Manifestos: Sinn Fein
Scope’s manifesto series continues with the party that is leading in all the polls.
Sinn Fein’s manifesto, like their electioneering, wants to set a substantive tone.
It’s easy to be cynical about this. Northern Ireland is a strange place. The two biggest parties are in a constant political arm wrestle, with claims and counterclaims about each other’s behaviour and intentions. A significant amount of the political identity of each is based on its confrontations with the other.
And, yet, Sinn Fein and the DUP are regular partners in government. Perhaps stranger still, they aren’t in direct competition at the ballot box. It is only a small simplification to say both try to maximise their votes from two separate groups of people.
So, with the DUP hammering its messages about the NI Protocol and the spectre of a “divisive border poll”, Sinn Fein are free to do something a bit more elegant: attack the DUP by implication, emphasising a suite of policies they say will tackle Northern Ireland’s challenges in health, education, climate change and the like.
Sinn Fein want to look like a party ready to take on the day-to-day issues affecting everyone, the effects of which are being felt by people who are green, orange or other.
Michelle O’Neill’s foreword to the manifesto doesn’t mention the border, or a United Ireland.
“Sinn Féin’s priority is to make politics work, to show that real change is possible.
“That means strengthening our health service, providing our children with a modern education, building affordable homes, making our communities safer, and creating good jobs so the next generation has a future here.
“It means supporting workers and families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.”
Preparing for Unity is one of the policy sections in the document – alongside health, education, housing and so on – but it is given no special place. The first section, in fact, concerns policies to tackle the cost of living.
Sinn Fein says it would immediately give every household in NI £230, with £100 extra for those on benefits and who received cash to help with energy payments previously. It wants to boost various emergency support funds, and also give £70m to the agri sector “to deal with increased cost of feed, fuel and fertiliser”.
It also wants to help young families by reducing school uniform costs and tackle holiday hunger by providing financial payments to eligible households during school holidays.
There is a section on Working Together in the Executive – another positive policy statement that is also an indirect swipe at the DUP – which includes a call to increase devolved powers, such as the ability to set progressive taxes and raise the minimum wage.
The party says that health is a priority but, while it is happy to support significant budget increases, there is no real mention of Bengoa, Transforming Your Care, and the specific structural reforms that report after report has deemed necessary in order to make Health and Social Care sustainable.
Recruiting and retaining more clinical staff (which is crucial issue for the service) is listed as a priority, although the party’s ideas for transformation now seem to hinge more on creating an all-island service.
Sinn Fein wants a more “inclusive and sustainable” economy, and is critical of what it says are the regional imbalances in investment and opportunities “which is a hallmark of unionist stewardship of the economy since partition” (not all of their moves to have a go at the DUP and unionism at large are that subtle).
The call the Protocol an opportunity, and want to boost the all-island economy, and for this – alongside decarbonisation – to form the basis of a new economic strategy, which will capitalise on both tourism and foreign direct investment.
The party cites Deirdre Hargey’s sweeping changes while she was Communities Minister as the starting point of its ideas to revamp housing in NI. It says building new houses is crucial for social development, and says it plans to construct 100,000 homes in the next 15 years.
It also wants to introduce various supports and protections for both social and private renters, and raises the possibility of rent controls.
Plans for education include the long-standing party policy to end academic selection, as well as support for both integrated and Irish-medium education (which Sinn Fein is keen to link together as issues of choice).
They also want to expand the provision of Relationship and Sexuality Education.
Sinn Fein has a bundle of workers’ rights policies it wants to implement (and to have the powers to implement) in NI, including raising the minimum wage, ending zero-hours contracts, banning fire and rehire, make it easier for workers to unionise, legislate to “improve access to flexible working and the right to disconnect”, boost childcare provision and to “create good quality jobs”.
Most NI parties are keen to make a pitch to rural communities and Sinn Fein are no different, with plans to boost connectivity, support farmers - including with transition to modern, sustainable ways of working and with “the establishment of a Commission on the Future of the Irish Family Farm which would be tasked with producing recommendations as to how our family farm model can survive and thrive into the future”.
That ties in with their climate change policies, which are broadly about supporting industries that need to change, rural proofing climate strategies, and banning fracking and other drilling measures while developing solar, wind and tidal energy infrastructure.
The final policy section concerns equality, diversity and inclusion and offers no surprises. The party’s stated general aims on supporting minorities have not changed in a long time. They also call back to the Stormont House Agreement – remember that? – and the legacy mechanisms agreed in 2014.
Sinn Fein’s manifesto is available here.
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