Sunday, November 28, 2010

Moneylenders are the real winners

With Christmas fast approaching the country is bracing itself for a savage budget. The Government has sent a very strong signal that the low-paid, those out of work and middle income earners will bear the brunt of harsh spending cuts and tax increases. The country’s top earners and the wealthy will be spared yet again. Undoubtedly we will see further hardship and more citizens living in poverty.

While canvassing recently I met a sixty-one year old woman who was shivering at the door. She ran out of heating oil and had no money to fill the tank. My heart sank as she told me she was a recovering cancer patient and I watched her tremble with cold before my eyes. Thanks to a local charity she received some assistance. I met another family of four children where both parents lost their jobs. They are unable to pay the mortgage. They cried as they showed me dozens of unpaid bills and talked about their fears for Christmas. These are the people who will get squeezed further in the budget while bondholders who invested in private banks will get billions from the Government. It is immoral and sickening.

Tens of thousands of families across the country face similar hardship. Many will be driven to unscrupulous moneylenders just to survive. The cost of Christmas will add to the pressure. The impending budget will push many over the edge. Moneylenders thrive in such circumstances. It is not the solution for these families but many are left with little choice. The answer to a debt problem is not to incur further debt.

And yet this is exactly what the Government is doing. Tonight they have concluded a very bad deal for the Irish people. They will incur further debt to pay existing debt. They will pay unrealistic and exorbitant interest rates and will ensure that a quarter of all state income will go to servicing our debt. Meanwhile they will continue to honour private banking debt that has nothing to do with the Irish people. For struggling families and Irish taxpayers generally the only winners in these times are national and international moneylenders. And how shameful is that?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New politics not old arguments

The Irish economy has suffered the equivalent of an earthquake. The aftershocks are being felt by ordinary working people and the unemployed every day. People feel betrayed by a Government who has sold its soul. They are looking for leadership and hope. They are looking for people to bring forward ideas about the future. They want real solutions and are demanding new politics.

We need a seismic shift in Irish politics. The old civil war politics needs to be laid to rest and new ideas and new opportunities emerge. This can come from the political parties. It may however come from the people. Opinion polls carried out over the last year have shown a consistent moving away from the two big parties. For the first time in the history of the state the combined vote of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has dropped below 50% in back to back polls. The combined Labour, Sinn Féin and Independent vote climbed to an historic high of 42%.

The recent Donegal by-election poll provides another glimpse of this ground breaking shift. Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty polled 40%. Who would have thought six months ago this was possible? While a lot of this can be attributed to the excellence of Pearse as a candidate and weaknesses in others, it does not tell the full story. In my view Sinn Féin is now being seen by more and more people as a real alternative. People know the big parties have failed them and lied to them. They know the cosy consensus between the big three is wrong. They are looking for something different.

And here lies the opportunity. The Labour Party has a choice to make. They can defend the status quo and seek to hold back the tide of change or they can embrace it and lead from the front. All of the signs point to them opting for the former. The real question is whether people will move ahead of the politicians. Will the voters continue to abandon the big two and embrace new possibilities? The option of a left coalition of Labour, Sinn Féin and Independents has always been dismissed as fanciful. But we are in uncharted waters and the impossible now seems possible. The decision rests with the Labour Party and its leader Eamon Gilmore – will he continue to defend old arguments or embrace new politics? Maybe the people might make his mind up for him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Politicians must lead by example

The issue of politicians pay and expenses has always been a contentious one. The common perception is that all politicians are on the make and sure aren’t ye all the same. People’s attitudes have been soured by endless scandals involving un-vouched expenses, exotic foreign trips, first class travel, limo’s, merc’s and five star hotels. The corrupt few have damaged the many.

Most of the corruption has come from the top. TD’s and Senators have been creaming it for years. Massive salaries and bloated expenses were the order of the day. It was wrong in the good times and it is wrong in the bad times. It is now time for politicians to lead by example. National politicians need to take sizeable pay cuts. Sinn Féin is proposing that Ministers have their salaries cut by 40% and TD’s and Senators by 20%. The expenses system needs to be overhauled and replaced with a transparent properly vouched system.

