Party lays out surprisingly detailed left-wing vision

 

Sinn Féin's election manifesto may be impracticable in some respects, but it will not have to worry about implementing its ideas, writes Mark Hennessy, Political Reporter.

For months, Sinn Féin has been on the defensive, defending itself against allegations that it is involved in vigilantism and linked with left-wing Colombian guerrillas. Yet, its share of the vote in the polls has remained steady.

Equally, Sinn Féin has talked cleverly for months in generalities about the need to create a new Ireland, equal, free and fair. Yesterday, the party finally had to put some flesh on the bone.

Despite expectations that the document would be completely without costings, it was surprisingly detailed, and often innovative. In the eyes of opponents, it is, equally, impracticable in many areas.

Either way, Gerry Adams does not have to worry about implementing it. For one, all other parties have ruled out coalition with Sinn Féin. Secondly, SF has no desire to be in office, regardless of public protestations to the contrary.

For now, Sinn Féin's task is to take seats in Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin South West and Kerry North. And it must carve out a clearly identifiable place for itself on the political landscape.

The manifesto makes this clear: "It is a choice between the only growing force in Irish politics and the stagnant array of parties who have failed to inspire the electorate.

"It is a choice between political commitment and political careerism. It is a choice between real change and more of the same. It is a choice between Sinn Féin and the rest." Excluding the usual degree of waffle that permeates the manifesto pledges of any party, yesterday's document does hit the main targets SF strategists believe will determine its future.

In general terms, Sinn Féin has opted for higher business taxes than the other parties; help for Irish industry at the expense of foreign multinationals; greater public spending; and a more sceptical attitude towards the European Union.

In addition, Sinn Féin believes that its republicanism will strike a chord with the more assertive young voters now coming onto the electoral register even if no polls show Northern Ireland to be a priority.

However, Sinn Féin has pulled punches frequently in other areas. The tax system should be made "fairer and more equitable" following a year-long review. The higher-paid should pay more.

But who exactly are the higher paid? In all, SF's changes to corporation tax, capital gains tax and restoring employers' PRSI payments to last year's levels would reap €2.1 billion annually, if nothing else changed.

Privately, however, even Sinn Féin admits that much of the €700 million raised annually following the halving of the capital gains rate by the Minister for Finance, Mr McCreevy, would disappear like snow off a ditch if the rate went back to 40 per cent.

Property speculators should be stopped from hoarding land zoned for housing and such land should also be capped in price. Derelict properties should be seized under Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Many might agree with the sentiments, though the rustle of barristers' gowns would not be far away if such ideas ever looked close to being introduced in a land where private property usually rules OK.

On health, Sinn Féin plays it both ways. Health spending should go over 9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product in the short term, though it is not foolish enough to pretend that the promised land can be reached overnight.

Instead, Sinn Féin is demanding that all parties agree on the objective of a system with one waiting list, higher salaries and free care, and then set about achieving it.

In Gerry Adams' words, politics is about will, not just economics. Everything can be changed if the political will is there.

Weighed down by the difficulties he has faced in Health, Michael Martin will surely smile.