War and the Irish economy
Sinn Féin only party to make submission to 2010 hearings
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
While the media and many of the unionist members of the Six-County Assembly girded themselves for the DUP's no confidence motion in First Minister David Trimble last week, other more important business was still going on in the Assembly.
A discussion with the same cut and thrust as the no confidence debate was echoing through Committee Room 144 as members of the SDLP and the Women's Coalition put Sinn Féin's economic policies under the examination microscope.
Sinn Féin wants the creation of a truly all-Ireland economy; the transformation of the war economy of the north into a productive and developed peace-time economy, the elimination of the economic distortions created by partition; and the introduction of genuine, deep and meaningful economic democracy
Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin's Dublin South Central representative and the party's economic policy analyst Robbie Smyth were presenting Sinn Féin's submission to the Assembly Committee dealing with Enterprise Trade and Investment.
The Committee has over the months since the restoration of the executive being hearing submissions on the highly contentious Strategy 2010 document produced in March 1999 by the Strategy Review Steering Group of the Department of Economic Development.
These hearings were instigated by Committee chairperson Pat Doherty, Sinn Féin vice president and West Tyrone Assembly member, because of concern among many organisations that 2010 was been seen as tablets of stone rather than a policy discussion document.
The controversy over 2010 has been well documented in An Phoblacht. It stems from the fact that the document purports to be a 10-year blueprint for the future development of the Six-County economy yet was formulated with little or no community or political input.
Among the many flaws in the document raised by Sinn Féin in their submission was the ``exclusion of key sectors from within the community'' from making an input in to the policy development process. Civil servants and business interests dominated the Strategic Steering Group who compiled the report. Sinn Féin also believed that the document failed to ``view equality, in all its sense, as an absolutely essential component of economic development strategy''.
2010 makes no reference to the island economy a failure it shares with the National Development Plan produced by the Dublin Government last year. There is no recognition in 2010 either of the failure of past strategies, particularly the role of the IDB.
Robbie Smyth was the chief witness for Sinn Féin at the hearing and he outlined the party's core policy position as well highlighting the core deficiencies in 2010.
Smyth told the hearing that Sinn Féin wanted to create fundamental change in the Irish economy. This he said, ``must be shaped by the needs and expectations of ordinary people''. We should he said, ``adopt a people centred approach to give communities influence over future economic and social structures in Ireland''.
Sinn Féin's overall economic objectives for economic policy were to provide sustainable and dignified livelihoods for all its citizens, to develop economic resources, human and material to their fullest. Everyone, irrespective of their background should be able to gain meaningful, well-paid, long-term employment in jobs that provide genuine security and fair conditions.
The strategic approach Sinn Féin favoured according to Smyth was ``the creation of a truly all-Ireland economy; the transformation of the war economy of the north into a productive and developed peace-time economy, the elimination of the economic distortions created by partition; and the introduction of genuine, deep and meaningful economic democracy''.
The questioning of Sinn Féin that followed centred not on the party's submission to 2010 but on the other committee member's perception of economic policies. The Sinn Féin committee members Pat Doherty and Dara O'Hagan did not participate in the questions and Doherty had to step down from the chair for the Sinn Féin section.
The SDLP's Alex Attwood took particular exception to use of the term ``war economy''. He wanted his objection to this term put ``on the record''. He also asked, though it is not clear why, does Sinn Féin still want to create a socialist republic? The polite but firm yes prompted a moment's silence from the SDLP Assembly member.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh told the committee why Sinn Féin believed community involvement was vital in economic policy formulation but this didn't seem of much interest to the other committee members, who then centred on Sinn Féin's position on the EU.
Jane Morrice asked did this mean that ``all the money should be given back''? Smyth answered by highlighting the ways EU money had been misused, including the grants to build THORP at Sellafield and the farm subsidy systems that were driving small farmers out of business and off the land. He said the EU's peace and reconciliation fund was working better because for the first time the community had been given a role in the design and use of the funds. And for the first time the EU was ensuring that the NIO were actually spending the funds properly and additionally to existing spending.
Sinn Féin's position on the single currency was also discussed, as was the party's position on the McBride principles and the jobs situation in Harland and Wolff. Smyth's response to questioning on the shipyard jobs drew considerable comment from the committee members
Smyth told the committee: ``Nobody likes to see anybody lose their jobs, but when nationalists in Belfast see heaven and earth being moved for one group, it does make them wonder why the same effort is not being made to create jobs in their areas''.
The final question of do you have any views on the recommendation that a single industrial development agency be established brought the proposal from Sinn Féin that yes there should be one development agency for the whole of Ireland. This brought the hearings to an end.
It must also be noted that Sinn Féin were the only party to make a submission on 2010 and that the unionist members of the committee absented themselves on the day because, according to Jane Morrice, ``of the nature of the submission''. The media on the day focused on the no confidence motion.
They missed something more important - a real though needlessly combative discussion on economic policy. The unionist missed out too. Maybe they have yet to realise that this is what everyone has been missing out on real debate about important issues.
Up until now nationalists and republicans were never let to the table to discuss these issues. Now that we have finally taken our place it is a shame that the representatives of the unionist community value theirs so little.