Sinn Fein delegates gathered in Dublin today for a key party conference on economic policy.
Delegates debatied the party’s new document on enterprise and the economy, which is a significant development in the party’s economic policy.
Following today’s conference, the policy proposals will be brought before next month’s annual conference in the Royal Dublin Society, where it will be voted on by the wider membership.
Sinn Fein has said the document is just the first module in the Sinn Fein economic policy currently under development by the party’s economic policy review group.
It will be followed by two separate documents concerning taxation and fiscal policy and trade policy.
Sinn Fein’s economic policy has become a source of much media and political debate in recent months. Last year, 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he would not enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein because of the party’s economic policies.
The document was prepared by a team led by Sinn Fein national chairman Mitchel McLaughlin.
When asked at the press briefing whether the documents would fundamentally change the party’s economic policy, Mr McLaughlin said Sinn Fein “accepts the day-to-day realities” of the economy but wanted to make changes to that reality.
Pointing favourably towards the example of the Nordic countries, the party said these countries had shown that a country could be competitive internationally and yet have high-quality public services, paid for by high tax rates.
The document also has a message for the business community. It said: “We want to work together with visionary Irish entrepreneurs, researchers, farmers, trades unions and others to build a new republican ethos for Irish business -- business that can be socially responsible, have a sense of social solidarity and that sees social investment as a benefit.”
Speaking this morning, Sinn Fein General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said the party’s priority was “to build a just economy, dynamic public services and a real enterprise culture that can deliver high skilled and high paid jobs.”
“Sinn Fein wants to build a strong, stable all-Ireland economy where everyone can have a dignified and productive working life, a fair income and a good quality of life - an economy characterised by the positive redistribution of resources to eradicate poverty and social exclusion.”
Sinn Fein Enterprise and Employment Arthur Morgan said the party rejected many mainstream market orthodoxies, and that “society requires balance between growth and socio-economic rights.”
However, Mr McLaughlin said that the document alters long-held Sinn Fein beliefs, and “accepts the day-to-day realities” of the economy.
While acknowledging the influence of multinationals in the 26 Counties, Sinn Fein said O5 billion had been spent on them since 1973 at the expense of native industry, which should now be prioritised.
Accepting Sinn Fein’s decision to accept the euro, which it long opposed as part of an EU federation, the document said the currency should be used on both sides of the Border so that the island could have “one tax regime and one currency”.
“Despite our concerns regarding euro zone rules, we believe that currency harmonisation is a necessary step in paving the way for reunification,” the document stated.
Condemning the lack of training and education offered to workers in the South, Sinn Fein said the 26 Counties did not even feature in the top 10 in Europe for training.
The Government knew for “10 to 15 years” that the textile industry was going to quit Ireland but no preparations were put in place to prepare workers in Donegal for the change, said Cllr Padraig MacLochlainn, one of those who has worked on the new economic policy document.
ECONOMIC POLICIES: MAIN POINTS
Euro should become all-Ireland currency
Extra borrowing should be spent on infrastructure
Extra investment for community-run social projects
All-Ireland rail network should be created, including direct Dublin/Derry link, Western Rail corridor
Accelerated road construction from Dublin to Derry and Belfast
Motorways should be publicly funded
Semi-state air, rail and bus companies are profitable and should not be privatised.
Tax incentives for firms carrying out R&D
Extra funds should be made available for business start-ups.
End to self-regulation by professions
Colleges should build local relationships with businesses