assembly phase had very clearly and consistently supported the introduction of tax varying powers to grow the regional economy, to develop and target tax incentives towards areas of high unemployment, to encourage small businesses and to enable other specific sectors such as social economy initiatives. Recent consensus reports from the PFG process demonstrated that the parties shared a clear understanding of the imperative need to acquire the tools necessary to re-invigorate the private sector of our economy. It is absolutely vital that the parties sustain that consensus as the Varney Review team prepare to report to the British Government.

In the course of many discussions Sinn Féin have made clear our aspiration to see the introduction of an unrestricted borrowing facility to replace the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative (RRI). In the event, all parties supported, at the very minimum, the separation of the RRI facility from the so-called convergence principle under which the Treasury had introduced the hated Water Charges policy. Thankfully, this measure was successfully impressed upon Gordon Brown.

The Northern economy has always suffered from the disadvantage of peripherality. Most regions in Britain have enjoyed an economic head start over the North and the British Governments own statistics of competitiveness between the regions are a damning judgement on the failure of Whitehall policy over an extended period.

In addition, intense competition between and within the regions on the island of Ireland is also an unavoidable reality. Sinn Féin would prefer that we would be working towards the harmonisation of tax regimes across the island of Ireland and a level economic playing pitch. But that is another day's work. In any event, we want to see greater local autonomy over the setting of objectives and goals for expenditure and investment.
These are only some of the issues that would provide the impetus to demand tax varying powers be given to this Assembly.

I would therefore ask that this Assembly supports the call for an adequately financed peace dividend, tax varying powers, greater economic flexibility, a lifting of the cap on borrowing and other mechanisms to raise finance for investment expenditure.

That is a reasonable and democratic response to the collective and consensus conclusions offered by the parties to this Assembly. To fail to sustain that approach, on the basis of the out-moded zero-sum politics of the past, is simply to hand game, set and match to the Treasury.

Connect with Sinn Féin