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Sam Smyth: SF's policy is hypocrisy -- on both sides of Border

FLYING high in the opinion polls, Sinn Fein speaks from both sides of its mouth when it talks about spending cuts in the South and government budgets in the North.

And the coalition parties of Fine Gael and the Labour Party have now joined the SDLP and UUP in the North to cast Sinn Fein as hypocrites.

Fianna Fail, its opposition rivals in the Dail, have lashed Sinn Fein's "spend, spend, spend" message in Dublin while signing off on welfare cuts in Belfast.

In the Northern Ireland Executive, Sinn Fein ministers have implemented swingeing spending cuts -- while objecting to budget cuts from the opposition benches in the Republic.

Sinn Fein has avoided the responsibilities of economic ministries in the Northern Ireland Executive, opting instead for the less controversial departments of education, agriculture and culture and the arts.

But while it continually calls for more funds for jobs in the Republic, the administration in Belfast underspent their budget in Invest NI -- the North's equivalent of the IDA -- by almost €50m.

Critics dismiss Sinn Fein's claim that the British government imposes the cuts in various sectors, including welfare, and point out that the party makes a legislative choice by voting for cuts in the North.

"The assembly has parity with Westminster, unlike the taxation regime, so welfare cuts are a legislative choice of the assembly," said a leading academic in Belfast.

"And Sinn Fein has made no substantive effort to change this parity principle despite their stated position."

Observers also point out that despite taking millions in expenses, Sinn Fein has consistently refused to take its seats at Westminster to put their case against cuts.

Sinn Fein double-speak was highlighted on March 10, 2010, when Sinn Fein voted in the Northern Ireland Assembly to cut government spending by Stg£3bn (€5bn) over four years.

But in his reply to the Budget nine months later, Caoimhghin O Caolain, its then leader in the Dail, said: "For out part, we in Sinn Fein are quite clear: we have rejected the consensus on cuts."

In Dublin, Sinn Fein has called for a €100,000 cap on public servants in the Republic. Yet in Belfast, a recent recruiting advertisement seeking a CEO for the First Legislative Counsel in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, offers a salary of up to Stg£205,000 (€255,000).

Below are listed examples of Sinn Fein's forked-tongue approach to government spending and budget cuts, North and South:

EDUCATION

In the Republic, Sean Crowe, Sinn Fein's spokesman on education, warned about the closure of rural schools in February of this year.

Mr Crowe accused the Government of "targeting mainstream and particularly small rural schools to spread unjust cuts . . ."

But in the North, Sinn Fein's Education Minister John O'Dowd said a "sustainable schools policy could lead to the closure of 70 schools".

In November of last year, Mr O'Dowd said: "I have therefore decided to close the (two rural) schools in (Co Armagh) as I am confident that the children's needs can be best met at alternative schools in the area."

HOUSEHOLD CHARGES

In the Republic, Sinn Fein has repeatedly attacked the introduction of a €100 household charge.

But in the North, Sinn Fein in government implements household taxes more than ten times higher than the proposed household charge in the Republic.

A householder in Derry with a house worth the average price in the North pays an annual charge of Stg£1,259 (€1,428).

WATER CHARGES

In the Republic, Sinn Fein has campaigned against the introduction of water charges.

But Sinn Fein MLA Mitchell McLaughlin has defended water charges in the North, a separate charge on top of the household charge there, and attacked the SDLP for opposing them.

Sinn Fein's former regional development minister Conor Murphy declined to reverse the decision to meter water in the North when he was in office.

WELFARE CUTS

In the Republic, Sinn Fein has opposed all cuts in social welfare since the economic crisis began.

In the North, Sinn Fein in government has signed off on welfare cuts that could total Stg£600m (€747m).

One in 10 welfare recipients in the North -- significantly more than any other part of Britain -- are on disability allowance.

But Sinn Fein is prepared to impose a Stg£500-a-week (€622) cap on households receiving it.

REPOSSESSION OF HOMES

In the North, repossession of homes has doubled in the past two years -- more than 1,000 homeowners had to return their door keys, despite Sinn Fein sharing power in government.

Yet in the Dail, Sinn Fein constantly criticises the Government for house repossessions.