|Sinn Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald TD at the seminar|
By Theo Russell
SINN Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald TD told a seminar in London last week that the new European “fiscal compact” is “an insidious treaty which will institutionalise a regime of hardship overseen by the EU, institutionalise austerity policies and emasculate the political process in Ireland”.
She was addressing a Sinn Féin seminar, “Economic Crisis – lessons from Ireland” at the House of Commons, on the same day as the Irish government reluctantly announced a referendum on the pact. Two weeks ago the EU-IMF “Troika” visited Dublin and warned that if Anglo-Irish Bank bondholders were not repaid, “a financial ‘bomb’ would go off” in Ireland.
Sinn Féin has welcomed the referendum decision and will mount a strong campaign against ratifying the pact. As the only major party in the Republic against the consensus on repaying bank debts and slashing spending, the party’s poll ratings have leapt from 10 per cent at last year’s general election to 25 per cent now.
Dublin is faced with finding €63 billion for recapitalising its main banks and has agreed to issue promissory notes for €31 billion to pay for winding up Anglo-Irish, with the first €3 billion due at the end of March – shortly before the referendum. The total bailout for Anglo-Irish alone including interest is €47 billion, and will take at least the next 10 years to pay off.
McDonald described Anglo-Irish as “a zombie bank propped up by the state” and said: “We need to move away from a position that the banks are ‘too big to fail’, but ordinary people can suffer the consequences.”
She called for a debate on cancelling the debts of Ireland, Greece and other EU countries, and said: “We need to play hardball with the EU Troika to have some sort of structure to bringing the debt down.”
She said unemployment in Ireland was officially 14 per cent, but this excluded many self-employed people, particularly in construction. “Around 6,000 mainly young people are leaving the country every month, and over 100,000 households are in serious mortgage difficulties. We have now seen five austerity budgets in a row, with the latest cutting €3.8 billion in government spending and increasing a ‘flat’ (in other words non-progressive) tax on households.”
Pat Doherty MP re-affirmed the policy of not backing a referendum on Irish unity without first gaining the confidence of unionists. He said a recent Sinn Féin conference on Irish unity in Derry had attracted 200 people from the unionist community, out of a total of 900.
Doherty said: “Working class unionists feel absolutely abandoned and betrayed by the UUP and DUP, and what we are seeing is increasing numbers of unionists coming into Sinn Féin advice centres seeking help and support.”
He highlighted the problems created by the coalition government’s spending cuts and said that what they agreed on spending on infrastructure in the north of Ireland in negotiations for the Good Friday Agreement had now been slashed by 40 per cent.
Doherty backed a review of structures in the north which could see fewer Executive posts, Westminster and Assembly constituencies, and the number of councils reduced from 26 to 11 “super-councils”.
“Sinn Féin’s elected officials,” he added, “only take the average industrial wage, and have had no salary increase in the last five years.”