Why SF MPs will not take their seats

Again in the Irish Times, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin explains the ground on which his party is abstaining from sitting in Westminster and petitioning to gain access to the Oireachtas (subs needed) instead. It is, he argues, a question of what was in the party’s manifesto, and endorsed by it’s voter base. Which might indicate, there’ll be no change in the party’s stance until the next Westminster election at the very earliest.

We would not participate if the oath was amended or even removed altogether, because our abstention from Westminster is not based on the oath. Under our party constitution, Sinn Féin candidates in Westminster elections are pledged not to “sit in, nor take part in, the proceedings of the Westminster parliament”. That is because we believe the Westminster parliament has no right to legislate for any part of Ireland.

We also recognise the reality that British jurisdiction has not ended. In the Good Friday agreement we reached an accommodation that, in the words of Gerry Adams when the Executive was formed, “does not require the compromise of principles or the diminution of vision”.

Mr McDowell, Reg Empey and Dermot Nesbitt have yet to accept the plain fact that last May some 174,530 people elected five abstentionist Sinn Féin Westminster MPs. This confirmed Sinn Féin as the largest nationalist party in the North and the largest pro-agreement party. It must be remembered that the Sinn Féin MPs were elected on the basis that they would not sit in the British parliament. In that respect they are not refusing to sit in the parliament that they are elected to, as Senator Brian Hayes would have it, rather they are fulfilling their election promises by not sitting in the British parliament. They are elected by Irish citizens who deserve and demand to be represented in an Irish parliament.

  • peteb

    One quick point –

    SF have access to the Oireachtas, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin being a TD is proof of this.. they just need to be elected to it.

    Btw.. like the SF “constitutional defence”. Almost as if they’d really prefer to take their seats.. if only that damn constitution didn’t prevent them from doing so..

  • Chris Gaskin

    Which might indicate, there’ll be no change in the party’s stance until the next Westminster election at the very earliest

    Mick

    It will not be ending full stop!

  • Mick

    It’s certainly hard to see what political margin would be in it for the party in the short term.

  • peteb

    For all of Ó Caoláin’s spinning of the constitutional defence.. “we’re not technically refusing to take our seats”.. sure you’re not.

    He has removed the fig leaf of arguing that the oath itself is an obstacle.

    Never.. Never.. Never! Indeed.

  • smcgiff

    ‘It will not be ending full stop!’

    Shouldn’t that be…

    It will not be ending exclamation mark!

  • J Kelly

    This is an non issue its more than obvious that SF MPs deliver a very effective service representing their constituents. I agree with CG SF will not be taking their seats in a foreign parliament.

  • Chris Gaskin

    “Shouldn’t that be…

    It will not be ending exclamation mark!”

    LOL, Langer! 😉

  • willowfield

    We would not participate if the oath was amended or even removed altogether, because our abstention from Westminster is not based on the oath. Under our party constitution, Sinn Féin candidates in Westminster elections are pledged not to “sit in, nor take part in, the proceedings of the Westminster parliament”. That is because we believe the Westminster parliament has no right to legislate for any part of Ireland.

    Change the constitution, then. And one could still hold the belief that Westminster did not have a “right” to legislate for any part of Ireland while sitting in it.

    They are elected by Irish citizens who deserve and demand to be represented in an Irish parliament.

    Westminster is an Irish parliament in the sense that it is representative of and legislates for Northern Ireland.

    J Kelly

    I agree with CG SF will not be taking their seats in a foreign parliament.

    No-one’s asking them to. The issue is the Westminster parliament.

  • middle-class taig

    I think a fair trade would be SF to take their seats at the mother of talking-shops (subject to amendment of the oath), in return for northern MPs being given reciprocal membership of the Dail on the same basis as TDs.

    As a republican, I would have no objection to my leaders availing themselves of another public forum to further the republican project, secure increasing devolution, contribute to effective oversight of public bodies and challenge British government ministers face-to-face, so long as they were at the same time (i) doing the same in Dublin, and (ii) running their own government departments in Belfast.

