Pre-emptive election attacks on Sinn Féin
Pre-emptive election attacks on Sinn Féin

The 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said he would rather concede power than form a coalition government with Sinn Féin, who he described as “agents of poverty and disadvantage”.

Seeking to distinguish Fianna Fail’s brand of republicanism with that of Sinn Féin, Mr Ahern cited economic policy as the main reason why he would not support a Dublin-based government involving Sinn Féin.

Selective leaks of Sinn Féin’s economic policy this week have been deployed in an assualt on the party by its political opponents in the South, who fear the party may hold the balance of power in the Dublin parliament following the general election next year or early 2007.

“Even a radical overhaul of Sinn Féin economic policy would have little real credibility after 35 years of Marxism,” Mr Ahern said.

“I believe Sinn Féin are agents of poverty and disadvantage.

“I believe the very notion of Sinn Féin in government would lead to a flight of investment, which is untenable in a small, open economy.

“For the good of the country, we cannot accept those policies in government.”

The statement, which featured prominently in the staunchly anti-republican Sunday Independent, was dismissed by observers as pre-election posturing.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Nigel Dodds accused the Taoiseach of double standards.

“Bertie Ahern has ruled out, in categorical terms, any prospect of Sinn Féin in government,” he said. “I have little doubt that the same Bertie Ahern will be at the forefront of pressure from Dublin on unionists to accept what they will not.”

The other opposition parties were also lining up to argue that their success was required to keep Sinn Féin out. On Saturday night at the 20th anniversary dinner of the Progressive Democrats in Dublin, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said: “It is time that every republican on the island of Ireland made it absolutely clear that there will be no room in democratic government, north or south, for a party or a movement that is controlled by a secret army.”

The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, speaking after his party’s annual conference at the weekend, said that he did not accept Mr Ahern’s assurances. “His track record doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. On every public occasion that he’s spoken about this, he’s gone behind the people’s backs,” he said.

Responding to the comments, Sinn Féin’s Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said these parties were “using scare tactics in the vain hope of stopping Sinn Féin’s growth”.

He said Fine Gael and the PDs were engaged in a contest over who are the biggest anti-Sinn Féiners “designed as much to damage Fianna Fail as Sinn Féin”.

And he said the Taoiseach “had a brass neck to accuse Sinn Féin of being agents of poverty and disadvantage while he presides over a wealthy economy where one in seven children live in poverty”.

Martin Ferris, the Sinn Féin TD for Kerry North, said it was not a question of whether Fianna Fail would share power with his party but rather whether Sinn Féin would actually want to enter government with Fianna Fail.

“The people will vote for who they want to see in power,” Mr Ferris said.

“Our first priority would be to put our mandate to the people, and the second is to be elected on it.

“We would only enter into a coalition government with parties in line with our policies. We would have to agree a programme of government.”

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