The following is the opening address to Sinn Fein’s ‘think-in’ ahead of the resumption of the Dublin parliament next month, by the Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain.
We have three main tasks to focus on today and to pursue in the period up to and beyond the Budget:
* To present the constructive and progressive Sinn Fein alternatives to the disastrous policies of the Fianna Fail-Green Coalition Government.
* To join with communities the length and breadth of the country in fighting the cuts and demanding a real strategy for job creation.
* To strengthen the Sinn Fein mandate and ensure the return of more Sinn Fein TDs at the next General Election.
Ta clar oibre soileir ag Sinn Fein - cur i gcoinne na gciorraithe, straiteis fostaiochta a chur os chomhair an phobail agus meadu ar neart ar bpairti san Oireachtas.
We meet at a time of deepening recession with 455,000 people unemployed in this State, half a million on the whole island. Mass unemployment and emigration are the direct consequences of the boom and bust policies pursued by Fianna Fail-led governments since 1997.
Fianna Fail may publicly try to deny their responsibility for the social and economic mess in this State, but they know and everyone else knows that they cannot shirk that responsibility and they will pay dearly for it come the General Election.
The question now is how much more damage will they do to Irish society and to the Irish economy before they are thrown out of office?
The Fianna Fail-Green Coalition response to the recession has been as fundamentally flawed as the mismanagement that led to the recession in the first place.
That is seen above all in their appalling handling of the banking collapse. They have poured billions of the people’s money into the zombie Anglo-Irish Bank, the very financial institution which, more than any other, fuelled the madness of the property boom. They have kept in place a bank guarantee which is costing the taxpayer dearly, demands little accountability from the banks and allows them to continue to exploit customers with excessive interest rates, massive mortgage debt and a credit famine for viable businesses. Sinn Fein’s opposition to the legislation that set the terms of the bank guarantee has been vindicated.
The zombie Anglo-Irish Bank should have been wound up and the gamblers who bet on it should have taken the hit, not the ordinary taxpayer.
We need a strong State bank that serves the people and not multi-millionaire executives and shareholders.
A commission should be established to examine the most responsible and economically safe method of dismantling NAMA, another huge imposition on the Irish people, courtesy of Fianna Fail and the Greens.
Not only is this shower of incompetents leaving us the toxic legacy of the recession, they are leaving us the toxic legacy of their criminally incompetent response to the recession.
And, make no mistake, this is having a real and damaging and lasting impact on people’s lives. Each of the 455,000 jobless is a real person, not just a statistic.
In education Government cuts mean dilapidated schools, larger classes and neglect of special needs.
In health the cuts mean longer waiting lists, cancelled operations, more people on trolleys and chairs in A&E, hospital services closed down. If the recruitment ban in the public health services is maintained over the next three years then a further 6,000 posts will remain unfilled.
All of this is being done in pursuit of a totally flawed fiscal policy that dictates the cutting of [euro]3 billion in public spending each year up to 2014. That includes at least [euro]3 billion in the forthcoming Budget, as Brian Lenihan was so eager to remind us. The softening up process has already begun.
Unfortunately for Brian, his colleague, Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister Batt O’Keeffe let the cat out of the bag when he said they would be taking [euro]3 billion “out of the economy”. That is exactly what they are doing, imposing public spending cuts that take the life blood out of the Irish economy.
Many economic commentators would have us believe that savage cuts to vital public services are inevitable. That is not the case. In 2009 Sinn Fein identified [euro]3.059 billion that could be raised and saved, without attacking public services and the incomes of the least well off.
Sinn Fein has also done what the Government has failed to do and that is to produce a coherent jobs strategy. Investment in job retention and job creation will make a real difference in people’s lives and provide a real return to public finances.
We have set out our proposals in detail and I call on the other opposition parties to do so also. A Fine Gael/Labour coalition is being presented as the inevitable outcome of the next General Election. But what would their programme for government be? We don’t know.
What we do know is that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny recently parroted the discredited catch-phrase of George Bush the First: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Of course George reneged on that one. Enda’s political fiancee, Eamon Gilmore, said, quite rightly, that nobody could give such a commitment. But then Labour’s Finance spokesperson, Joan Burton, when asked would Labour carry out Fianna Fail’s plan to take the lowest paid into the income tax net refused to rule it out.
The truth is that there are still too many privileged individuals not paying their fair share of tax - and I don’t mean workers on and below the minimum wage. Those workers should remain outside the income tax net.
Real political change requires more than just a change of Government. That is why Sinn Fein is a campaigning party. We are in our communities fighting against the cuts and for economic justice. Only people power will bring about real change. The real coalition we need is a coalition of communities, trade unions, voluntary organisations, campaigning groups and parties of the left to shape a better, fairer Ireland.
The current Government has bred disgust and disillusionment with politics. They are hoping people have their heads down and will accept the forthcoming savage budget with little protest. But people have become politicised. They will not accept this lying down. For our part we will be stepping up our campaigning work, culminating in a pre-Budget rally against cuts in Dublin on Saturday, 4 December.
Today we will plan our work for the months ahead.
We are challenging the Government in the courts on its refusal to hold the long overdue Donegal South-West by-election. It should proceed this autumn as should those in Waterford and Dublin South. A Government with no mandate from the people for NAMA and the bank bailout and their savage cuts has added insult to injury by denying full representation to the people.
We are preparing for a General Election which may occur at any time. The sooner the better as far as we are concerned. We are confident that we will strengthen the Sinn Fein mandate and provide the effective leadership that is so badly needed in Ireland today.