Changes to its budgetary policies do not indicate a radical change in political direction for Sinn Fein, the party has insisted.
A decision by the left-wing organisation to move its long-standing plans for a wealth tax out of its formal costed pre-budget submission and include it as an additional proposal linked to job creation was described as a “dramatic departure” by Irish Times journalist Harry McGee.
With recent polls showing the party has nearly caught the two main centre-right parties in public support and now far surpassing the rival left-wing Labour Party, there is speculation that Sinn Fein is now moving on to woo middle class voters.
A move away from socialist economic policies could help win seats for the party in rural areas, but potentially lose it support in urban areas, where hard left candidates remain popular.
The party’s policy of a tax on Ireland’s wealthiest at 1% over one million euro in wealth could bring in 800 million euro each year, a sum which could help find the 2 to 2.5 billion euro adjustment sought by the government. However, it said the reliability of its figures was questioned last year by a tax expert, and the plan has now been relegated to an ancillary role.
The Sinn Fein Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty denied the wealth tax plan was being scrapped, and said that the party will deal with wealth assets as a special category, with all revenue generated being ring-fenced for job creation.
“Instead of putting the measure in and leaving ourselves open to the accusation that this is not costed, we will [separate it out] and rely on other measures to reduce the deficit to the target amount,” he said.
He revealed the party is also controversially changing its policy of a cap of 100,000 euro on public service bosses -- to introduce “a more considered approach”, he said.
“It was a blunt instrument that was introduced as an emergency measure during the crisis. We have a more considered approach that is conscious of what happened in the Haddington Road Agreement [on public sector pay]. We are introducing the first step of that. There will be grades of reduction for those earning above 100,000 euro,” he said.
Dublin South Central Labour councillor Michael O’Sullivan said it was significant Sinn Fein was no longer including a wealth tax as part of its “real budget”, and that the party was “finding it hard to admit” to the change.
Speaking at the party’s annual ‘think-in’ today, Mr Doherty also expressed the party’s concerns over the government’s acceptance of a ten billion euro ‘contingency fund’ from the European Union, which Sinn Fein said would likely come with austerity conditions and amounted to a second bailout.
Party leader Gerry Adams said it was the “greed of the elites” which caused the financial crisis.
“My concern would be that once again, ordinary citizens would have to pay for this,” he said.
“It is prudent for any government to cushion itself, but not on the record of this government - which all the time has been deferential to the elites and at the same time has been punitive to citizens, working people, and lower and middle income families,” he said.