Sinn Fein, it is said, stands poised to ditch what
passes for its socialist economic philosophy, and
embrace a style of capitalism similar to what currently
exists within the Nordic countries. As in 'discovering'
that the pope wants to pray there is nothing newsworthy
in learning that Sinn Fein wants to ditch something
once held dear, once worth killing for, once sacred
enough to die for. When the snake sheds its skin
seemingly the lot goes.
economics, the Adams controlled party has never
waxed persuasive and the opposition has found it
profitable to probe this Achilles heel. Although
it is far from certain that the same opponents comprehend
Sinn Fein's fiscal understanding. Bertie Ahern characterised
it as 35 years of Marxism. But then Bertie happens
to think of himself as a socialist. While it emulates
the Stalinist mode of control beloved by vanguard
parties Sinn Fein has never pretended to be a Marxist
party. Those Marxists who ever belonged to the Adams
outfit quickly went native or departed. Either way,
Free Presbyterianism would emerge as a more suitable
ally for the party than any Marxist tendency.
the Big Lad's talents, economics is simply not his
metier. When confronted with mere schoolboy level
knowledge his inclination is to respond like the
inattentive student bluffing his way through a particularly
difficult exam question. His weakest media performance
in years came via an RTE interview about Sinn Fein
designs for the economy. The fallback position of
blaming the securocrats for devising stinkers about
the laws of supply and demand is not readily available.
Hard to hang that on Joe Pilling or the IMC. The
vacuous sound bites are there for all to see - plenty
of sound, little bite.
is hardly alone in respect of tenuous economic grasp.
If in possession of it most party leaders do a good
job in concealing their firm grounding in academia's
dismal discipline. They prefer the guff and bluff
strokes easily administered with the macro brush,
knowing instinctively that microeconomics is a minefield
laden with tripwires and booby traps for those not
on top of their game. They get away with it largely
because their economic discourse is hardly challenging
to the existing order, fitting all too easily into
the societal consensus. Even when wrong, they are
never that wrong. A little shoehorning and they
are in. For Sinn Fein, which adopts the posture
of the anti-consensus radical without the substance
to back it up, some erudite probing quickly exposes
a black hole. Northern Assembly member Barry McElduff
may dismiss the economic arguments of Garret Fitzgerald
as 'the outdated partitionist thinking of many Southern
politicians', but the jury seems unanimous that
the verdict goes against Sinn Fein on this matter.
The shrewd money is on it rather than Fitzgerald
to win the Neanderthal derby. In a one horse race
that should prove simple enough.
that this per se makes Sinn Fein wrong. Two central
tenets of left wing thinking, both admirable and
durable, are the eradication of poverty and the
provision of first class public services, which
nominally at least the party is committed to. Increasing
taxation is a standard if hardly original means
to achieve these twin objectives. When the party
president calls for social spending to be doubled
- by 2005 standards an increase of 13 billion euro
- what initially sounded sweet for the most economically
deprived, soon turned sour when he offered no practical
means of achieving it. Even those normally beguiled
by the party have dismissed Sinn Fein designs as
a botched-up economic policy. Taxation, while ethical
on the grounds of a more egalitarian redistribution,
is hardly plausible in a society where even Sinn
Fein fellow travellers concede there is already
an existing tax surplus but little strategic imagination
when it comes to utilising it.
higher taxation in a society where 80 % of homes
are owned will be as welcome as a six day working
week in return for lower wages. Sinn Fein, valuing
power over integrity, will view any vote alienating
measure as the plague. Despite the media pastime
of scrutinising Sinn Fein fiscal policy the existing
social system and economic order has nothing to
fear from Adams style economics. His promise to
increase taxation is as likely to be honoured as
his commitment never to call for IRA decommissioning.
Che Guevara for the grassroots and George Soros
for the international community, Sinn Fein will
deliver socialism in the manner it delivered British
withdrawal. Its high taxation rhetoric is a populist
measure aimed at winning over the disadvantaged
as a means to enhance party power, prior to that
constituency too being shafted.
Vincent Browne has argued:
is because the Sinn Féin long-term agenda
is to respectabilise itself. To ingratiate itself
with the respectable elements of society, North
and South. To join government with one of the respectable
parties and, when in government, show how respectable
and responsible it is on every front: on fiscal
rectitude, on the prudent management of public expenditure,
and, wait for it, law and order.
could have added that the party will shout louder
than most for tight immigration control - Ireland
for the Irish and all of that.
those inclined to view this as an overly cynical
take, they need only look at the litany of things
the party once hated but learned to love. Power
is the greatest aphrodisiac for divesting revolutionaries
of their radical clothing. Orwell would understand
that. In Sinn Fein he will find validation of his
thesis that nine times out of ten revolutionaries
are social climbers with bombs.