Thursday, December 24, 2009

The difficult position of Killian Forde





On 22 December the Sinn Féin website issued a statement regarding Sinn Féin's opposition to the Dublin City Council budget for 2010. http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/17942


This statement outlined the parties opposition to the budget and the fact that 40,000 low income Dublin households would now be facing increased charges. However the statement also stated that Sinn féin councillor, Killian Forde, voted for the budget and Cllr. Forde had therefore acted in breach of his mandate from the party.


On the face of it, it would appear obvious that as a left winger I should attack Killian for his actions and demand that he be rebuked/disciplined by the party in the strongest terms.


However, I am torn on this issue because I feel Killian believes he is showing leadership on this matter and indeed acting in line with overall Sinn Féin policy in the South. That is to say that Sinn Féin has spoken a lot about the need to build a left alternative and the need for us to work closely with the Labour Party on doing this. It appears to me that this is exactly what Killian has done.


Dublin city Council is not run by Fiann fáil or the Greens. Labour is the biggest party and is then followed by Fine Gael with Sinn Féin only having five councillors.



Given this it should be noted that Killian Forde has spent the past nine weeks as chair of the Budget Working Group trying to transform the council budget from a really awful budget, with something slightly more palatable. Killian argues that the original proposals had much bigger cuts in the business rates, higher rent, removal of both the lift and the standing charge in bins, proposed cuts in front line 'people' services etc etc. In Killian's view this original budget was grim.




As head of the Budget Working Committee he then worked with the Labour people and in his mind got as much changed as he could.


On the Monday before the budget the City Manager made whats called order, under his powers as written in legislation to remove the waiver on the lifting of the bins, of which 40% of all Dublin households qualified. Sinn Fein disagreed with this and submitted a amendment to the budget, which Killian supported. However, this amendment was ruled out of order.



This left Killian in a position where he could vote against the budget and forget about all the work he had done with the labour Party in amending it. Or he could vote for the budget as the least worst option available. He chose to vote for the budget.


Where does this all leave Sinn Féin in the capital? Well I don't know, but if we are going to follow the ideas of Eoin o Broin and others and try to develop a strong left alternative with labour then big questions need to be answered and Killian may well have shown the party the way forward. Or perhaps not.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Over paid, Over here and Over us.

Over paid, Over here and Over us.

The Sindo, a paper that champions all that is vacuous, petty, inward looking and elitist in southern society, is not a paper I have much time for. And while they continue to have mostly insufferable journos sometimes, just sometimes, they end up putting together an article that highlights something of genuine interest. (Bear with me! I know thats a big claim).

Their article, (I wont link to it on principle) is a review of the pay of the semi-state bodies CEOs and also of the performance of the same.

Dublin Airport Authority:
Its CEO got €638,000 last year from the DAA. Usefully the article compares that salary with the British Airport equivalent which is about 5 times bigger than the DAA. Yet they only pay about 15% more for that role. The manager of the huge Schipol airport earned only about 78K more than the Dublin Airport CEO even though its twice the size. But the Dublin CEO must be worth it because while doing that job he also works as a non-executive director with Allied Irish Banks. Cut back on your hours a chara and give someone else a chance at a job. (As an aside wouldn’t it be a nice policy to bar retiring politicians from taking directorships for a period. I personally would not like to see Mary Harney retire and go straight onto a Health company’s board. Does such a restriction already exist?)

Dublin Port Authority:
Their most famous employee used be Bertie’s good friend Joe Burke. Their CEO Mr. Connellan got €299,000 in 2008. Port of London which handles twice the tonnage pays their lad €203,000. How do you save 50K here. Well according to the rules of the market you sack Mr. Connellan and offer the lad from London 249K. That’s 50,000 saved and you would have a much more experienced candidate in the position. But hey clearly this has nothing to do with the market so even if you are a gung ho free market maniac then this situation will stick in your craw.

RTE: Cathal Goan gets a cool €380k a year. The BBC Boss gets 2.5 times that to run 8 tv channels, 10 “national” radio stations, 20 local stations with revenue of about €5.2 Billion in an outfit bigger. Cathal Goan might not like to hear it but even by the standards of our neighbours he is overpaid. Can anyone tell me with a serious face that we couldn’t drop 100k off that salary can get someone as good or as bad? What about Pat Kenny?

3 clear examples and if you look at their wages from a left perspective then they are crassly wasteful and too high; but even if you are all about the free market then you cannot consistently argue for such high wages so clearly out of wack with the market. There is no basis to it! When people in the Sunday Independent start to argue the same point then its fairly obvious that there is a sentiment in the state for change. Although an outfit like the Sindo would be more interested in managing any change so as to limit any progress as much as possible. Their agenda is not the same as the Irish peoples.

It was recently commented that any party that could credibly argue a set of policies that gave voice to that demand for change would make hay at the next election. I agree with that. There is a hunger for change out there but will that anger get meaningfully channelled or will media outlets like the Sindo help fritter it away. How does a party like SF argue for meaningful change in this state when conservative media outlets begin to push the same message but with the intention of thwarting meaningful change and only delivering the bare minimum. As desire for change grows larger and larger the constant repositioning of rightist and centrist parties undercuts the left effectively ensuring that the anticipated revolution of groups like the SP are always due next year and never this year. Basically becoming wolves in left wings clothes.

To my mind overcoming this is one hell of a challenge for any progressive party.

The article also highlighted the interesting phenomenon of Bord Gais, ESB, Coillte et al all trying to get into the renewables sector. 4 state bodies all competing with each other in the one area , all hoping to undercut another arm of the state. I can see Fine Gael making hay with that when it comes to selling off semi-states in a fire sale. Rather than sell them it would be better to have a clearer vision of how these companies deliver for the state. Cutting them half-loose to fight it out with each other is little good. But then Fine Gael, same as Fianna Fail think the idea of key developmental components of our economy are much better off being owned by private, non--national, investors. Tweedledum is dead. All hail Tweedledee.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eoin O Broin argues we cannot build an alliance for change without the Labour party. But listen Eoin they don't want one! So what can Sinn Féin do?


I received this post from TGmac who has an excellent site at http://socialist-continuum.blogspot.com/ He posted this as a comment in response to the Eoin Ó Broin piece on the imperative for Sinn Féin to build links with the labour party. http://sinnfeinkeepleft.blogspot.com/2009/12/is-labours-love-lost-building.html

However, I feel that this issue is so crucial to the party at this time that it deserved its own place for discussion. Much talk has come from people in the party about the need for left unity, including myself, but what does it mean and do we need to include labour in that movement if they do not wish to be part of it?

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Simple basic common sense creates an imperative for the left/progressives to agree some minimum policy agenda items. The low paid wage earners, the unemployed, the young, the poor, the sick (the list gets longer every day) need the left/progressives to get its act together. I'm sure every party is well able to highlight the injustices of the current regime, but that don't exactly take an Einstein to figure out.

O'Broin states that no progress can be made without Labour's involvement. Why? What are the benefits to the broad left/progressive movement with Labour inputs? Is is just the fact that they are able to garner about 20% support in the polls? Maybe this is a valid reason enough. Maybe it isn't. Solidarity without some agreed programs is just window dressing. The Irish people need an alternative that they can understand and believe will work. I also believe there is growing support among large swathes of the population for the notion that the present system isn't working for many people in Ireland, and is never going to work for many people. There is an inkling that change, fundamental change, is required in society, but it is by no means a given. The political party that articulates a concise and easy to understand program of change will make hay during the next GE. We probably have two years to create and articulate this program but the work starts now. We can't wait. Every day that passes is a lost opportunity.


By all means approach any person, group, community or political party that shares our views in general. Start building a concensus for change where we can. Start building a new language and program for change that people across different disciplines, circumstances and outlooks can get behind to some degree. It won't be perfect but it'll be better than what we have in the present circumstances.

