Sinn Fein’s contradictory approach to two unions: the UK and EU

John McCallister
John McCallister

I will admit that doing politics in two jurisdictions is bound to be difficult

However, Sinn Fein’s current economic rhetoric, which simultaneously attacks HM Treasury whilst backing the newly-elected Syriza Government’s fight against austerity in Greece, is coming perilously close to a complete absurdity.

This is for a very simple reason - what Syriza is fighting for in Greece, Sinn Fein already has in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

When the Euro was created many experts warned that you cannot have a single currency union without a political and fiscal union. The Eurozone has effectively kept the Euro at a lower exchange rate than the Deutsch Mark could otherwise have achieved – boosting German productivity. At the same time it flooded countries like Greece, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland with cheap money, as interest rates were kept at a rate these countries could never have achieved on the strength of their individual economies and currencies alone.

When the bubble burst the weaker economies in the Eurozone collapsed into unmanageable levels of debt. They were bailed out by the Troika of the ECB, IMF and EC, but at the price of paying their debts back (with interest) and introducing severe austerity and public sector reforms to boot.

In a single currency with a political and fiscal union, there is a greater sense of ‘we are all in this together’. When certain parts of that union are struggling economically, the more economically productive parts transfer funds (which never have to be paid back) to top up the economy of the weaker areas and maintain relatively stable standards of living.

This is ultimately what Syriza and others would like the Eurozone to become and in backing them this is what Sinn Fein is arguing for.

However, in the United Kingdom this reality already exists. The more productive parts of the United Kingdom subsidises Northern Ireland to the tune of £9.6 billion a year to maintain our standards of living and keep our economy afloat. When the housing bubble burst in Northern Ireland, the Block Grant shielded us from complete economic collapse.

Yet Sinn Fein, so blinded by its ideological and narrow republicanism, refuses to recognise this reality and argues for Northern Ireland to be freed from the ‘evil Brits’ and the ‘price of the Union’ and join the Republic of Ireland. In effect Sinn Fein wants us to leave a fiscal and political union, from which we do very well, to join a Eurozone union which is punishing Greece, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland for being economically weaker than Germany. And to top it all off, Sinn Fein would fight to achieve an economic and political settlement in Europe much like the one they would have just left in the United Kingdom.

This rhetoric is a complete distraction from the real issues that the Northern Ireland economy and our society face. We have been lagging behind GB for decades, we have a bloated and inefficient public sector and have been incapable of meaningful reform, apart from that which is being driven by London. We have failed to invest wisely to make our economy more productive and reduce levels of poverty - poverty which is often most prevalent in constituencies represented by Sinn Fein.

Northern Ireland needs to desperately reform its political institutions, but we also need a much better standard of economic debate, which focuses on facts and not contradictory but convenient political fictions.

• John McCallister is an MLA for South Down