Sinn Féin deserves respect. They are formidable strategists and exceptional PR gurus. Their media-savvy top-brass can instantaneously energise their electorate with a distinctive brand of underdog oratory and their willingness to install younger generations of politicians is admirable and necessary.
The upcoming European elections will reinforce their increasing popularity. They will almost certainly acquire a handful of seats in the Republic and Martina Anderson will easily be returned as MEP for Northern Ireland. Yet a European campaign should not be focused on tugging the heartstrings of the past and even worse, one simple fact about the future will be completely overlooked:
A vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for poverty.
Admittedly, that is a slightly sensationalist statement, but let's look at the facts. Forget highly-charged diatribes about United Irelands or United Kingdoms. Forget histrionic republicanism, flag-waving unionism and arguments about terrorists and freedom fighters. Take bigotry, ideology, and romanticism out of it.
Fact #1: the biggest benefit of EU membership is the ability to trade within the single market; the world's largest economic zone with 21 million companies and a GDP of £11 trillion - larger than the USA and Japan combined. Allowing our businesses to access this market makes us around £1,225 better off every year.
Fact #2: access to the single market allows businesses to trade with countries who have Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the EU. There are 28 agreements in place with countries like Norway, Egypt and Morocco. They increase trade by reducing trade barriers, cutting tariffs and setting common trading rules. Recent deals have been concluded with South Korea and South Africa. Others are under negotiation with large economies including Japan, India, Canada and the USA.
Fact #3: If all current trade talks are concluded, Europe's economy would be boosted by €275 billion. Around 2.2 million new jobs would be created. The EU's gross domestic product would grow by 2.2%, the equivalent of adding a country the size of Austria to the economy.
Fact #4: Sinn Féin actively opposes all of the EU's Free Trade Agreements.
In the European Parliament, Sinn Féin joins radical left-wingers and communists in the European United Left - Nordic Green Left political group. Group policy is to oppose all FTAs on the basis that "free trade between two partners does not always make both better off" as trade agreements are "shaped by the interests of big business" and cause worldwide social and ecological destruction.
Consequently, Sinn Féin opposes FTAs, including the one that would be the most lucrative for Northern Irish businesses - the EU-US Free Trade Agreement.
An EU-US agreement is a no-brainer. Together, they represent roughly half of world GDP. They trade goods and services worth €2 billion every day. The US is the EU's largest export market, purchasing €264 billion of European products every year, representing 17% of total EU exports. Transatlantic trade in services amounts to €260 billion per year. The transatlantic economy already supports 15 million jobs. Total US investment in the EU is 3 times higher than in all of Asia. EU investment in the US is 8 times higher than in India and China combined.
Successful conclusion of what is formally known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would bring the EU economic gains of €119 billion annually. By reducing red tape and lowering consumer prices, the deal would put an extra €545 per year in the pockets of European families and would raise world income by €238 billion, with €86 billion materialising in third countries.
Invest NI has urged policymakers to conclude TTIP as it is "hugely important" for Northern Ireland. The US is an immensely important marketplace of 317 million people. Upwards of 50 million trace their family roots to Ireland. Therefore, "it makes sound business sense to build on these connections." Increased prosperity would also help address Northern Ireland's endemic economic issues - particularly the 100,000 children living in poverty in Northern Ireland. West Belfast, Sinn Féin's heartland, has the second highest level of child poverty in the UK with 43% of families facing vicious cycles of debt and the difficult choice between food and fuel.
Despite the benefits that TTIP could bring to West Belfast and all the 32 counties, Sinn Féin remains a staunch objector. In October 2012 and May 2013, the European Parliament voted by a huge majority to open negotiations aimed at concluding the deal. Martina Anderson and Sinn Féin voted against the proposals both times.
This is despite Sinn Féin claiming that they are "arguing for investment in jobs and growth" in the EU. The hypocrisy is almost palpable and made worse given their well-publicised US fundraising activities. It's no secret that American businesses bankroll their party. Just weeks after Martina Anderson voted against TTIP negotiations, reports showed that the party makes $700,000 a year from US fundraising, regularly holding $500-a-head dinners where senior Irish officials rub shoulders with influential figures in government, business and the financial sector; the same figures who would surely not want anything to scupper TTIP.
So as the European elections approach, just remember that a vote for Sinn Féin is not a vote for the end of British rule. It is not a vote for a United Ireland. It is not a vote for jobs, welfare or investment. It is a vote against free trade. It is a vote against prosperity.
It is a vote against the future.