Local public representatives must also clean up their act. The vast majority of councillors act responsibly and earn modest incomes. However others abuse the system and this must stop. All expenses drawn down by any public representative or official should be fully vouched. I was elected in 2004. Over the six years I was in a position to avail of €33,266 in conference expenses. I claimed €9,970.72 leaving behind €23,295,28. Upcoming national and local budgets are being framed as I type. Politicians need to lead by example and nothing less should do.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All changed, changed utterly

We all knew it would happen as the writing was on the wall. The great bailout has arrived. The Government’s blanket bank guarantee coupled with its reckless deficit reduction strategy has left us without any credibility. The international money lenders deserted us. Our European partners closed ranks. The noose was tightened around our country’s neck. A decision was made to save the Euro and sacrifice Ireland. And all the time the Government lied to us.

As a citizen, a taxpayer and a parent I am angry. I am proud to be Irish and of its people. I am proud of the talent, ingenuity and ability of the Irish people. I am angry that such a proud nation has been sold out by its political leaders. The word sovereignty is being bandied about as if it means nothing, as if it’s of no importance. Sovereignty is about having the power to make our own decisions. A Republic is about the people being sovereign and Government acting in the best interests of its people. How hollow that sounds when you consider the sense of betrayal that Irish people will now undoubtedly feel.

The government, certain economists and sections of the media will begin the job of convincing us that a bailout is our best and only hope. They will ridicule suggestions of an alternative just as they have done throughout this crisis. They will seek to convince us that there is no other way. This needs to be tackled head on – an EU/IMF bailout will further indebt the Irish people. It is not in the best interests of this state. It is not in the best interests of working people and those out of work. We need to stand up for Ireland and start making the right decisions.

What this country needs is a credible recovery plan. The first step on this journey must be to rid ourselves of this Government. We need a General Election and fast. We need to abandon failed slash and burn policies and change course. We need a plan that will save existing jobs, create new jobs, stimulate the economy and protect front line services. We need a more realistic and credible deficit reduction strategy that increases revenue and achieves savings in public spending. We in Sinn Féin have put forward an alternative. Today the party’s election candidates gathered in Dublin to discuss the crisis. Events are changing by the minute. Today all changed, changed utterly. It remains to be seen whether a terrible beauty will be born.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A leadership decision at a time of crisis

Few events shock me in politics. However I have to admit to being a bit taken aback when I heard the news that Gerry Adams was to resign his assembly seat and later his Westminster seat to contest the General Election in the South. Gerry will seek the nomination in the Louth constituency and will challenge for a Dáil seat. This is a brave and courageous move. He is resigning from one of the safest seats in Ireland and one he fought so hard to win. It is the type of decision only leaders make and it is not without its risks.

Some will question his motives while others will seek undermine his campaign. Sections of the establishment media will go into overdrive and let’s not rule out character assassination. The real issue is that Gerry Adams MP, leader of the largest nationalist party in the North and Irish republican is seeking election to the Dáil on republican politics. While some may seek to be dismissive, he and Sinn Féin will focus on the future.

We are already shaping the debate. Fianna Fáil, the Greens, Fine Gael and Labour are part of a cosy consensus for cuts and economic contraction. Sinn Féin is standing for economic growth and recovery. We have provided fully costed and practical proposals that will turn this economy around. We will not allow the Government and so called opposition parties to shape the debate. They did so in 2007 and lied. They did so on the Lisbon Treaty and lied. We are fighting back and taking a stand. Maurice Quinlivan took a stand in Limerick. Pearse Doherty took a stand in Donegal. Gerry Adams is taking a stand today. I am taking a stand in Waterford – the next election will not just be about more of the same. Sinn Féin will provide an alternative.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For what died the sons of Róisín

For the Government the game is up. Those who lend us the money are sending the Government a resounding message – your four year strategy of cuts will not work. Quite simply they are not buying what the Government is selling. And who would blame them. The Government is promising a four year programme of austerity measures and cuts that will contract the economy. Our public finances are massively skewed towards spending, our economy is collapsing under the weight of bad policies and investors see Ireland as a busted flush.

We need to change course and fast. We need to send a signal to International investors that we can grow our economy. We need to stand up to Europe and not allow Ireland become a sacrificial lamb at the alter of the Euro. We also need to cut a deal with the bondholders. We need a consensus for recovery that is based on investment and growth and not slash and burn. We need to convince the lenders that we will grow and not cut our way out of this mess.

I advocate that we take the following steps.