But real politik is staring us in the face. Labour has stated categorically that it will not enter into a broad leftist/progressive alliance before the GE. I can understand their position. Many of their members, and some of the leadership, come from former organisations that were mired in factions, petty arguments over terminology, and just a general inability to function effectively in the political arena. They don't want to enter this world again. I fully sympathise. And lets not forget that while many Labour members easily jettisoned their Marxist repertoire, they still manage to bring their anti-Republican baggage with them.

SF should do what it does well. Organise in the long grass. Localise politics and organise at the grass roots. Highlight the fact that local problems are only a manifestation of larger national problems. Highlight the fact that the MOTUs (master of the universe, FF, FG etc.) use the national and international stage and issues to perpetuate their own localised cronyist policies.

There is one area that SF, and indeed the broad left, needs to improve upon in a big way. We need to create a professional and alternate media in this country - all 32 counties. SF should be leading the way, and maybe this project, rather than grand alliances, is something the entire left/progressives can work on together. Maybe it is in this medium that we can begin to build a concensusal alternative to the current system.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cosy consensus in the south exposed once again by our Orange neighbours


Consensus is a word thats often associated with Holland. Apparently in that country everything is about consensus and having everyone agreeing before they act. Its somewhat ironic then that it falls once again to a Dutch company to expose and thwart the cosy consensus in the south.

The Fleming group is a Cork based construction and development interest that has debts of up to 1,000,000,000 euro, 260 million of which is owed to Anglo Irish bank and 21.5 million to ACC.

It turns out that the company's survival plan was universally acclaimed by all its creditors with the exception of the foreign company - ACC, who took this to the Supreme Court.

ACC had claimed there was no evidence Anglo Irish Bank, Bank of Scotland Ireland or Allied Irish Banks will provide the working capital required to save the group.

But defence is claiming that Anglo had taken a commercial decision to support the plan. As part of the scheme it has committed a total of €2m, €1.6m of which would go towards paying the group's unsecured creditors and for other fees it has incurred.

So Anglo, which is a state bank ie we own it, is going to pay out 2 million as part of the plan to save the Fleming group. Now that might be all well and good but so much trust has been eroded the mind tends toward suspicion instinctively.

ACC think the same believing that the rescue plan is a "personalised NAMA" where the banks would sell off the properties over a period of ten years. ACC believed that the plan went "beyond the margins of examinership" and should be rejected.

So maybe ACC is annoyed because they dont like doing business in tents on the basis of where you play golf or maybe they just think the plan sucks. Turns out ACC loaned a cool €22m to a Fleming group company for construction of the Sentinel building in Sandyford, Dublin which is currently "a shell" that ACC prices at about €500,000 to €1m. Bit of a write down that. No wonder ACC are peed off.

They are also peed of because they are not a NAMA company. They are unfortunately outside looking in. Alot like the rest of us then.

But should we listen to ACC or are they just begrudgers who would be feasting like the rest if they could. Well they probably would but ACC has already done some service to the southern state when it challenged the plan for Liam Carroll’s Zoe Group over debts of €136 million. Zoe owed owed €1.35 billion, including €1.27 billion to banks. Zoe wanted an examiner appoined and 100 days to sort its stuff out. This was supported by by AIB, Bank of Ireland and Bank of Scotland Ireland. Anglo Irish Bank & Ulster Bank lodged no objection. The only dissenters to this cosy consensus was ACC. Zoe group were found to have withheld evidence from the court and their application was booted out by a disgusted court which believed there was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the court process.

Talking about the case 'Justice Frank Clarke said the prospects for survival of the group after a two-year moratorium on interest rates expires in 2011 were “significantly improbable”, “at the further ends of optimism” and dependent on the “virtual impossibility” of a benign climate concerning interest rates, property values and letting capabilities.'

Yet despite the Zoe rescue plan being "flawed", "ïmprobable" and my favourite "at the further ends of optimism" it was accepted by all the Irish banks except the Dutch ACC who ensured it was booted out by a disgusted judge.

Is this Fleming case another example. Who knows but I am more likely to listen to ACC than the NAMA banks.

ACC used to be the Agricultural Credit Corporation before it was sold off by the state in 2002. It made a positive contribution to the southern economy while it was a state bank. Certainly more of a contribution than our current state bank - Anglo Irish. Calls for a state investment bank should be acted on. At least ACC is still making a positive contribution to the south even if is now foreign owned.

At least they, like the people of southern Ireland, are outside looking in.

Breaking news link

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Labour's love lost? Building a progressive alliance in a world without social partnership.

In last week's An Phoblacht Eoin o'Broin again highlighted the opportunity for a broad, progressive, political alliance in south Ireland which would serve to realign southern politics away from the oddity of two right wing parties with the same ideas constantly swapping office.

Starry Plough had looked at this question before. There has never been a better time to realign politics certainly. For such a long time Fianna Fail had a strong lock on Public sector workers and also even in working class communities. Seeing as how both these groups have been targetted for some extra pain by that wretched party in the recent budget it is to be hoped that their % vote will drop even further. But for all the delight in seeing Fianna Fail on the canvas, if not quite knocked out, its a sober warning to anyone who wants to see some change in this state to see FG rising high in the polls. As so often Fine Gael will win not because their ideas are welcome but because they are not Fianna Fail. And in effect Tweedledum is about to see himself pushed over by Tweedledee. The tea party will continue full steam ahead, no changes planned thank you very much.

So can Labour upset the party and start to break this tired old musical chairs? However they choose to act Eoin is right in asserting that a meaningful left alliance would require Labour's input. They are still a strong block and without them a left wing alliance is weakened. But without a left wing alliance Labour is only going to be best supporting actor to Enda Kenny with a limited input over the big decisions with an unleashed Leo Varadkar.

The only part of the article I was unsure of was the strategy where "Firstly it would be to demonstrate to the Labour Party that republicans are serious about the long term objective of transforming the social, political and economic landscape of the country." I think its equally up to Labour to demonstrate their serious commitment to those objectives.

But that said every effort should be made to demonstrate to Labour that our committment to those objectives is firm and that we stand on the same side. I do think that Labour need to start building this idea of a broad left alliance if only to check Fine Gael who are starting to really dominate the polls with a 13% margin over FF and a 19% margin over Labour. A left alliance will give Labour leverage and the people of the south an alternative to the terrible twins.

I also think that with the effective death of social partnership that this type of alliance is necessary.

Eoin's article:

Engaging Labour

IN his February 2009 Ard Fheis speech, Gerry Adams called for an, ‘egalitarian alternative to the politics of greed, inefficiency, waste and corruption.’

He called for realignment in Irish politics to end “the dominance’ of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“The Labour Party” argued Adams “has a duty not to prop up either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Instead Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.”
The following month in his Ard Fheis speech Eamon Gilmore said that, “to end crony capitalism, you have to end crony politics”. He told delegates that Labour’s mission is “to build a new, better and fairer Ireland”.

A week earlier in a ‘Sunday Business Post’ interview Gilmore ruled out a left alliance. He told Pat Leahy, “There will be no alliance with Sinn Féin, parties of the left, with individuals of the left. There will be no alliance of that kind.”

While officially the Labour Party’s objective is to become the second largest party in the state and lead the next government, party strategists know that if it is in the next government it will be as a junior partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael.

Such a coalition can not create “a new, better and fairer Ireland”. It will be a conservative government, dominated by a resurgent, right-wing Fine Gael.
So where does this leave Sinn Féin’s call for an alliance for change? Should we abandon any hope of Labour working for a realignment of Irish politics? Is Labour really no different to Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael?

For this writer there will be no realignment of Irish politics without Labour. No alliance for change can be built without their active participation.

Thus Sinn Féin should not abandon the Labour Party but develop a strategy of engagement. The purpose of this strategy would be threefold.

Firstly it would be to demonstrate to the Labour Party that republicans are serious about the long term objective of transforming the social, political and economic landscape of the country.

Secondly it would be to build effective working relationships at a local and national level with Labour and its supporters on issues of common concern.

Thirdly it would be to strengthen the hand of those within the Labour Party, and its broader support base in the trade union movement and civic society who believe that such an alliance is not only possible, but realisable.

