Sinn Féin manifesto: election platform both left and populist
Abolition of water charges and property tax sit beside promises to cut wages of politicians
Key Sinn Féin figures launch the party’s election manifesto at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, February 9th, 2016. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Engaging in Fine Gael’s favoured election sport of claiming Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil will jump into Coalition together, Michael Noonan this week said Gerry Adams’s party would be the policy drivers in such an arrangement.
Never mind that Micheál Martin consistently rules it out. Fine Gael and Labour claim Fianna Fáil also swore blind it would not do business with the Progressive Democrats before it did exactly that in 1989.
Noonan’s point was perhaps in reference to the PDs being the ideological drivers in coalition with Fianna Fáil, and his charge that Fianna Fáil would do anything to be in power - that Sinn Féin would shape Fianna Fáil policy as the PDs once did.
Then, the PDs occupied a distinct place on the political spectrum. Now, while others occupy the political left, Sinn Féin has a distinct position among the four main parties.
Labour is of the left but has seen its support drop among working class, left voters because of policies implemented in government.
Sinn Féin launched its manifesto on Tuesday and its platform is both left and populist - a charge Labour levels against Adams and his colleagues as if it had never indulged in such behaviour itself.
Abolition of water charges and property tax sit alongside promises to cut the wages of politicians and ministers and increase taxes on higher earners. Pearse Doherty also made reference to a bank levy.
A proposed wealth tax is also mentioned, although as more of an aspiration. The manifesto only commits to examining a wealth tax, and Adams said this was not included in the final draft because it had yet to be costed.
Increases in taxation on higher earners, as well as levies on sugar and betting, and largely maintaining the USC will fund billions of spending in health, housing and education. Some welfare payments cut under Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil would be restored.
There are also the usual Sinn Féin commitments on Irish unity and the Irish language, as well as Eurosceptic policies that would not look out of place in David Cameron’s EU reform negotiations.
Nevertheless, Sinn Féin’s acceptance of the European fiscal rules and adherence to the Department of Finance estimates that €8.6 billion could be available over the lifetime of the next government - the so-called “fiscal space” - shows Sinn Féin is starting to play by establishment rules.
In many ways, it is not too far from making the leap into government.
However, its long-standing policy of abolishing the Special Criminal Court will be the one element of the manifesto that will spark debate in the campaign after igniting as an issue in the wake of recent murders in Dublin.
Thomas “Slab” Murphy is also due up for a sentencing hearing for tax evasion on Friday and it may well be those issues, rather than proposals on income or property tax, that define Sinn Féin’s election.
They will also further underline the determination of all other parties not to do business with Sinn Féin anytime soon, meaning it will continue to formulate policy instead of driving its implementation in government.