(1) We start telling the truth about the deficit. It cannot be cut to the stability and growth pact levels by 2014. It simply will not happen. Investors know this. So let’s start telling the truth. It can be done by 2016 but only if we have a plan to grow the economy.

(2) We abandon plans to reduce the deficit by cuts alone. This is self defeating and will fail. If cuts are the solution we would have recovered by now. We need to raise revenue by increasing taxes on those who can afford to pay more and achieving savings in public spending through eliminating waste.

(3) We stimulate the economy. We need to have a stimulus plan running concurrently with a more realistic deficit reduction strategy. An economic and financial stimulus will create jobs, provide good value for money and position the economy to recover. International investors are more likely to respond to a growth based strategy.

(4) We need to cut a deal with the bondholders. The crisis in our banks has not gone away. They will most likely come back looking for more cash. Our immediate priority should be to cut a deal with the bondholders. These are people who took a risk. They, along with the banks and developers took a gamble and lost. Investors are not stupid. They know cutting a deal is smart. Trying to pretend you can pay when you cannot will not fool them. Let’s cut a deal and emerge with some integrity and ability to borrow again.

The country is at a cross road. We need to wrestle it back from the people who have sold us down the river. I am reminded of that famous Luke Kelly ballad ‘For what died the sons of Róisín’. It is worth reciting as we ponder a better way forward..

To whom do we owe our allegiance today?
To those brave men who fought and died that Róisín live again with pride?
Her sons at home to work and sing,
Her youth to dance and make her valleys ring,
Or the faceless men who for Mark and Dollar,
Betray her to the highest bidder,
To whom do we owe our allegiance today?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Positive Supreme Court judgement would make future challenges irrelevant

I welcome the statement from Government today that it will move the writs immediately for the by- elections in Waterford and Dublin South if it loses its Supreme Court appeal. Sinn Féin has made it clear that it will seek to defend the recent high court judgment.

This development makes any action taken by Fine Gael against the Government irrelevant, as it will be the Supreme Court challenge against the High Court judgement in favour of Pearse Doherty that will determine the holding of by-elections in Waterford and Dublin South and not any subsequent legal action taken by Fine Gael.

If the Government loses the Supreme Court appeal, the judgement will have implications for Dublin South and Waterford. The Government has stated that it will move the writs immediately for both constituencies. I welcome this development.

From the outset Sinn Féin was determined that its court case would force the Government to hold a by-election in Donegal South West before Christmas and would also force a by-election in Dublin South and Waterford. The Government’s statement today clearly shows us that the court will leave no wriggle room for more delaying tactics on the other two.

It is unfortunate the Government has chosen this path. I am pleased to hear that it has finally made a clear commitment to moving the writs if it loses its case.

It is therefore evident that any further action by opposition parties will become irrelevant. The belated actions of the Fine Gael party to mount a similar court challenge will be seen by an increasingly discerning public as no more than an opportunistic media stunt. The Sinn Féin strategy of forcing the by-elections is working. We are leading as others in Fine Gael desperately follow. Our strategy is simple – to force the holding of all outstanding by-elections and bring down this discredited Government.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Victory for democracy

Well done to Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin on a very important high court victory. The courts decision today was clear and decisive. It supported our view that the Government was acting in breach of the constitution. Fianna Fáil was showing itself to be a slightly constitutional party. The Green Party was equally as culpable and was today involved in a desperate face saving exercise.

Sinn Féin was forced to bring the Government to court. This could have been avoided if the Government sided with democracy. Instead they chose to ignore the rights of voters in a desperate attempt to save their own necks. Thanks to Pearse and Sinn Féin their anti-democratic and unconstitutional acts have been exposed. This is a victory for democracy.

A precedent has now been set. If the Government only moves the writ for Donegal South West and ignores the rights of the people of Waterford and Dublin they will again expose themselves to a legal challenge. Sinn Féin will fully study this high court judgement. If the Government seek to frustrate the rights of the voters of Waterford and Dublin South we will seek legal advice. If we have to bring the Government before the courts again we will do so.

Sinn Féin will take a stand for the rights of voters. This Government does not have a mandate for its current policies. Today’s judgement has struck a fatal blow to the lifetime of this Government. I commend the efforts of Pearse Doherty and his legal time and I wish Pearse well in any upcoming election. He has proven himself to be a real leader and man of the people.