There are many activists and supporters within the Labour Party who do not want to be part of a Fine Gael coalition. There are others who simply do not see any other viable option in the short term.

Those of us who believe that a better, fairer Ireland is possible have a responsibility to engage and convince those who share our broad values and aspirations that an alliance for change is the best way forward.

But an alliance for change will not emerge on its own. Those of us who believe in it need a strategy, including a strategy for engaging with the Labour Party.

This year’s European elections saw the combined left vote in the 26 Counties reach 30% for the first time in the history of the state. The economic and political model promoted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is in crisis. There has never been a better time for the left to promote a real alternative.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Greens - First yellow and now blue.

Some fairly despicable comments were passed in leinster house recently. But enough about the budget. At least we had the Greens -an Comhaontas Glas, the supposedly ethical heart, if any remains, of this govt.

Well I am not so sure about ethical considering their masterful performance over the last year. Seems like these days the Greeens are following the PDs into the same nasty, unethical politics.

Deputy Gogarty, with his nice big salary feels your pain and knows what its like. As the man explained:

"It is hard for me to gratuitously insult many of my constituents who are public sector employees and tell them: “Listen, lads. It is necessary. I feel your pain but it is necessary”.
...

"It would be highly disingenuous of me and totally insincere, therefore, to say anything other than that this is a grossly unfair section and that the Bill is grossly unfair."
...
"I am not proud of what has happened, I am not proud of the fact the banks had to be bailed out, of the corruption and worship of mammon in this country that has brought us to this sorry state, I am not proud of that, colleagues"

And then after some more raiméis we had that moment:



Deputy Gogarty, I look forward to the day when your constituents tell you in the most unparliamentary language to Fu*K off, with all due respect, Fu#k off.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So the Budget is out.

Some points that struck me as a first impression was the number of things done for optics. Smoke and mirror policies. The most annoying being Cowens pay cut. How will he surive on over 200k. Tough times indeed.


Excise duty on alcohol reduced - 12 cent cut on beer and cider, 14 cent cut on a measure of spirits, 60 cent cut on a bottle of wine (no change in tobacco)

Will these cuts increase consumption and therefore revenue or is it just another distraction by feeding into the "we are competing with Newry and Bangalore" myth. I suspect the latter but hey who knows maybe this is not a pointless optic. 12 cents off that scrumpy jack might be enough to tempt people to ignore Mary Harney's advice to shop around for the best value. Maybe we can drink our way out of this. Who'll play their part this Christmas? That socialist rag the Sunday Business Post was wondering last year why the Govt. was failing to force retailers south of the border to reflect currency movements in their prices! As they note the south is indeed a more costly place to do business but could that account for differences of up to 50% in some items. Still a year later its apparently better to ignore that type of thing and instead of protecting southern consumers its apparently better to lobby and just mess around with cider prices rather than face up to Rip Off Ireland.

Scrappage scheme announced - VRT relief of up to €1,500 on a new low-emission car, for trade-ins at least 10 years old.

This falls under stimulus apparently. The SBPost were fairly enthused about this over the last few weeks. Apparently is a big boost. Maybe it is! Cheap drink and a new car to prosperity. Gas how shopping in Newry is anti-patriotic( as the economic isolationists argue) but encouraging the purchase of a luxury item produced off the island is not. Is there a better way to have money circulate in the economy for a few more times before it leaks out or is a new car the best way to go? Or is this car scrappage just a malarky to make it look like the govt is trying to kick start the economy and get some spending going. But will the lure of €1500 for your banger traded in for new cars under certain conditions be enough to tempt you to buy a car. As Brian Linehan said
"The scheme will have the environmental benefit of removing some older, potentially less safe and polluting vehicles from the road".
Potentially less safe? Thought the NCT had those things off the road.

But this is a govt. with a green streak in the middle. What input them? Well car wise continued incentives to switch to a hybrid car. I am really curious to see how this works out.

As Brian L said ...
To that end, the VRT exemption for electric vehicles and the VRT reliefs of up to €2,500 for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are being extended by two years until 31 December 2012
. I would like to see the latest figures but back in 2007 friends of the irish environment said the scheme cost about 8 million for 9 months of the year 2007. But at the time a certian Ciaran Cuffe said:

The rebate was supposed to encourage sales of cars generating less emissions and pollutants than normal models such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic hybrid," he said. "But now it's clearly subsidising sales of expensive, luxury cars that contain green technology, but don't apply it in the same way. No one driving a Lexus hybrid can argue they are helping to save the planet.


Maybe they got that problem solved and its now acceptable to the Greens or maybe the Greens accept anything and everything these days. Is this another gimmick. At 8 million roughly a year then yeah it probably is substanceless. Cuffe used think so anyhow.

Ombudsman to be appointed to review the cases of small businesses who are refused bank loans

If I was a small business man with 10 people struggling to keep afloat the opportunity of entering a bureaucratic paper run between the banks and an ombudsman would not fill me with confidence. Still when it goes belly up and the creditors are ripping apart your tiny business and people have lost their jobs you can keep busy tracking your new national bond.

There are many other items in the budget that are damaging and they will be well covered in the media and on the SF budget analysis site and other progressive media sources.

But these paltry baubles I listed above may end up being touted as the govts stimulus package. For me personally thats hard to credit and I see more an exercise in spin and managing the political narrative than actually contributing anything serious.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'm Fxcking angry and pissed off!





As a public sector worker in the South I am totally pissed off with the manner in which my union has behaved in relation to the pre budget negotiations.


My union held a national ballot, organised meetings and sent out literature about the position of the union leadership in relation to the planned government cuts to public sector pay. In all of the above the argument was put forward that such cuts were not fair and must be rejected in favour of a fairer tax system whereby the wealthier members of the country would pay more, because they could afford it!


I stood with many others holding official union placards that said no to pay cuts and yes to fairer taxation. It was on this basis that people voted to strike and walked out in their hundreds of thousands. To us the argument was sound and we were taking a principled stand.


BUT THEN


Yet what happened? Our leaders then go into negotiations and put forward a proposal whereby public sector workers would have to take 12 days compulsory leave without pay! This is a pay cut and anybody with a brain can see that.


By taking this step the union leaders had moved away from the agreed principled position already mentioned and accepted that the public sector pay bill needed to be reduced. At one stroke they had undermined their/our position. This was madness!!!


As soon as I heard this was happening I said this will not be agreed and the government will hum ha and then walk away. Which is exactly what they did. SURPRISE!!


The reason they can safely walk away is that they can now simply turn around and say ,"Look you accepted the need for the pay bill to be reduced, but unfortunately your way will not work. So all that is left is pay cuts. Sorry."


And in response what can the union bosses say, "Umm umm No that's not right. We have tried to be reasonable. We don't really believe cutting pay is important anymore."


To which the media will go, "Ha ha ha. Now we have you. Now we have ya."


WHAT DOES THIS MEAN


When I try to understand what has happened to my union since the crisis began, I am left confused.


Firstly we had the behaviour around the pay cuts via the increased pension payments.


When this step was announced by the government the unions took weeks to organise a response. They got over 100,000 people on the streets opposing these cuts eventually got around to organising a ballot for strike action. But what happened? Nothing. One union did not have a big enough majority for strike action and that was it.


In my opinion this was NOT the result of poor leadership on the part of the unions. Rather the union leadership actually accepted the logic of the cuts and that wait. game over.


Secondly we have the farce around the cuts coming up in the budget. For me there is only one explanation for what happened and that is the leadership never believed what they were originally telling their members. they never actually believed in fairer taxation and making the rich pay and one of the reasons for that is possibly the high pay of many of those union leaders. For some info check here http://www.businessandleadership.com/news/article/16895/leadership/paper-publishes-salary-levels-of-trade-union-leaders


SO NOW WHAT?


So now what. Well the only thing for people to do is get active in their union. Every branch member should demand to know why the leadership are behaving as they are. If they believe in the cuts agenda, well be honest about it and convince us. If they don't support the cuts agenda then why are they just rolling over every time the government makes another attack on working people. And if we don't like their answers then we should kick them out of office and put in people who will fight for working people.



