Updated with a photo of the letter.
Six a half months after announcing that he would resign as MP for Mid-Ulster to concentrate on being deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness today finally announced that he’d sent his letter to the Commons to kick of the process.
Back in January 2011, Gerry Adams was disqualified as a Member of Parliament when the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed him as “Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Manor of Northstead in the county of York”. It was an unusual piece of parliamentary process as departing MPs normally apply to be appointed to the two positions – Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds and the Manor of Northstead – that disqualify them as MPs and allow them to ‘resign’. In the case of the West Belfast MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed Adams to the position without him applying.
The resulting discussion in the Commons included a comment from Sammy Wilson about “the shabby way in which this has been handled in order to avoid the embarrassment of Sinn Féin”.
Something similar will probably now happen for Martin McGuinness when the Commons returns on 7 January.
Following a resignation – and usually within three months – the Electoral Commission guidance suggests that “a motion is customarily moved by the chief whip of the party that formerly held the seat” and then “the Speaker then makes out his warrant for the issue of a writ for the election of a new Member”. In the case of abstentionist Sinn Féin, the motion will have to be moved by someone from another party. The by-election takes place on a Thursday (by convention) between 15 and 19 working days after the writ is moved.
In the meantime, Francie Molloy’s campaign is underway. Though someone might want to remind Sinn Féin how to spell by-election …