We Need New Economic Thinking, New Ideas and an Honest Approach
Pádraig MacLochlainn TD, Sinn Fein spokesperson of Justice & Equality
The theme – “A Visionary National Development Plan – The Most Fitting Monument To 1916?” invites us to collectively confront the many challenges facing modern Ireland and to do so, by driving a national policy programme which shapes our long-term political, social, economic and cultural direction of travel – a roadmap for 21st century Ireland.
As a proud Donegal and Ulster man and a republican TD, you can imagine I have much to say on the type of Ireland I want to see for the future – both as an island and a nation.
DECADE OF CENTENARIES
The theme is fitting during this decade of centenaries. Those whom we remember during this period were indeed visionaries, and any National Development Plan must indeed be visionary in its approach as well. During this important decade of centenaries, important space continues to be carved out and brave initiatives taken which allows all of us from each tradition and culture – whether of an Irish or British identity – to develop a deeper understanding of each other and those key events which shaped our history from 1912-1922.
The historic events of that period still have real effect on contemporary Ireland – not least in terms of the century long partition that exists, and the subsequent division and political conflict this generated over many decades. Thankfully, we have emerged from those painful decades of political conflict. However, our country remains deeply affected from the legacy of our past. Post-conflict peace building, democracy and recovery efforts are essential to achieving a just and lasting peace. We may never come to agree a shared narrative of the past, but we must share and build a new future – together.
CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF THE NORTH
The Good Friday Agreement, signed at the multi-party negotiations in the North and by both the Irish and British Governments on 10th April 1998, and overwhelmingly endorsed through referenda North and South in May 1998, is the bedrock of the peace process today. It must be safeguarded and fully implemented, along with the other subsequent Agreements.
It is unacceptable for any party to game play with the peace process in order to point score against another or try to win any short-sighted election benefit. The Agreement belongs to the people of this island – not any political party.
The Good Friday Agreement states that, “it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a United Ireland, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”.
As an Irish republican, and a Sinn Féin TD, I consider it to be my task and responsibility to actively work with others to unite communities and build a modern nation, and persuade our unionist neighbours and every other citizen of the merits of a United Ireland and achieve the right of self-determination on the basis of consent. Not for the sake of it, but because it is how we will strengthen our democratic future as a society.
We want a country which embraces those of a unionist persuasion and to be defined by new friendships, human dignity and a common purpose and for this to be both the starting point, and the cornerstone of any New Ireland and – of a real Republic where citizens’ democratic and constitutional rights and safeguards are in fact realised – as envisaged in the Proclamation of 1916. I believe it is the duty of the Irish government to promote all-Ireland policies and strategies, benefiting all parts of the island – not only this State. I want an Irish government who will actively seek to persuade Unionists in their diversity, through dialogue, of the advantages of unification for all the people who share this island – an Irish government who will prepare politically, economically, socially and culturally for Irish unification, identifying the necessary steps and measures, including a Green Paper, which can assist a successful transition to re-unification. These are the exact things that Sinn Féin would do in government to achieve real change and a new political and economic dispensation.
NATIONAL DEMOCRATION PROGRAMME
I believe that the theme – “A Visionary National Development Plan – The Most Fitting Monument To 1916?” requires a government with courage who will be sovereign, act in the interests of citizens first and not EU elites, who will refuse to limit their policies to a shortlist of window dressing false promises which negatively impact and assault working people and communities through relentless austerity policies of stealth taxes and cuts to public services which are destroying the social fabric of Irish society – both rural and urban. Ultimately, the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government’s recklessness led to a fundamental breakdown of trust in Irish politics and the political system.
The National Development Plan thought up, in the government of which Michéal Martin was a part, was ultimately short-sighted in its vision. It lacked real vision in terms of rural development, cross-border cooperation and development, and in helping to deliver for the needs of citizens across the island. This short-sightedness has only been compounded by Fine Gael/Labour. In 2011, the Irish people believed they were voting for something different, but got ‘more of the same’.
We need a government who actually stand for something and who will stand up for Ireland putting the interests of the citizens first rather than bankers and golden elites. What the Irish people deserve is a government who are anchored by core values which chime with the reality of people in the real world. We need a government that stands for peace, social equality, economic prosperity and Irish unity. These are Sinn Féin’s core values to which we are deeply committed.
Sinn Féin wants to deliver:
That means that in government Sinn Féin will abolish water charges. We will scrap the Property Tax. Sinn Féin will introduce a Wealth Tax. We will bring in a third rate of income tax for those individuals earning over one hundred thousand euro; that’s seven cents on every euro over one hundred thousand euros. And Sinn Féin will take a further two hundred thousand people out of the Universal Social Charge. We will deliver on rural development. We will deliver on all-Ireland projects and continue to make real progress in the Assembly, rather than merely paying lip service to the North. We believe that a fair recovery is possible which must be built on real investment in real jobs. Foreign direct investment is an important part of the economic mix for the island of Ireland but our SME sector is the greatest source of future job growth.
The economic crisis and austerity policies of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil have forced half a million of our people to leave. Emigration has been used as an economic valve which is turned on and off. This has been disastrous.
T. K. Whitaker was without doubt a skilled and visionary public servant and economist who played a critical role with Sean Lemass in the new economic planning model adopted by Ireland in the post war world. He was born in 1916 and is certainly an Irish patriot in his own right.
He understood the emerging realities confronting Ireland going forward in the 1950s, which was at that time suffering massive unemployment, economic stagnation, forced emigration and obvious low living standards. A problem solver, he recognised the decline of protectionism and growing economic co-operation and free trade, and therefore steered the economy from further economic stagnation through his Programme for Economic Expansion in 1958.
However, fifty years later and by no fault of Dr Whitaker, the Irish economy collapsed rather than consolidated under the stewardship of the Fianna Fáil government, including Micheál Martin.
Through a conservative and neo-liberal policy of relentless austerity, Fine Gael supported by the Labour party are taking the State, yes, to a post-crisis situation but it’s a two tier recovery which serves one section of society over another.
Because Labour have abandoned their promised social democratic model and core values which should anchor their approach, they are failing to rebuild the economy on the basis of a progressive, fair or sustainable socio-economic model. At this critical juncture an alternative is now required if we are intent on devising a visionary plan as a monument to 1916 which is based on economic reality and sound policies.
We need new economic thinking, new ideas and an honest and coherent political approach. An integrated and sustainable policy plan based on core republican values and guiding principles can deliver this as a fitting monument to 1916. This means a truly visionary Development Plan and Democratic Programme for a New Ireland. This means a new political leadership. And this means, a Sinn Féin led government.