Sinn Fein needs to explain position on austerity

Alex Kane

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an Irish News columnist and political commentator and a former director of communications for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.  Picture by Mal McCann
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Picture by Mal McCann Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Picture by Mal McCann

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the Topsy-like expansion of the European Economic Community into the European Union and the likelihood that it would, before very long, become the United States of Europe. It’s why I voted No in the 1975 referendum and why I will vote No in 2017.

Here’s what I said: “There are those at the very heart of the European Union who want to build a new superpower; a United States of Europe. They see a world that has changed since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Empire. They see a United States of America that has grown tired, overstretched and burdened with debt. They see the rise of China and India and a new order in the Middle East. They look into the near future and see change across Africa and Latin America. So they want the European Union, in the guise of a United States of Europe, to be one of the new powers in that new world; a world of maybe five super-powers rather than the one or two we have been used to since 1945.”

And that’s why I had no doubts whatsoever that Greece would be ‘saved’. The key forces at the heart of the Euro project were always going to save it. Unfortunately for the Greek people, Alexis Tsipras, prime minister and leader of Syriza, was too vain, too arrogant, too inexperienced and too stupid to realise that Angela Merkel was engaged in a process of emasculation. She let him think that she would do anything to keep him happy. She let him take his absurd proposals to the Greek electorate in a referendum. She gave him his moment of “look-at-me-I’m-standing-up-against-the-big-political-beasts-of-the-jungle” victory. Then she nailed his feet to the floor and used him as a punch bag. She got what she wanted. More important, she’ll have his head on an electoral platter within a matter of months.

The reason she was able to knock ten bells out of him is that an ‘anti-austerity’ party is always going to lose any battle with economic reality. When money is owed—irrespective of how the debt has accrued—it has to be repaid. When there isn’t any money then it has to be raised through borrowing, taxes or cuts. Any Greek government was going to have to fold—it was just so much easier for Merkel to break a government and prime minister who believe that there is such a thing as an ‘anti-austerity’ position.

Commentators have chalked this up as a victory for a single currency (which it isn’t, in fact) and a victory for the imperialistic ambition underpinning the European Union. They’ve also argued that it makes it so much easier for David Cameron’s negotiations in advance of the 2017 referendum. Of course it has made it easier for him. It was meant to make it easier for him. He can now pretend to play tough, get a smoke-and-mirror concession and then lead an all-party referendum campaign to swallow the whole Euro project hook, line and sinker. So there you have it: Tsipras emasculated and Cameron enhanced. Merkel must be very happy.

I wonder how Sinn Fein is feeling about it all, though? Just a few days ago Martin McGuinness was saying that it was “an honour to be likened to Greek politicians.” Really? An honour to be likened to a party that rolls over under pressure when it discovers that, economically speaking, anti-austerity is as credible as your aunty Annie’s weekly Lotto tickets? An honour to be likened to a party that held out and then settled for a worse deal than the three previous ones on offer? An honour to be likened to a party that closed banks and crippled national pride? The only Greek that McGuinness should be likened to is Icarus, who built dodgy wings, flew too close to the sun, burned his arse and came crashing to the ground with a mighty thump.

With elections not very far away for both the Assembly and the Dáil it’s as good a time as any to pin down Sinn Fein on what it means by ‘anti-austerity.’ Or, better still, maybe Mr McGuinness could just tell us which parts of Syriza’s anti-austerity platform he likes and how Sinn Fein would succeed in delivering them when Alexis Tsipras so monumentally cocked it up? Or does Sinn Fein simply like the idea of snuggling into a coalition, opposing everything from within and never ever take responsibility for anything?