Does Sinn Féin represent a genuine left alternative for working class people in the General Election? This is a question that many workers and young people are now asking.
Recent opinion polls have shown Sinn Fein support around the 14-16% mark with the Red C poll for the Irish Sun before Christmas showing 22% support for the party amongst lower income working class voters, making it the most popular party in the state in that category.
Despite the fact that 49% of voters say they would never vote Sinn Fein (many of them working people forever alienated from the party by its support for the IRA campaign), it is clear that Sinn Fein’s opposition to the IMF deal and Fianna Fail/Green Party cutbacks has won it fresh support.
This is especially the case given that Labour have agreed to the IMF targets, advocated €4.5 billion cuts in the Budget debates and pledged not to reverse any FF cuts in the next government before being forced, to backtrack. In this context, Sinn Fein is winning support as a “left” alternative.
The election of Pearse Doherty in the Donegal South West bye-election and the decision by Gerry Adams to contest Louth put the media focus onto the party.
Sinn Fein has railed against the “cosy consensus” of the cuts here in the Republic. However, in the North, they have done precisely the opposite and signed up to supporting a vicious programme of anti-working class cutbacks. When actually in power, in the North, they have signed up to a draft budget which provides for:
* £4 billion in cuts over 4 years
* £500+ million privatisation sell-offs of state land and assets
* A pay freeze for 200,000 workers.
Furthermore, Northern Ireland faces increases in the pension age and up to 30,000 public sector job losses as a result of cuts, the first tranche of which has now been accepted by Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein argue that the cuts originate with the British government and their £4 billion cut in Northern Ireland Exchequer funding, saying that they have little alternative but to pass them on.
This is an entirely hollow argument. Fianna Fail could make a similar argument and say that the cuts in the Republic originate with the IMF and that they now have little alternative but to pass them on too.
Sinn Fein have failed to definitively rule out coalition deals with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael after the election. Gerry Adams said recently: “We are involved in a historic compromise in the North which is actually functioning. So we know about the art of politics and the art of compromise…..when you can do business with Ian Paisley you can do business with anyone.”
It is true that the party puts its emphasis on wanting a coalition deal with Labour. This is extremely unlikely given that Labour have ruled it out and are set on a deal with Fine Gael. However, would a Labour – Sinn Fein government represent Ireland’s first Left governement? No. Both parties accept the rule of the capitalist market and would operate within that framework. This would mean accepting cuts and tax increases and Sinn Fein would be prepared to accept this as shown by their policies in Belfast as would Labour as shown by their support for €4.5 billion cuts in Dublin.
The genuine left alternative at the General Election, consistent in its opposition to cuts, tax increases on working people and privatisation, will be provided not by Sinn Fein but by the United Left Alliance.