Tax Breaks and the Budget

Tax breaks and the budget.


Break a leg is the customary term of encouragement given to actors. As Brian Linehan senior counsel gets ready to deliver his third budget in 15 months we'll all be hoping this master actor gets it right this time

What he comes out with is hard anyone's guess but its likely to be a lot of old hat with maybe, just maybe, one or two good ideas in the middle. If he is looking for advice he should take a look at the Sinn Fein pre-budget proposal http://www.sinnfein.ie/files/Pre-Budget2010_small.pdf
One of the areas that documents recommends focus on is tax breaks as part of the party's argument for a functioning tax system.




Some of the proposals were:


- Abolish mortgage interest relief for landlords – Raises €285 million


- Abolish all remaining property-based tax reliefs (on property development, not principal home mortgage interest relief) - Raises €43 million


The pre-budget submission argued that standardising all discretionary tax reliefs could raise €1.1 billion.





TASC, the economic think tank arguing for a more nuanced approach to the Irish economy have now added some futher details to this discussion with a new report on tax breaks /or tax expenditures as they are officially called. http://www.tascnet.ie/upload/file/TASC%20Pre%20Budget%20Statement%20on%20Tax%20Breaks%20FINAL.pdf





TASC says that tax breaks will cost the southern state about €7.4 billion in 2009. The level of tax breaks in Ireland is exceptionally high. They amounted to € 10.7 billion in 2005 (which are the latest complete figures for the cost of tax breaks in a single year). The OECD Economic Surveys: Ireland reports that tax expenditure on personal income tax in 2005 amounted to €7.2 billion, plus an additional €3.5 billion in tax breaks on corporation tax. This totals €10.7 billion in tax breaks on personal income tax and corporation tax alone (OECD 2009a, pp. 60-62; OECD 2009b).



Big money indeed. But tax breaks are not necessarily bad its just when you use them unwisely they can cause the wrong type of outcome. Like increased inequality of wealth distribution or else stoking the fires of a property boom.But of course they also help people with breaks existing for disabled people or as aids to help businesses and keep people in jobs etc. The southern state is out of kilter with the rest of Europe. If tax breaks on personal income tax and corporation tax were reduced to EU average levels, they would only cost €2.2 billion in 2009, a drop of €5.2 billion. On Progressive-Economy http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2009/12/tax-breaks.html Nat o'Connor notes tax expenditure on personal income tax in Ireland cost three times as much as the average of 22 other EU countries.



TASC has argued that The Government is effectively spending money every time it decides to create or extend a tax break. All these tax breaks should be included in every annual Budget and the govt. would have to justify on an annual basis whether to keep or to scrap or add new tax breaks. Every single break would have a "sunset clause" and their evaluation as a success or not should not include any investments or jobs created that would happen anyhow as noted by the Irish times.




There are a couple of stumbling blocks for Brian taking these ideas up. Specifically the need to justify tax breaks each year, and they need to analyse their specific benefits over and above any investment or jobs that would be created anyhow. These points would require accountability, honesty and the implementation of basic controls. Basic controls that you would have in any business not to mind a state.



But the pre-budget proposal is right not to call for a huge clamp down on tax breaks. Too drastic an action would impact on low and middle earners who cant afford it and would probably harm small businesses trying to keep running and keep people in jobs.


But there seems to be plenty of room to tighten up the system and to help improve govt. revenue.


When it comes to reforming the tax breaks system and demanding accountability on why they exist and a demonstration that they are part of an appropriate economic strategy for the state then There Is No Alternative (TINA).



The Tasc report is http://www.tascnet.ie/upload/file/TASC%20Pre%20Budget%20Statement%20on%20Tax%20Breaks%20FINAL.pdf here and the Progressive-economy.ie site is discussing it at http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2009/12/tax-breaks.html

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Time for mutiny on this ship of fools


Over on the Sluggerotoole site they have highlighted a review on the Guardian newspaper of Fintan o'Toole's new book Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger.

It looks like its going to be an interesting read and above all its fantastic to see this type of contribution to the general debate. After the fall of the Soviet Union Finland nearly fell as bad as we now have fallen. But they rebounded rebuilding a fairer society and becoming an inspiration to other countries. So while things may seem incredibly bleak now this is an opportunity to start building something new.

Of course the Finns didnt have to deal with a Fianna Fail party but the debate has to start somewhere and if we are going to build a Republic on this island then getting rid of the corrupt Fianna Fail kleptocracy is a necessary step.

The book review highlights clearly our predicament:
Irish GDP is now shrinking faster than in any other advanced economy, and the country's gross indebtedness is larger than Japan's. House prices have fallen more rapidly than any others in Europe, and the average Irish family has lost half its financial assets. Unemployment has risen faster than anywhere else in Europe.
It lays out clearly how Kleptocracy relaced democracy in the south:
All this has been accompanied by a culture of corruption so shameless and spectacular that it makes Dublin look like Kabul. The former prime minister Charles Haughey stole €250,000 from a fund set up to pay for a liver transplant for one of his closest friends. Last year, the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank resigned when it emerged that he had €84m in loans from his own bank, a sum concealed by an annual (apparently legal) cooking of the books. As O'Toole points out, bribery, tax evasion and false evidence under oath have not simply gone unpunished; the very idea of penalising the culprits is viewed by the governing elite as unsporting or even unpatriotic.
And thats to leave out the most cunning of them all. The review continues apace laying bare whats rotten in the southern state:
The state is widely seen as "a private network of mutual obligations" rather than an impersonal body. Palms are greased, backs scratched and old pals promoted, often without much sense that this is anything other than the natural thing to do.
And boy did the last 10 years take that to a new height. The worst type of gobdaw was appointed not because they were barely qualified but because they were the orignal greasy hands in the till.

And then it gets to a point of discussion that is all too common in Ireland today:
The discrepancy between formal and informal codes in the country, between official behaviour and nods and winks, bulks large. Stretching a point or turning a blind eye is rife, in ways that would scandalise many a German or American
How do we make our country more like Germany and less like a maffia ridden fiefdom? Now those countries are not perfect but for all the American pork barelling at least they have some corrupt people do the perp walk.

Why are basic minimum standards of governance ignored in this state.

Why are key positions farmed out to buffons whose only qualifications was buying rounds with one pint of Bass included.

The review ends by saying for the south
Perhaps its best hope now is to revert as soon as possible to third world status and qualify for a loan from the IMF.

Is that what we are reduced to?

Once upon a time people in the south believed that the Greens would be the party that would drag the south into the modern world. We have two failed states on this island and need to build one - a modern state, where merit is the key to advancement and nomal democratic standards are upheld.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The rich pay too much tax me arse!! Just look at the facts



Below is a piece from Eoin Ó Broin that appeared in this weeks An Phoblacht. It provides useful information on how we can answer the government claim that the rich cannot afford to be taxed anymore and are already paying more than there fair share.


I strongly believe the information here and the information contained on the TASC website, mentioned below, is the ammunition we need to counter the propaganda of the ruling elite in this country. In order to convince people we are capable of running this country we need to convince them we know our stuff, especially in relation to economic matters. Therefore it is vital for republicans to continue to educate ourselves on economic matters and the TASC site and Michael Taft's notes from the front http://notesonthefront.typepad.com/ are good places to start.

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FINANCE MINISTER Brian Lenihan keeps telling us that high-earners pay enough tax.
In their November pre-Budget outlook, the Government told us that 4% of earners could pay up to 48% of the total income tax take in 2009.

What more proof do we need that the country’s super rich are paying their fair share? Well, as it happens, a lot more.

Why? Because the Government’s figures don’t tell us how much the top 4% earn and whether paying 48% of all income tax take is fair or not.

Fortunately for us, those smart people at TASC have produced a report that tells a lot more about income distribution than the Government would like you to know.

TASC is an independent think-tank dedicated to combating economic inequality and promoting equality. The website http://www.tascnet.ie/ is filled with invaluable information.

