Sunday, February 21, 2016

On Voting Sinn Féin In #GE16

I am old. Not quite old enough to be offered seats on public transport, but old enough to have finished secondary school in the last millennium. At 35 it seems I'm at the opening stages of middle age. There is much to recommend it.

One part of growing up in the eighties and nineties is memories of what we euphemistically called 'the troubles'. Bombings. Punishment beatings. Attacks that killed children. Kangaroo courts convicting mothers of being informants and not even allowing their children the dignity of a burial. The protection of pederasts. This was the context in which I learned of Sinn Féin and it has left me with something of a bias.

But a bias is not a thing to celebrate. In the comfortable safety of Dublin I was never directly affected by terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, and I recognise that many who suffered greatly have chosen to prioritise their region's future and work with former enemies. I admire their strength.

Calling this to mind I'm trying to evaluate Sinn Féin on the commitments made in the flyer I received from their canvasser and his wider comments. I'm fortunate in that I need only look north to see how Sinn Féin perform in government. I'll be contrasting their pledges for the Republic with their performance in Stormont to decide what preference to give them.

Below I write their commitments in bold and follow with comparisons to outcomes in Northern Ireland.

Increase the minimum wage to €9.65 an hour. By contrast the minimum wage in Northern Ireland is £6.70, or €8.67 at time of writing. The minimum wage in the Republic is €9.15, noticeably higher than up north.
End zero hour contracts. They have not done so in Northern Ireland. They did try.
Move to cap childcare fees by increasing creche capitation rates. Here it's instructive to contrast how Sinn Féin in government compares to England, Scotland and Wales. There's a full survey folks will likely find interesting, but a key table is worth including here. You'll find it on page 22. All regions receive comparable funding but by any measure Northern Ireland is the worst performer.


Entitlement to free early education for three and four year olds Entitlement to free early education for two year olds
England 570 hours per year for all three and four year olds, amounting to 15 hours per week over 38 weeks of the year 570 hours per year for the 40 per cent most income deprived two year olds and certain other groups such as looked after children
Northern Ireland One year of part-time (12.5 hours per week) free early education for four year olds only, in the year before school and only during term-time None
Scotland 600 hours per year for all three and four-year-olds 600 hours per year for children in workless households, extended in August 2015 to take in children in families receiving free school meals and other benefits such as Working Tax Credits. This will cover about 27 per cent of the age cohort
Wales A minimum of 10 hours per week for all three and four year olds Part-time free early education for 36,000 disadvantaged children living in deprived areas delivered through the Flying Start programme

Reduce the third level contribution by €500. Fees in Northern Ireland have a ceiling of 3,805. That's €4,924 at today's exchange rate. In the Republic the ceiling is €3,000, nearly two thousand euro cheaper than what Sinn Féin have delivered in government.
Abolish the property tax in year one. There is still a property tax in Northern Ireland.
Deliver 100,000 social and affordable homes. But homelessness is higher in Northern Ireland than here or in any other Sterling area.
Introduce legislation to limit interest rates that banks can charge. This hasn't happened in the North.
Increase spending on healthcare by 3.3 billion. The NI health budget is up 1% on last year. A 3.3 billion increase to the HSE budget would be roughly a 25% increase. The comparison between HSE and NHS should, of course, not be viewed as simple.
We will reduce class sizes. The Sinn Féin minister for education is cutting 1,500 teachers' jobs in Northern Ireland.
We will recruit 3,000 gardaí over our government term. But in Northern Ireland the police budget has been cut by more than £200 million over the past five years. Their numbers are below resilience level, there are no plans to recruit, and morale could not be lower.

I could be flippant and suggest that they are pursuing different goals north and south of the border, but that would be unproductive. Some say they are hamstrung by coalition with the DUP. If this is the case then it's a strong argument against voting for them - their best case is to be junior coalition partner to a more right wing party here, and if they can't make it work in the North there is little reason to believe they could do so on Kildare street.

Others have suggested that they are hamstrung by Westminster's budget. I'll agree that the economy of Northern Ireland is performing poorly and that they are dependent on wider UK funding, but this hardly recommends Sinn Féin. They are also the party who claimed vociferously and at some length that they could negotiate a better deal from the EU. If they cannot get a better deal from London, why think they could do so from Brussels?

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Haven't SF ruled out being junior coalition partners? Which further reduces the reasons for voting for them.

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Haven't SF ruled out being junior coalition partners? Which further reduces the reasons for voting for them.

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