Will Sinn Fein actually be quite economically conservative in government?

It’s not impossible that the next general election, in 2024 or 2025, will be up there with 1918 or 1932 as a gamechanger election in Irish history, our version of 1945 or 1979 in the UK. It’s not impossible that for the first time in our 100 year history as a state we could end up with a Taoiseach not from FF or FG, and a governing party that up until the early 1980s denied the very legitimacy of the state itself.

It is fair to say that the election outcome will be described as a change election, proof that Nothing Ever Changes In Irish Politics ™ is simply not true. Will we see a government of radical change elected?

It depends on what we, the Irish, call change. The 1932 de Valera government did radically change the country, bringing in an entirely new constitution. The 1948 FG government took us out of the Commonwealth and symbolically declared a republic. Both parties and their various coalition partners slowly built up a modern welfare state.

What will a Sinn Fein government do that will be a radical change from its predecessors? If you read SF activists online, the declarations of radicalism peter out in the detail: yes, they talk about housing and healthcare and senior care and childcare and mental healthcare but the language is just about more of what FF/FG are already giving.

Ask them how an “Irish NHS” will differ from the HSE for those already with medical cards, and they blank. Promising to spend more money without a detailed guarantee of specific delivered objectives is not only not radical, it is the same policy that EVERY SINGLE Irish government has followed.

This is not radicalism, and SF’s leadership know it, because they know that the Irish electorate as a whole are not enthused about radical change. Sinn Fein are far more enthusiastic about taking people out of the tax base (Another FF/FG/PD/Labour favourite) than adding tax revenue to the state. Their wealth tax proposal expects to raise shy of €100m a year, which sounds like a lot until you realise our national budget is €88,000,000,000.

In other words, their wealth tax will raise 0.11% of our national budget. There are other proposals on employers PRSI, etc, that will raise more, but Sinn Fein are very cautious not to increase tax on most workers.

Why not? Because, one would assume, that they share the same reason FF/FG don’t make a loud public argument as to why we ALL should pay higher taxes for the common good. Because they don’t believe that the Irish voters will believe that higher taxes automatically mean better services. Why would they? They haven’t in the past. SF are no more radical on cutting bad public spending that FF/FG.

Economically, SF in government look like being very similar to FF in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Some tax tinkering, loudly throwing money with little regard to actual impact, and primarily borrowing until that moment when the bond markets simply refuse to provide more.

Even at that point will SF be different? Maybe some of the left in SF will start roaring and shouting about “who elects the bond markets” but it doesn’t matter: if you want more of their money you have to do what they say. At this point they could then do an Argentina and simply default, which admittedly would be incredibly radical.

But I don’t buy it. Far more likely we end up seeing minister for finance Pearse Doherty on US business news talking solemnly about how no previous Irish (FF/FG) government ever squelched on its debts to the global lenders, and he’s not going to start now. One can almost picturing the howling anguish of the Sinn Fein left with denunciations of the betrayal of Pearse, Connolly and the assorted Men/Women/Other of 1916.

That’s all well and good, but Doherty will have to make sure grannies get their pensions.

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