Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 26 May 2016

Sinn Fein to protect EU membership

Published 20/04/2015

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness during the launch of the party's General Election manifesto in Dungannon
Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness during the launch of the party's General Election manifesto in Dungannon

Sinn Fein has supported a binding vote in Northern Ireland alone on EU membership if the rest of the UK decides for exit.

Martin McGuinness said the Tories were "sleepwalking" toward the door, and Gerry Adams claimed decisions in Sussex should not be decisive for the lives of people in Fermanagh and Tyrone.

The party is also to seek an extra £1.5 billion spending power for Northern Ireland in negotiations with an incoming British government.

That equates to the amount of spending power Stormont power-sharing ministers have lost over the course of the last parliament, the party said.

The republican party launched its manifesto in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, with the talks pledge.

Mr McGuinness said: "It is quite clear that the Conservative Party are determined to have a referendum."

He added: "They are in my opinion essentially sleepwalking towards an exit from Europe, that would be absolutely economically disastrous for this island and particularly for us here in the North."

The Conservatives have pledged an in-out referendum on EU membership during the next mandate if re-elected.

Sinn Fein leader Mr Adams said he would support a separate binding vote in Northern Ireland.

"A decision made in Sussex or Wessex or wherever other English county should not be binding on the people who live in Tyrone or Fermanagh or any other part of the Six Counties, or indeed the effect that this would have on the 32 counties as well, so it is up to the Irish Government to argue that."

The Conservatives and Labour are facing a challenge across Britain from the eurosceptic Ukip. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017 and lost two policymakers to Ukip last year.

In recent days Sinn Fein has argued that Northern Ireland's farming and rural community would be badly affected by a European exit. EU money supports many farmers.

The nationalist SDLP has rejected an exit from Europe and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) said it wanted reformation of the EU rather than a departure.

Political leaders in Northern Ireland have been in negotiations over welfare reform and Sinn Fein is seeking an extra £1.5 billion from London.

Mr McGuinness said: "This is big stuff, this is probably going to be one of the most important Westminster elections in recent times.

"What we need to see in the aftermath of the election is all of the political parties in the north of Ireland standing together to make the case that a society emerging from conflict deserves better than what the Tory adminstration has been involved in in the course of recent times, withdrawing £1.5 billion from our block grant."

That equates to the amount of spending power Stormont power-sharing ministers have lost over the course of the last parliament, the party said.

In the 2010 general election, Michelle Gildernew retained her Fermanagh South Tyrone seat by just four votes, making it the constituency with the smallest majority in the UK.

The margin was reduced further, after a special court examined disputed votes, to just one vote.

A unionist unity candidate, the UUP's Tom Elliott, is standing against her this time with DUP support. Sinn Fein had five MPs in the last parliament.

Sinn Fein said the leadership would "seek an immediate negotiation with the incoming British government to secure a workable budget, including the immediate reinstatement of £1.5 billion in spending power to the budget to invest in public services and economic growth".

Its negotiators pulled the plug on welfare legislation at Stormont earlier this year, arguing not enough money had been set aside to protect the most vulnerable.

Its manifesto said it would "return economic powers for a fair recovery". The document added: "We are seeking full control over income tax, national insurance, corporation tax, capital gains tax, borrowing powers and the setting of the minimum wage.

"Financial benefits flowing from such decisions must be retained and reinvested here."

The Stormont House Agreement was signed between the five main Northern Ireland parties in December, and Mr Cameron said extra "firepower" had been agreed for the devolved administration.

Key to that was implementing welfare reform, but Sinn Fein said not enough money was available to protect the disabled and others from benefits cuts.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has made the devolution of powers like corporation tax from London to Belfast dependent upon implementation of welfare changes.

The ministerial executive's public spending budget is due to be reviewed in June.

The manifesto said there should be a civic compact for a fair recovery - bringing together civic society, business, trade unions and all political parties.

Pledges included:

:: Continuing to prioritise job creation, foreign direct investment and support for small and medium enterprises

:: Fully implementing the welfare protection in the Stormont House Agreement

:: Ensuring greater security of employment and an end to zero-hours contracts

:: Supporting a moratorium on evictions for those in mortgage arrears

:: Seeking the provision of high-quality affordable childcare capped at 15% of income for those on low incomes and those in education and training

:: Creating a Border Economic Development Zone to harmonise trade and maximise returns for border businesses

:: Ending the "scourge of poverty"

:: Offering affordable child care capped at a cost of 15% of income

:: Tackling racism, homophobia and other hate crime

:: Drawing up gender quotas for the number of women in political and public life

:: Passing a Bill of Rights

:: Passing an Irish Language Act

:: Obtaining a border poll on Irish unity

Sinn Fein does not take its seats at Westminster and has ruled out ending its abstentionist policy.

The party rubbished the idea that its political rivals in Northern Ireland had influenced the UK through its participation at Westminster.

It had sought a nationalist pact in response to a unionist accord in parts of Belfast and border constituencies aimed at maximising the number of unionist seats between the DUP and UUP. That was rejected by the SDLP as sectarian.

DUP Upper Bann candidate David Simpson said: "It is ridiculous to listen to Sinn Fein representatives complain about issues such as welfare reform or reductions to the Northern Ireland's block grant when they receive £600,000 for not even bothering to turn up and make their voice heard.

"A vote for Sinn Fein is a wasted vote. Any seat targeted by Sinn Fein is an attempt to have the voices of people in that area silenced in Parliament."

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