Their latest report is The HEAP Chart. It provides a detailed analysis of income inequality in the state.

The top 1% of the population own 20% of the state’s wealth. When residential property is not included, this same 1% own 34% of the state’s wealth.

83% of the PAYE workers earn less than €50,000 per year, while 66% earn less than €33,000 per year.

Only 14% of PAYE workers earn more than €50,000 per year, with a tiny 2% earning more than €100,000 per year.

When you consider that 5% of the population own 50% of the state’s wealth, then the Government’s projected income tax returns for 2009 don’t seem so unfair.

What TASC’s HEAP report tells us is even more interesting. While, during the boom, the income of all groups increased, the gap between high and low incomes widened considerably.

In a comparison of income distribution from 1987 to 2005, TASC demonstrate a clear growth in inequality.

In 2006, women’s income was only 86% of men’s. The proportion of women at risk of poverty in 2007 was 19% compared to 15% of men.

The average annual salary for those with no primary or formal education was €13,489 compared to €45,707 per year for college graduates.

More shocking is the fact that 34% of those with no primary or formal education were at risk of poverty compared to only 3% of college graduates.

IN every EU or OECD comparison contained in the TASC report, the 26 Counties was near the bottom of the pile.

We have higher levels of inequality and poverty and lower levels of spending on social protection than almost all of our rich EU or OECD neighbours.

For TASC, the solution to this mess requires greater equality in people’s pre-tax and post-tax income. Guaranteeing minimum incomes, limiting ‘super salaries’, a fairer tax system and investment in education are all required.

So the next time you hear a Government TD tell you that 4% of workers pay 48% of income tax, don’t just sit there, reach for the HEAP Chart and tell them it’s because our society is so unequal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Leader of a developing-world country visits natural disaster zone


What leader of the developing world could this be...?

Well look no futher than Mr. Brian Cowen.

Nobody will doubt the accuracy of "natural disaster" but developing world is that a bit harsh for south Ireland?

Frankly no its not. If the shoe fits we should call it as it is. There is a reason why traffic in Dublin creeps along, why rail bridges collapse and why Galwegians either cant drink the water in their houses or they cant get into their houses cause of water.

The enjoyable
notesonthefront blog highlighted a report by world economic forum in October 2008 on our infrastructure. Its not comfortable reading. It turns out that infrastructure wise we are all too often a disaster.

In the category of 'Quality of Overall Infrastructure' we rank 64th in the world. 64th! 64th out of 134 countries. Our infrastructural quality ranks behind Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Azerbaijan, Jordan and Jamaica.

Sri Lanka and Mauritius are developing countries and we rank behind them. That description of south Ireland as a developing world country seems to be holding water.

Quality of Roads: We rank 70th - behind even Georgia. With a mean score of 3.5, we are closer to bottom ranking Mongolia (1.4) then we are to top ranking France (6.7).

Georgia - 70 years of Moscow mismanagement is better than 70 years of FF/FG mismanagement it seems

Quality of Port Infrastructure: But then we fall back down - all the way to 64th (we own 64). This is particularly dismal given that over 90 percent of our exports go through our ports; and we're an exporting nation. We even rank behind Zimbabwe and they're landlocked! (They rank higher because they still have better access to South African ports and any inland waterways.)

Worse than a land locked country. Brilliant stuff Fianna Fail. Why would a country like Ireland need quality ports. Thank god we are are surrounded by water but tis a pity at the moment we are under it. So according to the WEF many important aspects of our infrastructure are worse than countries we give aid to.

But the World Economic Forum are not the only body turning an eye on south Ireland. Our friends in the OECD issued a set of conclusions and recommendations at the start of November on our environmental performance.

There are many interesting points in it to discuss but I want to focus on the part that deals with water and flooding. That being topical and all.

Remember this was issued only in November. It was so rosy back then when we were assured that

Ireland has met all deadlines to date for implementing the Water Framework Directive. A new approach to minimising flood risk is being put in place.
Excellent news that. Cork will be thrilled to hear that.With brilliant timeing it continues:
nevertheless, the rate of progress so far is unlikely to prove sufficient...
The city of Galway experienced outbreaks of cryptosporidium in 2002 and 2007, and old lead pipes cause unacceptably high lead levels in more than a few towns.
Unlikely to prove sufficient. Could that be the understatement of the year? I wonder what affect having to drink faeces fouled water has on the minds of multi-nationals in Galway? Were jobs lost because of that?

But then at the end of the report's section on water, and you'd have to laugh really, they have the following recommendation to the Fianna Fail Govt:

further integrate water quality and flood risk management considerations into spatial planning and development management processes.
Can anyone imagine Fianna Fail tying together water quality, flood risk management and spatial planning. Well maybe some naive newbie in the OECD but surely in Ireland we are all learning the hard way that FF is simply too corrupt and incompetent to even tie their shoelaces.

Martin Ferris TD, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on the
Environment, put it well when he said

"The cosy relationship between Fianna Fáil and developers throughout the 80's and 90's saw housing estates spring up in the most unsuitable places such as the flood plains where so many houses have now been ruined by water. Concern for the safety of the homes being built and those living in them meant nothing as developers lusted after massive profits in an over-inflated housing market and in this they were facilitated by their friends in Fianna Fáil.

Martin hits the nail on the head by highlighting this. We have not experienced a natural disaster so much as a man made disaster. Fianna Fail let housing developments go anywhere as long as de boys paid up in the Galway tent. Can we be surprised that aspects of our infrastructure are worse than Georgia or Sri Lanka - neither countries have had an easy time. So what excuse can Fianna Fail have. Corruption, no planning or long term vision, blended with incompetency had a huge role to play in what happened.

Just ask the people in houses built on what Bandon locals used call the swamp. Welcome to a developing country.

There are a lot of ties in with this story - reformed govt:local and national, appropriate tax burden and subsequent investment, NAMA, and criminal legislaton for corruption. This flood tells us so much about modern Ireland.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Peter & Paul - Till Debt do they part


The great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said "a government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul". So how is Peter doing?

Well Peter who we might regard as the ordinary citizen presently getting knocked over because he wasn't smart enough to win money on the horses like Bertie (he was quare lucky that Bertie) is not doing so great.

In the southern state Peter is relying more and more on the state to make ends meet. The CSO's survey on Income and Living conditions 2008 revealed that social welfare and benefits accounted for more than 22% of household income

But for the 10% of households in the lowest income bracket these state payments accounted for 88% of the gross household income. Now every week for months this govt. has been jumping from one position to another when it comes to such payments. They have to be cut drastically or cut a small bit. Smash these dole bludgers or its just necessary cuts etc.

All they have succeeded in doing is terrifying ordinary people who rely on state transfers to make ends meet. Now scaring the bejaysus out of people is hardly doing anything to boost consumer confidence and today's Irish Times report, anecdotal though it be, is further evidence that this govt. is only ensuring economic activity weakens further and further. Japan, move over! south Ireland is thinking about joining you in a lost decade.

But besides the deflationary impact this will have there is a more immediate impact. As mentioned households rely on the govt. for 22% of household income. Add in the fact that southern Irish household debt as a percentage of disposable income increased from 48 per cent in 1995 to approximately 176 per cent in 2009 giving us the dubious honour of being fourth among developed countries in terms of debt ratio.

In other words we are over our heads in debt and the clowns at the top who have NAMA for their developer buddies think Peter our indebted citizen can go hang. Welfare is going to be reduced by god and if that tips him and thousands others over the edge into bankruptcy then its a price worth paying. Who cares that 20% of households were in arrears on payments such as bank accounts, mortgages, rent, credit cards and utility bills. Almost eight per cent of households had arrears of two or more types. Who cares? Well certainly not Fianna Fail.

So what happens when you go bankrupt in south Ireland. Well, as described in an excellent article in the Irish Times, you dont actually go bankrupt. You see when our flag went up over Dublin we didnt seem to ever get around to changing the Victorian mindset. In 2007 a grand total of 4 people went bankrupt in south Ireland. 4! Considering the collapse of the global finances in 2008 this rocketed to 8 in 2008. Doesn't sound right does it?

