Saturday 22 October 2016

Sinn Féin is neither willing nor able to take on the responsibility of being in government

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

The decision of Sinn Féin to sign up to an electoral platform with the ultra left - only for the ultra-left to reject it - is a first-rate example of the shambles that characterises the 'alternative' supposedly on offer to voters.

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It started when Sinn Féin announced it would sign up to the Right2Change alliance in a bid to benefit from the vote transfer pact the alliance envisaged.

The development marked the end of a 20-year movement on Sinn Féin's part towards the political mainstream - and that's because this "pact" is clearly not a platform for government.

For Sinn Féin to sign up to this ragbag platform is, therefore, significant. In effect, in terms of government formation after the next election, Sinn Féin has walked off the pitch.

The reaction by some of its putative new-found allies merely proved the point.

People Before Profit announced it wouldn't ask voters to transfer to Sinn Féin. And the group to which People before Profit is supposedly aligned, the AAA, decided not to sign up at all.

So Sinn Féin is left with a ragbag which includes, among others, the Communist Party of Ireland, Direct Democracy Ireland and the National Citizens Movement.

Some prospective government that.

It is already clear that its so-called left-wing alternative hasn't the coherence to be born, never mind govern. But the posturing could come with a price.

Recent election results and opinion polls continue to suggest that Fine Gael will be the largest party after the next election. It is also clear that the only left-wing party genuinely offering - and able to provide - balance to Fine Gael is Labour.

So, let's take a look at our record. Ireland is now the continent's fastest growing economy: the narrative from the leaders of the new alliance cannot deal with this fact.

Rather, they seek to negate these improvements. In doing so, Right2Change, by denying the progress the Irish people have brought about, is handing the recovery to its opponents on the right.

The Labour Party has no intention of allowing that to happen.

Labour has been central to the turnaround and, if returned to government, will continue to improve the public finances.

If the test of any party in government is to leave the country in better shape than it found it, then Labour has delivered in spades.

But Labour has also delivered from a social democratic perspective. This has been a balanced government, not a right-wing government.

Let's look at our social democratic record.

It includes 130,000 new jobs since 2011; better conditions for workers; two minimum wage increases; a Low Pay Commission examining issues like zero- hour contracts; delivery of the X case legislation; and marriage equality.

Spending in health, education and social protection was protected in the worst of times.

USC is being reduced for all workers.

A series of welfare increases will help pensioners, families, carers and people with disabilities. We're delivering an ambitious school building programme and a record social housing programme.

We're rolling out free GP care for children, and an additional childcare year to help families.

When you look at the demands made by the left across Europe, they feature many of the measures that Labour has already delivered.

The choice in Irish politics is not between the left nirvana, as advocated by some. Rather, it's whether or not the left is prepared to take on the responsibility of advocating change and tempering the programme of the political right.

For some, party interest will always trump national interest. That's what Sinn Féin has engaged in, not expecting the similarly self-interested rejections that have followed.

For Labour, it's the other way around.

Balanced governments don't happen by accident, they have to be voted for.

Elections are usually a competition between those who want to implement their policies. In the upcoming General Election here, it will be different.

Some people are intent on avoiding the responsibility of government at all costs, regardless of the consequences for the people they purport to represent.

In other words, it won't matter what Sinn Féin say at the next election because it has no intention of being in government anyway.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is Minister of State with responsibility for New Communities, Culture and Equality

Irish Independent

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