The following is a speech Gerry Adams gave yesterday in putting forward a motion in the North of Ireland Assembly condemning the Coalition Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. It is worth publishing in full.
I beg to move
That this Assembly has serious concerns about the impact of the British Government’s comprehensive spending review proposals; and calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to address these concerns.
We are here to represent our peers and were sent here to show leadership and to advocate the rights of citizens. The Assembly is part of a unique and experimental form of governance that is linked to other institutions, and it acts as a bridge out of conflict. It is also a forum in which opposing views can be articulated as we seek to build a new society. Developing a peace process and sustainable institutions collectively has been a considerable achievement, but we can, and have to, do more. The Assembly has to deliver for those whom we represent. We have met many challenges in the recent past, but the current crisis may well be the most challenging of all, impacting as it does on the social and economic rights of citizens.
You will not be surprised to hear, a Cheann Comhairle, that Sinn Féin has no truck for British Government involvement in Irish affairs. Others here have an entirely different view. Let us agree to disagree on that this morning. Instead, let us focus on that Government’s assault on public services, lower- and middle-income families, people on social welfare and the most vulnerable sections of our community. During the Westminster election, some parties here attached themselves to the Tory bandwagon. Sinn Féin pointed out the danger of another period of Tory governance. Regrettably and unfortunately, our prediction has come true.
As a consequence, the North now faces a reduction of 6·9% in the current expenditure budget and 37% in capital expenditure over the next four years. The Tory Government have also reneged on the St Andrews commitment to £18 billion for infrastructure. That is entirely and absolutely unacceptable, and we need to face up to that. It is worth noting that the Irish Government have kept to their financial commitments. The massive cut in capital expenditure will have a devastating impact on the construction industry, our infrastructure and the upgrade and maintenance of hospitals and schools over the next four years.
The Tories claim that the cut is necessary to get rid of the deficit. However, in truth, it is about the old-fashioned Conservative principle of protecting the rich at the expense of lower- and middle-income earners and the poor. It is wrong, and the Assembly needs to say that it is wrong. Ní ghlacann Sinn Féin leis sin ar chor ar bith. If it really was about the deficit, the Trident system, which will cost billions, would have been scrapped and the banks would have been made to pay for their greed. However, that is not how Conservative politics works. Conservatism, whether in London or Dublin, is not about building communities, sustaining public services or citizens’ rights.
The economic and social impact of Tory policies will drive many people into poverty. The poorest will be hit 10 times harder than the wealthy; those are not my statistics but others’. Public services will be decimated. Among the provisions most likely to be affected are mental health services, which are under pressure already. Last week, in the constituency of West Belfast, four young people are suspected of having taken their own lives. I was at one of the funerals, and I called to each of the wake houses. That is an awful crisis for their families and the communities around them. However, it should also be a crisis for the Assembly. Suicide prevention, which is just one pertinent example, needs an emergency response with appropriate resources. Where is that response? That is what people were asking me on Saturday morning. It will certainly not be forthcoming if the Tories have their way.
Lone parents, the elderly and the sick will suffer the most. The patterns of poverty that have remained unchanged over decades, which affect supporters of the unionist parties, our party and other parties, will be reinforced. Up to 20,000 public sector jobs will go, and another 16,000 private sector jobs will follow.
The outlook is bleak, but it does not have to be like this. There is another way of coming at the problem; there is a better way. Is féidir linn todhchaí níos fear a bheith againn. We need to have a vision of where the Assembly wants to go and what we want to do for those whom we represent. The best way to tackle the recession is through stimulus, investing in jobs, building infrastructure, tackling waste and protecting front line services. Costed proposals by Sinn Féin would realise almost £1·9 billion in combined savings and new revenue. Other political representatives here will have other proposals and suggestions; other shareholders will have other propositions. All the parties here need to explore all those in a spirit of openness and inclusivity. In that respect, therefore, I welcome the Minister of the Environment’s statement yesterday that he is prepared to revisit the review of public administration (RPA) and the significant savings that that offers.
Sinn Féin also believes that the political parties in the Assembly, the trade unions, the community and voluntary sector and the business sector must work together. We want to develop and be part of a progressive consensus and to build on the ideas that have been put forward to protect jobs and public services and to help to grow the economy. The Assembly needs to send a very clear message today that it is firmly opposed to cutting public services. At the same time, of course, there is a need for efficiency in all sectors. People who are very well paid need to have their earnings capped. We believe that MLAs should take the lead and accept a 15% reduction in salary. That should also apply to the top layer of civil servants.
There are other ways to end waste, such as reducing the use of external consultants and getting rid of unnecessary quangos. The Executive could set up a special investment fund to support indigenous small and medium-sized businesses, social enterprise projects, green technology and renewable energy and tourism, and to ensure that EU funding is assessed. An environmental levy on plastic bags, for example, is another effective way of reducing waste and generating revenue. The banks, which were greedy, unregulated and responsible for most of the current crisis, need to play their part in the recovery. We propose that the four major banks in the North should contribute to a development bond of £400 million over the next four years. The credit union movement could also contribute to a social fund. The Housing Executive and our Executive have the power. The Housing Executive could be authorised to borrow money to fund social housing needs.
In my time here, Finance Ministers have acknowledged in the Chamber that the Executive do not have the necessary economic levers to manage our economy efficiently. It is time that that changed. I hear a lot about can-do politics; I hear a lot about the history of this part of the island. Let us not accept that we do not have proper economic levers. Let us lead, and let us seek to get those economic powers devolved.
It also makes sense that the Executive and the Irish Government should agree measures to reduce the duplication of services across the border in health, education, the environment, infrastructure, and much more. We have seen how effective that that can be on the roads network.
It is time for innovation; it is not time for heads to go down. We are here to give leadership, and, as I said earlier, I think that we can send a very clear signal from the Assembly that we are united and we are going to get behind the Executive to bring forward constructive, common sense propositions to see our way out of this economic crisis. Go raibh míle maith agat.