But remember I mentioned Victorian mindset. Well in the South you have the Dickensian outcome that you get 12 years to discharge your debt; as opposed to 12 months in Britain and 5 years in many other european countries. As the Times noted 12 years is longer than manslaughter. And now that we are speaking about Prison maybe we should think about a system that jailed 276 people in relation to the non-payment of civil debt last year. While the High Court abolished the imprisonment of debtors due to an inability to pay their debt earlier this year its still on the books. Still jailing someone at the cost of 2k a week must make sense on some level although not if they owe money on the level of Seanie Fitz.

And typical of south Ireland when the state fails the people must fend for themselves. The money and Advice budgeting services, a voluntary group, saw its number of clients jump from 14,551 in 2006 to 23,000 this year.

As our economic recovery document says:

There are currently 422,500 people on the live register. This number is growing and there is no government strategy to deal with it. The government claims that saving the banks will fix the economy. Proving them wrong will be cold comfort to the many people who have lost their jobs, who face this Christmas in debt, in poverty and with the prospect of the very small payments made to them by the state being cut.

We are facing into the worst financial crisis since the last one caused by Fianna Fail and we have to rely on a voluntary group to support ordinary people from the deprivations of a Victorian era bankruptcy model thats going to be pushed to the limit by the deflationary policies of a govt. thats intent on reducing the income of one of the most indebted people in the industrial world.

A Bankrupt state morally if not yet financially. I am no radical but the only thing that springs to mind in response to this situation is does anyone have a sledgehammer. This state needs to go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Michael Taft's assessment of Sinn Féin's budget proposals.

Michael Taft is one of the most respected left wing economic commentators in Ireland. He is a supporter of the labour party, but has been a strong advocate of a broad left alliance in Irish politics. His assessment of the current Sinn Féin budget proposals is below.

As I have said before on this site I feel any Sinn Féin supporter with a desire to have a better understanding of economics, should read Michael's webpage on a regular basis.

His site is called Notes on the Front (named after a column written by James Connolly) The address is http://notesonthefront.typepad.com/politicaleconomy/

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Putting the 'Workable' Back into the Economy: The Recession Diaries - November 19th


One could despair. All the major political parties are supporting another round of fiscal contraction, though they may differ on the balance of tax increases and public spending cuts. In this respect, Fianna Fail has won that particular battle, we are just fighting within the parameters they have set. There is seemingly no challenge to the deflationary orthodoxy on the horizon.

Except . . . .


Sinn Fein has published its 2009 pre-budget submission, ‘The Road to Recovery’. In short, it poses a more sophisticated approach to our economic and fiscal crisis. On the one hand, an investment stimulus to generate growth; on the other hand, a range of mostly taxation measures to start to repair the public finances. Sinn Fein proposes to use different instruments to attack the distinct parts of the deficit – the cyclical and the structural.

It’s a ‘walk-and-chew-bubble-gum-at-the-same-time’ fiscal policy; not only is it workable, it has the potential to bring the economy back to some sort of ‘workable’.

Let’s start with the investment stimulus, or the cyclical side of things. They are proposing a €3.9 billion stimulus, or 2.5 percent of GDP (pointing out that this is equivalent to the Anglo-Irish Bank give-away).

The main components include:

~ a job retention scheme with a potential to save 90,000 jobs
~increasing and modernising CE schemes
~Investment in state infrastructure (labour intensive work in construction, insulation, etc.)
~a National Development Scheme to directly employ people on ‘public works’
~a temporary ‘Front Line’ services initiatives to employ people in ‘civilianising’ work in the Gardai and nursing sectors
~The establishment of a state childcare and pre-education sector, along with employing a range of specialist teaching assistants.

These would be supplemented by a range of fiscal stimulus – reducing alcohol duty over the Christmas period, reintroducing the Christmas bonus, and a ‘cost of living’ package that would reduce everyday expenditure items (utilities, public transport, insurance policies, etc.).

There’s a lot of material here that would need to be developed. For instance, I’m not sure what modernising CE schemes would look like – especially with a National Development Scheme running alongside it. The Front Line services initiative looks extremely worthwhile – so much so, why make it temporary? This has the potential of substantially increasing public sector productivity. And Sinn Fein might have benefited from examining the ICTU/Fine Gael proposals for promoting public enterprises as an engine of infrastructural investment to raise long-term productivity (next generation broadband, green technology, etc.).

But the broad thrust is correct: public sector expansion (especially in the areas of education), job retention, infrastructural investment. This will boost output, create jobs and start the economy back on the road to recovery which, in itself, is the most sustainable means to bringing the deficit under control. That’s the ‘walking’ part.

Now for the ‘chewing gum’. Sinn Fein proposes a range of taxation measures and spending cuts to achieve savings of €7.6 billion – a larger amount than any other party is proposing. These can be broadly broken down into:

Taxation: a new third tax rate of 48 percent for those over €100,000, a wealth tax (or, as I like to describe – a comprehensive property tax), standard-rating tax reliefs while getting rid of property-related ones along with the private hospital co-location relief, abolish the PRSI contribution ceiling, increase the tax on ‘second homes’ along with other capital income measures, etc.

Spending Cuts: apart from a couple of innovative suggestions such as establishing a state wholesale distribution of drugs and the wider use of generic drugs (on top of saving money, it could actually be little money-spinner), this section mostly focuses on public sector pay and salary reductions, including politicians and professional fees.

There’s no sense in going over each detail. We can always find something to disagree with. For instance, I wouldn’t support capping public sector pay at €100,000; this would disadvantage the public sector in the specialist labour market and, in any event, as CSO researchers have shown, higher paid public servants suffer a wage disadvantage, especially males, compared to their private sector counterparts. And I would prioritise the effective over the marginal tax rate. But in the main, the proposals go in a positive direction.

Sinn Fein proposes to pay for their stimulus programme by: (a) taking a proportion of the revenue raised from their tax/spending measures (about €1.9 billion), and (b) dipping into the National Pension Reserve Fund (€2 billion)

Again, I would be cautious about resorting to the Pension Fund. There may well be a lot of calls on that fund through future bank capitalisations. I would have rather seen Sinn Fein make more of our strong debt profile – the combination of a relatively low debt level combined with our strong Exchequer cash balances. They did make insightful comments:

‘ . . . we should not be afraid to sustain some level of deficit financing – borrowing for infrastructural development – something which most other countries use as a matter of routine . . . The claims that we are over-borrowed, that we cannot sustain the current level of borrowing and that public spending is the cause of all fiscal ails, are untrue . . . ‘.

Nonetheless, to the extent that resources for stimulus can be obtained from low-deflation tax resources and public spending efficiencies, that is clearly an advantage. The argument for debt-financed stimulus has never rested on ‘we borrow because we can’, but rather, ‘we borrow because we must’. Stimulus that is partly financed from own-resources is preferable.

But let's take a step back for a moment. Because there is something more going on here than just a new calculation, a catalogue of different policies. Franklin Roosevelt once said, ‘There are many ways to go forward, there is only one way to stand still.’ At present, the current economic debate is standing still, stuck on this contraction. There is no dialogue, no conversation – merely a hectoring, a lecturing: how we must fact reality, how we must take the pain up-front, how hard decisions must be taken.

Sinn Fein is pointing to a new dialogue, one consistent with going forward; where more and more people are encouraged to present all sorts of ideas to grow the economy – from business supports to social protection measures, from state spending to incentivising private investment, from increasing taxes on some to decreasing taxes on others.

Not all of them will be good measures, not all of them will stand up to scrutiny, and not all of them can be accommodated. But to have a growing pool of walking-forward ideas – we would be engaged in a new dialogue, over what will work best

Indeed, a new dialogue could have an energising effect, raise confidence and act as a stimulus in and of itself. We should never overlook the psychology of economies – of the people who work in them, of the consumer, of the investor. A new dialogue could produce, in the first instance, a substantial rise in the output of ideas. If that happens, material output will follow.

