Sinn Fein and the Left

This originally appeared on Liberal Conspiracy

With polls showing support for the Irish Labour Party plummeting amidst poor performance as the junior-party of the current coalition government (akin to the liberal democrats across the sea), some in in the Republic of Ireland are looking to Sinn Fein as a credible left alternative.

A Sunday Times and Behaviour and Attitudes poll has put Sinn Fein’s support at 25%. Though, is it wise to trust that the Shinners will stick to their promises of equality and solidarity, or is there newfound commitment to equality simply for electoral reasons?

What is interesting about Sinn Fein is their ability to campaign.

They are essentially a political body in three different places. In Northern Ireland, where they are performing very well and Martin McGuiness is leading them in power-sharing with Peter Robinsons DUP, in the Republic where they have a small number of seats in Dail Eireann but whose popular support is rising day by day, and in the United States where members regularly campaign to win the support and funding of Irish-Americans (who bizarrely tend in some cases to be the most nationalist of all).

In Northern Ireland, it’s easy for them to blame all the countries woes on partition and the government in Westminster, likewise in the south they blame the current government, and often evoke the name of Thatcher to attack right-wing economic policies (whose dislike is one place who republicans and socialists share); while in the US they downplay their ‘left-wing’ policies and speak strictly about reuniting Ireland.

For this reason, the party has support from members of the ultra-right Republican party, all of whom who would most definitely disagree with Sinn Fein’s ‘progressive’ ideals.

There may be some within the party that are genuinely committed to these principals. The parties Finance Spokesperson in the South Pearse Doherty has complained about allegations in The Irish Times that the party are adhering to populism and are acting in a cynical and underhanded manner. He argued that Sinn Fein is “committed to building a prosperous and equal Ireland”, and this is the real reason for the latent success in the Republic.

However, at the party’s annual conference last weekend a motion was called to add a modest 2.5 per cent temporary levy on Ireland’s low 12.5% corporation tax. Delegates unanimously immediately rejected this motion, and finance spokesman Doherty argued against it citing that it would “increase the tax burden” on companies trying to survive.

While he may have a point the fact that, as Paul Galvin of Limerick who argued for the motion pointed out, 63 per cent of Irish companies paid no tax in 2010, and of those who did many paid as low as 4 per cent due to various loop holes and deductions.

The fact that a supposed party of the left unanimously is rejecting modest tax increases on wealthy corporations shows to this writer that perhaps Sinn Fein are not exactly as committed to equality as they claim to be.

Adams and McGuinness talk about equality and changing the status quo of neoliberalism and austerity now, but will they stick to their word and fundamentally change things in office? Some progressives may be able to look past their previous violent endeavours in hope of a change in government policy but will they be able to stick to their promise? Time will tell.


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