Analysis: Does SF’s corporation tax U-turn show the party moving to the left?

Parliment Buildings Stormont. Pic Bernie Brown
Parliment Buildings Stormont. Pic Bernie Brown

The campaign to devolve corporation tax has been so long, and taken so many turns, that it helps to go quite far back in time to put yesterday’s Sinn Fein move in some context.

Five years ago, the then Sinn Fein economy spokesman Mitchel McLaughlin clearly outlined the party’s stance on corporation tax: “The reality is that what is required is parity of 12.5 per cent throughout the island”.

That statement – which called for the Government to “expedite the reduction in corporation tax to assist in economic recovery” – was in the context of what the party said was a £128 million cut to the Executive’s budget.

But now that the cuts have continued – as it then knew they would, and as will continue for years to come – suddenly the party has changed its position. Rather than corporation tax being a tool to alleviate cuts, the party now seems to have realised that cutting any tax requires either more borrowing or spending cuts to balance the books.

Given that fact, it has always been ideologically insane for a supposedly left-wing party to argue along with the Tories and businesses to cut in tax for businesses – while it also demands increased public spending.

That has been grasped by increasing numbers of Sinn Fein members, some of whom raised the issue at its recent Ard Fheis.

Last month, Dublin-based Sinn Fein strategist Eoin Ó Broin wrote an unusually candid reflection of the general election campaign. In what seemed like an implicit criticism of its strategy, he said that “nationalist unity played an important role at an earlier stage in the peace process” but that in the next electoral cycle “the only pact that Sinn Féin should be calling for is with those voters who believe that a better, fairer Ireland is possible”.

That suggestion of a left-wing Sinn Fein – rather than the sort of sectarianism exemplified by Gerry Kelly’s infamous ‘all Catholics are nationalists’ leaflet – is at odds with slashing taxes for multi-national firms.