Now compare that to today, when every idea, every suggestion no matter how worthwhile is met with a ‘We’re broke, can’t do it, where’s the money coming from.’ My favourite is ‘We must cut our living standards to improve our living standards.’ That would depress any economy regardless of its potential.

Sinn Fein has provided, not only a clear and coherent alternative to the deflationary orthodoxy, a more sophisticated fiscal platform from which to launch recovery. They have demonstrated a new way of how we can talk about our economy.

All in all, not a bad day’s work.

http://notesonthefront.typepad.com/politicaleconomy/2009/11/one-could-despair-all-the-major-political-parties-are-supporting-another-round-of-fiscal-contraction-though-they-may-differ.html



A defense of Sinn Féin's record in support of public services in the North.

Below is a piece from Sinn Féin MLA Sue Ramsey. In this article from this week's An Phoblacht see defends Sinn Féin record in Stormont in its defence of public services.

If people in the party, or near to the party, feel like attacking this article, and the argument put forward in it, I believe it is vital that an alternative strategy and policy be put forward.

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Sinn Féin ministers – Standing up for services

BY SUE RAMSEY
SINN FÉIN MLA


RECENT weeks have seen people across Ireland uniting to demand action on unemployment, in opposition to cuts to public services and to defend the declining income of people on low wages and social welfare.

Sinn Féin commends the trade union movement for these mobilisations and we applaud the tens of thousands who took to the streets throughout the country.
In the North, the focus of the ICTU-called demonstrations was on the so-called “efficiency savings” of more than £700 million being demanded by the British Treasury of the health service over the next three years.

There is growing anger among health and social care professionals, trade unions and the broader community as the cuts threaten to seriously erode the quality of care in the North’s healthcare system and attack the rights of health workers.

HITTING FRONTLINE SERVICES

The proposed cuts may lead to the loss of up to 3,000 jobs, including more than 700 nursing posts, and a drastic reduction in the ambulance service as well as the closure of hospital beds.
There is also a push to have patients stay in hospital for the shortest time possible, including those who have undergone surgery. Women’s health professionals have expressed dismay at the Belfast Trust’s plans that new mothers be released from hospital just six to 12 hours after they give birth.

And while these so-called efficiency savings are supposed to free up resources to be reinvested in frontline services, there is no guarantee or mechanism to ensure this is the case. You cannot get more frontline than the ambulance service, one of the targets of the cuts, or the backbone of the health service – its nurses.

Additionally, the Belfast Trust’s plans to stop recruiting new staff, ban agency workers and overtime would impact on the most vulnerable and lowest-paid health workers.

MEETING CHALLENGES

There are undoubtedly real efficiency improvements that could be made in the health service, such as addressing high levels of bureaucracy, top-heavy management and outside consultancy fees.

Ending duplication and maximising the scale of economies through greater all-Ireland workings could release millions back into service delivery. Sinn Féin has called for the comprehensive ‘Investing in Health’ strategy proposed by Bairbre de Brún when she was Health Minister to be implemented as a way to strengthen the health service and integrate it with other departments and social agencies, such as housing and education bodies for example.

This strategy has the potential to save millions of pounds in the health budget by taking a holistic approach to preventative health care.

PUBLIC CONTROL

The proposals are being driven by the British Government’s agenda of privatising and attacking the public health service and other public services. We believe a strong campaign by the community and trade unions will play an important role in defending our public services from such attacks.

Sinn Féin ministers in the Executive have taken steps to ensure that key public services such as water and public transport remain under public control. Our ministers have been pursuing a strategy of investment to protect public services and jobs, and tackling persisting inequalities, poverty and discrimination while advancing all-Ireland co-operation and integration.
Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy has announced the investment of hundreds of millions of pounds into developing efficient, high-quality, affordable and accessible public transport that aims to make the bus or train a more attractive option than private car use. This includes funding for 290 new buses, 20 new trains and a rapid transit network in Belfast. Last October, Conor also introduced free travel on public transport for all citizens in the North aged 60 and over. More than 57,000 older people have now taken up this entitlement.

NO PRIVATISATION OF WATER

As well as developing sustainable transport, Sinn Féin has used its role in the Department of Regional Development to ensure that water remains in public hands.
Despite the obvious eagerness from London to have the Government water company in the North sold off, the Minister has firmly ruled out any moves towards privatisation of the water and sewerage services and voiced his commitment to ensure “it will remain in full public ownership now and in the future”.

We have campaigned since 2001 against the plans made under direct rule ministers to force citizens in the Six Counties to pay a new charge for water when they already pay for this vital service through rates.

In 2007, Conor Murphy commissioned a two-part ‘Independent Review into Water and Sewerage Services’ that recognised the contribution households already make through regional rates and ruled out double charging and private profits being made from the service.
Responding to the increased financial pressures households have come under in the context of the recession, Sinn Féin recently brought forward a successful motion to defer any decision on the funding arrangements for the water service until beyond 2012, when the North’s economic situation would be reassessed by the Executive. The Executive agreed to cover the cost of domestic water use until that time.

INVESTING FOR EQUALITY

Last December, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness helped secure a £15 million financial hardship package to provide assistance in housing, fuel and debt costs for those most vulnerable to the effects of the economic downturn.

Sinn Féin Minster for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle Gildernew has also organised the investment of £10 million to tackle rural poverty through fuel support, rural transport and rural childcare initiatives. Over the next five years, she will be investing £530 million into rural areas in the North.

The most significant change taking place in an Executive department is the radical, progressive reform of the education system being led by Sinn Féin Education Minister Caitríona Ruane. She is advancing a programme of modernising education, based on replacing the failed academic selection system with area-based planning to facilitate the development of post-primary education provision.

The minister has launched a £700 million Schools Modernisation Programme of investment in the schools estate over the next three years.

COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN

Sinn Féin ministers in government are demonstrating their commitment to defending public services, to advancing the all-Ireland agenda and overcoming poverty and inequality.
But the Executive is facing serious challenges in meeting the efficiency targets demanded by the British Treasury across all departments. The framework of the British Government’s pro-privatisation economic policies, and its refusal to address the legacy of its historic under-funding of vital services in the North, lie at the root of the problem.

The unfolding crisis in health care provision clearly shows that more must be done to defend the public sector.

Our immediate priority is the defence of frontline public services and to tackle health inequalities, and ensure that vulnerable people, people living with disadvantage and poverty, and those most at risk are protected.

These proposed cuts demonstrate sharply the need for decision-making powers about the economy to be in the hands of locally-elected and accountable politicians that will make decisions based on the interests of local citizens. Sinn Féin reiterates our call to the other parties to support the acquisition of greater fiscal powers for the Assembly on this basis.

We support the community and trade union campaigns across Ireland in defence of jobs, public services and social welfare and believe a strong and organised movement will play a vital role in protecting and advancing our rights, living standards and services for the future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ILR Podcast: Joanne Spain - Sinn Féin



Below is a link to the Irish Left Review of an interview with Joanne Spain. It is a detailed interview giving a good indepth analysis of Sinn Féin's budget proposals.



ILR Podcast: Joanne Spain - Sinn Féin’s Pre-Budget Submission

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Video of launch of Sinn Féin's budget proposals

Sinn Féin TDs, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan and Aengus Ó Snodaigh launch the Party's Pre-Budget Submission 2010 - The Road to Recovery - in Buswells Hotel in Dublin on November 16th, 2009.




Monday, November 16, 2009

Magic Numbers in the southern Media.



Magic Numbers.

I've been trying to read up on my economics. While its always been a relevant subject and necessary for anyone who has an interest in progressive politics its really hit the limelight now.

The dismal science has many arcane and complex theories.

Two of which were discovered by the southern media.

The first is TINA - There Is No Alternative. Its the southern media's catch all theory thats applied once exhaustion sets in. Its most recent outing has been with Nama.

But the second is economics at its best. Its the Magic Number theory.

