Ireland: Sinn Fein embraces capitalism

Republican leadership considers entering coalition government with bosses’ parties

Sinn Fein recently announced its willingness to participate in a coalition government with either of the two main big business parties in southern Ireland, Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, and has begun to shift its economic policies to the right in advance of the next General Election.

Sinn Fein’s longest-serving TD [member of the Irish Parliament] Caoimhin O’Caolain stated on behalf of the party, on 1 November, that Sinn Fein would "actively consider" coalition after the next election: "Make no mistake about it, however, this is a nettle that Sinn Fein will grasp. The only question is when. The only party that we would absolutely rule out are the Progressive Democrats."

He added, “We have ambitions that can only be achieved in power. I think Sinn Fein is able and has already demonstrated its capacity for responsible government."

Reports have appeared which indicate that a review of Sinn Fein’s economic policies, led by party chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, and former general secretary, Robbie Smyth, has been underway for over a year and aims to shift party economic policy to the right.

The Irish Times (31 October 2005) highlighted Sinn Fein plans for a 50% income tax rate on those who earn more than €100,000 per annum before detailing a number of plans which indicate a softening of Sinn Fein’s position on taxing business. These include the proposal that capital gains tax should be increased but not as far as the 40% rate that existed under the Fine Gael -Labour-Democratic Left ’Rainbow’ government (1994-7); that corporation tax should be increased (from 12%) to a modest 17.5%; and that increasing employers’ PRSI back to 12% should be rejected for fear of making "employers’ lives difficult."

The Irish Times report says: "In a 1979 Eire Nua (New Ireland) policy document Sinn Fein wanted workers, farmers and fishermen to control the means of production using co-operatives ’based on the principles of industrial democracy’. Private business would have no place in key industries and state incentives would favour co-operatives over any other type of enterprise while foreigners would be barred from owning controlling interests in Irish companies."

According to The Irish Times, the new Sinn Fein policy draft states: "Republicans today recognise that we are in a vastly different world. Today’s global economy and membership of the EU mean that the economic protectionism of past years is no longer viable. Ireland, north and south, is part of a wider world and a wider European economy."

However, Sinn Fein is not only rejecting protectionism, they are rejecting control of the means of production by any class other than the capitalist elite. Talk of workers’ control of the means of production was always "holiday speechifying" for Sinn Fein, but these policies must be replaced now, no doubt to demonstrate "capacity for responsible government".

Sinn Fein will, no doubt, continue to put on a "left face" in working class communities and build support in the hope that people don’t look at the small print. Those who vote Sinn Fein as a protest against the big capitalist parties, and who are now willing to look at this small print will be shocked to learn that the party would "actively consider" putting Fine Fail or Fine Gael back in power after the next election. Those who see Sinn Fein as a party campaigning for a "democratic socialist republic" will be shocked to learn that the party embraces big business control of the economy.

Those who want socialist change in Irish society, those who reject coalition with right-wing parties and those who oppose big business control of the economy are clearly going to have to look well beyond Sinn Fein to find what they are looking for.

This article appears in the November 2005 issue of the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland)

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November 2005