The queue outside the Sinn Féin tent at the Plowing Championships said a lot about the changing face of politics. Traditionally the dominant civil war party, Sinn Féin is a fixture at the annual gathering in central and rural Ireland, although Eamon Ryan’s name has cropped up in conversation too – and not for good reason.
Mary Lou McDonald was back in the heartland of tech giants later in the week to announce her party’s “alternative budget”.
“I just made it over one of those podiums,” she remarked. “I did it,” said her colleague Mairéad Farrell, before Ms McDonald emphasized, “With the benefit of a step.”
Along with Pearse Doherty, the trio were perfectly in line with their policy statement. Alternative budgets are an inconsequential wish list on which the opposition can poke holes and claim they would do better without worrying about repercussions.
Sinn Féin’s rapprochement with royalty seems to have rubbed off as the party is suddenly keen to expand its appeal to millionaire manor owners. The gentry and the wealthy alike will rejoice at the offer to cap their utility bills at last year’s levels. There is the heating bill for the swimming pool, which is taken over by Sinn Féin – the monarchical party. After all, the head of Sinn Féin unchallengedly embraced her role and kept her unchallenged for decades. No wonder they empathize with the aristocracy.
The unscientific argument that big homes tend to be more energy efficient, so their bills are lower, is top-of-the-head logic. With no guarantee of where energy bills will end up, Sinn Féin says it is providing €1.6 billion for the universal measure that will benefit every household regardless of income.
Maybe the party is right, maybe this is the only way to keep households safe. However, it is quite a risky approach and leaves the Treasury unprotected.
Being able to cite the measure introduced in other European countries also helps against accusations of copying homework from the Tories and issuing a blank cheque.
But Sinn Féin’s policy isn’t just about populism — it’s easy for the public to understand. Mary Lou McDonald is a veteran political communicator, and her party’s budget-related messages are astute and summed up in crisp sentences: cap utility bills, put a month’s rent back into tenants’ pockets, cut childcare fees by two-thirds. Incisive connections to voters have served Sinn Féin well. Sure, it’s witticism about substance, but if substance really mattered in politics Richard Bruton would be the leader of the Fine Gael and Taoiseach.
The coalition can play whac-a-mole with Sinn Féin’s promises or learn from the way it views voters. keep it simple
Putting together the 2023 budget with 14 billion euros on the table is complicated and there is a risk that the audience will get lost in the details. The core message is further confused as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party each attempt to claim their own victories.
The key to ensuring that this budget is well received is a unified message from the governing parties. Easier said than done. Indiscipline within the coalition parties, individually and in dealings with one another, is proving costly to their credibility. In the past week alone, scathing shots have been fired within the supposed coalition over rural school buses, urban public disorder and European roles.
Keeping everyone busy in this government is like herding cats because there always seems to be someone who gets lost. By presenting the public with three different budget pictures, one from each party – along with individual ministers trying to justify their own existence – the overall message is diluted.
Whether the Leccie bills are being addressed by a loan or a cap, the talk of targeted action for those struggling the most doesn’t add up.
Just look at where the Ministry of Public Expenditure says €1.3 billion was spent on additional measures this year as the crisis unfolded. On the energy bill side there was a €225 fuel allowance which was certainly aimed at. Likewise, the allowance for working families, the back-to-school allowance for clothes and shoes, and the extension of hot meals for schools were targeted measures. However, these most vulnerable-targeted measures accounted for less than €1 for every €10 spent.
The rest distribute the benefits across all income groups. Aside from the electricity credit, the public transport rebate, excise tax reduction, VAT reduction on invoices, 9 percent VAT for hospitality, drug payment system reduction and student transportation fees were all of general benefit. Tomorrow’s household will follow a similar pattern.
This is where child support comes into play. Internationally, there are strong arguments that the state supports all families with the costs of raising children, regardless of income. But the payment of child benefit means that high earners with six-figure salaries still have to pay almost 1,700 euros a year from the state for a child – just like low earners. The government will argue that this is not the only support available to low-income families, as the welfare system offers a range of benefits.
Notably, there remains an inability to target interventions at those on low and middle incomes while omitting those on higher incomes. Nearly a decade ago, an expert group looked at child benefit and concluded that it should remain universal, but that low-income people should receive more than high-income people, either through taxation of the benefit or a two-tier payment that provides a top-up offers . Options would have included a means test and family income measurement.
After originally sitting on the report and not publishing it for more than a year – during a period when child benefits were under scrutiny for cuts – then-Social Protection Secretary Joan Burton abandoned the recommendations. Nothing has happened. By dismissing a report by the Taxation and Welfare Commission as “straight out of the Sinn Féin Manifesto,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar ends the debate on future policy development at a time when it is needed. So nothing happens.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/sinn-feins-simple-sound-bite-model-works-this-coalition-of-straying-cats-should-take-note-42016021.html Sinn Féin’s simple Soundbite model works – this coalition of stray cats should be noted