First I learned of it was yesterday in the Sunday Tribune. Shane Coleman, Political editor and dabbler in economic theory was the man of the moment.

In a rather long article questioning whether Fine Gael and Labour had the bottle to make difficult budgetary choices Mr. Coleman was determined to set the scene early.

The first words were: It's the €4bn question. Now when I did my leaving cert in english we were told avoid repetition, dont hack away at the same point. Did anyone tell Shane?

Repeatedly the number of €4 billion in cuts is the number bandied about. Over and over again Shane hacks away telling us that "The closer it comes to the budget, the closer Fine Gael's proposals to produce the magic €4bn will come under scrutiny." And Fine Gael can be sure that its proposals will come under scrutinity but since when did all budgetary policy become defined by the number 4 billion.

Shane lists a number of various opposition party measures to cut expenditure but guess what as none of these hit 4 billion then well they just dont do it.

There will have to be budgetary cut backs. The economy is going to need to be restructured. Its going to be rough and hard and we all know it but the southern state is not best served by journalists who become fixated by numbers without taking the time to consider what the numbers mean. Just because the Fianna Fail/Green govt. sets a target does not mean its correct and anyone who fails to hit it is wrong. If the various economic plans of the opposition parties are focussed, credible and purposeful then thats the mark of a good plan.

The mark of a good plan is not picking a number and slashing and burning till you get there. Magic aint real Shane and picking the magic numer of 4 billion simply because its the wheeze of the moment aint much of a trick and its certainly not a useful contribution to the debate.

Maybe one day in the south we'll get a media that takes the time to think for itself rather than just dribble out this nonsense.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The IMF will save us!!! - Yeah, the people who have all the economic answers, but didn't see this mess coming.

Below is an article from this week's An Phoblacht on the dangers of the IMF. In my opinion it is a strong likelihood that many of the ruling class in this country would be quite happy for the IMF to come into Ireland and take the blame for implementing cuts to pay and social services. They will turn around and try to blame the unions and the work shy for not having the brains to bow to the cuts this government is currently proposing.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will simply say there is no alternative. Well there is. Make those with money pay for solving this crisis. Make them take the pain not ordinary working people.

Anyway the piece below will give you some information on the IMF and every left republican should read up on this orgaisation because we will hear it mentioned alot in the coming deabte around the budget and beyond.

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IMF is not an option for Ireland




BE AFRAID, be very afraid, ‘IMF creep’ is threatening Irish sovereignty. It probably started as a joke at Dublin cocktail parties, where the well heeled talk about the latest David McWilliams articles and how they miss George Lee on RTÉ, but the glib argument that with a deepening economic crisis and a paralysed coalition government the only way to avoid disaster was to allow the International Monetary Fund (IMF) manage or run the Irish economy is gaining credence.

It can be comforting to think that there is a way to call time out and let someone else clean up the after effects of the economic tsunami that has beached the Irish economy but it is a delusional state.

It is the ideology of those who used to think that Thatcher wasn’t all that bad or that nuclear power is a viable option to protect the environment and tackle climate change. You know them, the people who ponder over the differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policies. When in government or not the differences between them are often cosmetic.

So before we press the emergency button do we really know who the IMF are, what they do, and most importantly if they are that great why did they not see the international economic meltdown that was emerging in this decade across the world’s economies?

What did they think, say and do about the global financial and banking collapse that has in Ireland wreaked the most havoc, with the highest levels of unemployment and the proportionally biggest bank bailouts of any other developed economy in the world?

Finally what is wrong in Ireland that we think so little of and value our economic sovereignty so lightly that some would consider throwing it away so easily. This question is perhaps the easiest to answer.

There are those who never appreciated the value of economic independence for Ireland, those who never wanted the responsibility of building a better Ireland, and would instead be quite content to let someone else do it. It is the ideology of Homer Simpson and scarily it is gaining credence In Ireland today.

Who are the IMF?


Ireland is actually part of the IMF along with 185 other states and the has a history of rebuilding shattered economies. It emerged in 1944 as a vehicle for the Allies post World War II reconstruction programme. There were 29 original members and alongside the IMF a new World Bank also came into being. Their original task was in 1944 according to the IMF one of “overseeing the international monetary system”
In reality the IMF and World Bank would set the game rules for financial markets and international trade, rules written by the most rich and powerful countries in the world.



What do the IMF do?

Through the World Bank and funding given to them by member states, they lend money to other states who are in financial difficulty. The money comes with an ever increasing amount of strings attached.

One good example of this was an IMF fund introduced in 1986 called a Structural Adjustment Facility, better known as Structural Adjustment Programmes.

The programmes work quite simply in that recipients get low cost loans where the repayments are easier to meet than international market rates but there a lot of conditions. These can be summarised under the demand to open their economies to more trade and ensure as little state involvement in domestic markets, which for poor underdeveloped states often means cutting back of health, education and social spending while privatising as much of the public sector in your economy as possible.
Many organisations including the Debt and Development Coalition in Ireland argue that the IMF has increased poverty in underdeveloped economies through the conditions of the funding it provides.

The IMF also produce a range of economic data and reports, and regularly comments forcefully on whether they agree or disagree with the economic policies of particular states. For example, in June the IMF said the 26-County economy was the most overheated of all “advanced economies”. If you don’t owe them money it is a moot point. If you do, you should read on?

The Ukraine Example

The Ukrainian Government have received almost $11 billion in loans from the IMF. In late October the head of the IMF described a new law to increase minimum wages and pensions by 20% in Ukraine as ‘a threat’ to the country’s economic stability.
The Wall Street Journal reported that, “The new Ukrainian law could derail the loan arrangement between Ukraine and the IMF and jeopardise arrangements the country has made to receive a loan from the European Commission”.

The IMF would only sanction a 10% increase in wages and pensions. This is the inflation rate there, arguing that anything above “would place an unsustainable burden on public finances.”

The Romanian Example

Reuters reported this week that the Romanian Government are to “force 1.3 million state employees to take 8 days unpaid holiday at the end of 2009 as part of efforts to meet International Monetary Fund spending targets”.

The news agency said that, “The move is part of deep austerity cuts that the European Union’s second poorest country is planning, including up to 150,000 public sector job cuts next year.”

So without the IMF we are talking public sector wage cuts in Ireland and with them who knows how like Romania Ireland would be?

The Sri Lankan Example

The Sri Lankan economy is facing into an election, and here in this flawed democracy it seems that the IMF are the de facto government. This week the IMF agreed to give the Sri Lankan government $329 million, part of a $2.6 billion loan. The IMF wants the government to ‘broaden the tax base” and “control spending”.

Anti-IMF campaigner Sarath Fernando, described by one news agency as “a veteran campaigner for the rights of peasant farmers and agriculture workers”, believes that, “The IMF wants government to reduce spending by raising taxes, privatising state-owned enterprises and cutting the welfare and social spending”.

Under the terms of the IMF agreement the Sri Lankan government must cuts its budget deficit from 7% to 5%. Without the IMF we have been able to consider a lot more options than the Sri Lankans.

Who else has the IMF ‘helped’ in 2009?

In the year to date Latvia, Hungary and Iceland have also received IMF bailouts. This week the IMF gave $1.7 billion to the Dominican Republic and Montenegro are negotiating a loan.

Who has threatened the idea of an IMF role in Ireland?

In August, former Fine Gael Garret FitzGerald, supporting NAMA said that failure to support the project could “let Ireland fall into the hands of the International Monetary Fund”.

In October Mary Harney said, “If the Government hasn’t the capacity to do what’s needed, then others will come in, like the IMF, and overnight they will make decisions. Then they will immediately start cutting expenditure by maybe 30 or 40 per cent, and that is a fact.”

The two were threatening the IMF to preserve a failing status quo, meanwhile the internet blogs, message boards and occasional economic commentary columns of Irish newspapers are floating the IMF option.

It is not a course of action anyone should want to take. The IMF is a road to ruin. shown by the living standards in most African states before the IMF came in with the money and the cuts/privatisation agenda and look at it after.