By James Ward, PA
Sinn Féin have called on the Government to include a provision for a citizens’ assembly on a united Ireland in next week’s budget.
In their alternative budget proposals, launched in Dublin on Thursday, the party included an allocation of €1.5 million for a public forum on the constitutional question.
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government could not bury its head in the sand and pretend “change is not in motion”.
She said: “We’ve been arguing for quite some time now that, irrespective of who is in Government, preparations need to begin now.
“To scope out, to have conversations, to start laying plans for constitutional change.
“And indeed, the change in public service provision so often will run alongside it. We couldn’t present a budgetary plan without including this initiative.”
She added: “On Tuesday, those that are taking to their feet should be announcing similarly, an allocation for a citizen’s assembly.”
Ms McDonald said it was “way past time” for a forum on the subject.
“This is something that we have pursued and that we will continue to pursue with the Taoiseach, with Micheal Martin, with the Tanaiste, and indeed with everybody in the Oireachtas,” she said.
“Because burying your head in the sand and pretending the change is not in motion is certainly not the answer.”
Ms McDonald said Ireland should not hold off on the citizens’ assembly out of fear of upsetting unionism.
“Any idea that we can’t have the conversation or we can’t make the necessary preparations because unionism or a section of it will kick back, I think is equally misguided,” she said.
“I think the most respectful thing that we can do, the most respectful approach that we can take for all of our citizens, is to recognise the reality of change.
“And to make everybody, and I mean absolutely everybody, part and parcel of that conversation, including those that will campaign and argue against the proposition for unity, that will argue for the union.”
Other measures included in Sinn Féin’s alternative budget include a €10 increase in social welfare payments for the unemployed and a €5 increase in the State pension.
On housing, the party promises to deliver 20,000 social and affordable homes a year for purchase and rent, at a cost of €3.2 billion.
They plan to phase out the local property tax, starting with a 20 per cent reduction, with the revenue to be replaced by a wealth tax on net assets above €1 million, at 1 per cent.
Renters would receive one month’s rent relief at a cost of €273 million.
Incomes over €140,000 would be hit with a 3 per cent “solidarity tax”, while tax credits would be removed on incomes above €100,000, measures Sinn Féin calculates would generate an additional €408 million in revenue.
On health, the budget promises an additional 932 hospital beds at a cost of over €500 million spread across current and capital expenditure.
They have also promised an investment of €114 million in mental health services.
Ms McDonald said: “Our plan is underpinned by a sustainable fiscal strategy that would reduce the deficit and put our public finances on a sure footing.
“Our plan would, based on recent forecasts by the ESRI and the Fiscal Advisory Council, reduce the deficit by €4.5 billion in 2022, with a deficit of 2.2 per cent of GDP.”