Unionists in Belfast would benefit from an all-Ireland economy, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said as he launched his party’s platform for the election to the Belfast Assembly.
The high-profile press briefing took place in Belfast’s Odyssey Arena ahead of the March 7 election.
As he surveyed the city’s docks, the West Belfast MP revealed: “I was saying to Martin (McGuinness) just now: look at this place here. What price the Union now? When there used to be a shipbuilding industry and a linen industry there might have been some value in having a connection with the Union, when it was an empire.”
Mr Adams also urged the rival Democratic Unionists to send British ministers home from the North of Ireland for good.
“Our argument is if there is a Celtic Tiger (in the Irish Republic), why should it stop at the border? Why cannot it come into East Belfast?”
“Is anyone telling me the loyalist people of East Belfast are not going to accept jobs and the economic dividends that would come out of the Celtic Tiger if there is a 32 County Celtic Tiger?”
Sinn Féin’s platform included calls for the harmonisation of Corporation Tax levels in both parts of Ireland, a single currency and the amalgamation of inward investment agencies on both sides of the border.
Mr Adams repeated that the Sinn Féin preference was for “plan A” on March 26th - the resurrection of the Northern executive - but “if the DUP refuse to accept the outcome of this election”, then the Dublin and London governments must press ahead with “plan B”, a greater role for Dublin in the affairs of the North.
Sinn Féin won 24 seats in the 2003 Assembly elections and this time out it is running 37 candidates, competing in all 18 constituencies.
Its primary targets are for first-time seats in Lagan Valley and South Antrim, and is seeking gains in West Tyrone and West Belfast.
The Sinn Féin campaign is peaking in the final stages of the election. Not only did the party launch its manifesto yesterday but this weekend it is holding its annual general ardfheis - as distinct from the special policing ardfheis at the end of January - which will gain the party significant publicity, including the broadcasting of Mr Adams’s keynote address on Saturday.
Mr Adams said people of all political persuasions wanted to see the British Direct Rule Ministers sent home.
“There is no reason why this should not happen by March 26th,” he said.
“There is an onus on local politicians to deliver on services for the elderly, the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
“There is a need for an anti-poverty strategy, and for first class health and education services.
“There is also a duty to oppose the water charges and the unfair rates burden being imposed by British direct Rule Ministers.
“Sinn Féin is making pledges on all these issues.”
The following are Sinn Féin’s ten commitments to change:
1. POLITICAL PROCESS: Restore political institutions; Full delivery on Good Friday Agreement; Expand all-Ireland agenda; Increase All-Ireland Implementation Bodies; Island wide referendum on Irish Unity; Promote a United Ireland.
2. ECONOMY: #10 billion 10 year Peace Dividend; Tax Varying Powers for Assembly; Executive Borrowing Facility NOT the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative (RRI) negotiated by Mark Durkan and David Trimble that led to the Water charges; Oppose Water Charges and privatisation - open debate and consultation and ensure that under funding is met by British government; Increase financial support for indigenous small and medium businesses and social economy projects and for Research and Development and island wide networking & clustering to boost innovation.
3. EQUALITY: Promote equal rights for all. Ring fence percentage of budget to tackle economic inequality and poverty - ensure all resources are targeted on the basis of need; Time framed Strategy to eliminate Child Poverty; Commissioner for Older People.
4. RURAL AFFAIRS: Rural Regeneration Strategy; Remove ‘UK’ status from food exports; Ireland GM free; Reject PPS 14 and reform planning to allow rural people to live within own community; End cutbacks in provision of public services to rural communities.
5. HEALTH: Resource Bairbre de Brun’s ‘Investing for Health’ Strategy; Remove barriers to GP access in Rural areas and expand all-Ireland GP Out-of-Hours Service; Reduce waiting lists, managed through basis of clinical need alone; Oppose Privatisation of services and staff; Fully implement regional Suicide Strategy.
6. EDUCATION: End academic selection - replace with parental choice and Pupil Profiles to transfer to all ability post primary education; extra money to schools where measured social and educational need high; legislation to guarantee rights of children with autism and specific needs; Resource Integrated and Irish Medium education.
7. HOUSING: Tackle social housing crisis and waiting lists through annual target of 5,000 new builds per year - target 70,00 new homes for social housing by 2025; Compulsory Purchase of vacant properties; legislation to ensure that 30% of private development social or affordable.
8. ENVIRONMENT: All-Ireland Environmental Protection Agency; Ban on municipal incinerators; Introduce Plastic Bag Levy.
9. POLICING AND JUSTICE: Civic Policing; Transfer of Powers; Truth and Victims; dismantle structures of collusion; end use of plastic bullets; enhance community safety measures.
10. INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Opposition to the war in Iraq; Support for Peace Processes in the Middle East and Basque Country; Support for debt cancellation and fair trade.