    To make a holy cow out of non-participation at Westminster doesn’t make sense to me. O’Caolain is quite right on one point though. Gerry, Martin and co are not currenty elected to sit at Westminster. They are elected NOT to sit at Westminster. Of course there can be no change at least until the next election – that would be to break their election promises.

  • Chris Gaskin

    MCT

    It is not going to happen though, it’s a non-issue.

  • Jocky

    cg & mct, ok its a non issue at present.

    What happens if 5-10 years down the line when;
    The IRA have ceased all criminal activities,
    Stormont’s been up and running several years, everyones talking to each other, Berite and tony have lost interest and the consitituional arrangements are as they are now, no speaking rights in the Dail, UI no closer.

    Would SF still be effectively representing their constituents?

    What I am trying to get at is it a principled objection or is a pragmatic one based on what SF think is the most effective strategy?

  • Chris Gaskin

    is it a principled objection

    Yes

  • lamh_dearg

    It may well be a non-issue and a matter of principle but it has a cost.

    It decreases the ability of our elected representatives to represent us in the place where decisions are actually made. Thus our “Ministers” can drop in, savage our education service, close our hospitals, foster their reputation with Tony all without risking any effective challenge in the Westminster debating chamber.

    For example the SF MPs for West Tyrone and Fermanagh/South Tyrone have had no impact or influence on the shambles of the hospital services in their area. Compare that with the MP for Kidderminster who, while unable to “save” his local hospital, has shaped the new service in his area and become an influential member of the Health Committee in westminster.

    Given the recognition of the status of NI in the GFA is this principled gesture worth the cost?

  • middle-class taig

    Chris

    “It is not going to happen though, it’s a non-issue.”

    As a SF supporter but non member I have to say that’s not good enough. It’s an issue for unionists, it’s an issue for plenty of SDLP voters who like me could be persuaded, and it’s an issue on which SF gets criticised in the south for being doctrinaire.

    Currently, the only principle which I think holds water is the oath. One of the things most attractive about SF’s recent approach to politics has been the ability to think outside the box and the readinessto beat a respectful, dignified retreat from out-moded dogma. Westminster could provide a massive platform for SF if the circumstances were right.

    In principle, and if the oath and the Dail were sorted, if Stormont, why not Westminster?

    Jocky

    You’re forgetting the growth of the shinners in the south. That’ll always provide negotiating points.

  • Jimmy_Sands

    MCT,

    From the Republic’s point of view how is your proposal a “fair trade”? What do we get out of it?

  • peteb

    mct –

    Currently, the only principle which I think holds water is the oath.

    Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin – the Sinn Féin leader in Dáil Éireann –

    We would not participate if the oath was amended or even removed altogether, because our abstention from Westminster is not based on the oath.

    As I said earlier.. he removed the fig-leaf himself.

  • Henry94

    If you remove the oath then it’s just a case of walking into a room in my view. But I think it is for the British themselves to decide about any change in the oath. We should not be calling for it or negotiationg for it. It’s their business.

    Our main focus should be on securing for the people of the six counties the right to participate in Dail Eireann.

  • slug

    Jimmy Sands

    I too was scratching my head to see how more than one party gains from this ‘fair trade’.

  • El Matador @ El Blogador

    Just as a point of interest, SF opposed participating in the Dáil as a mtter of principle- they changed their minds about that.

    SF opposed the existence of a northern assembly(as it would de facto mean recognition of NI as a political entity) as a matter of principle- they changed their minds about that.

    SF supported armed struggle as the best way to get the British out of Ireland as a matter of principle- they changed their minds about that.

    SF refused to stand for election in the past as a matter of principle- they changed their minds about that.

    ‘Matters of principle’ haven’t prevented SF from changing their minds in the past. Don’t be too surprised to see Gerry and Martin delivering speeches from the green benches sometime in the future 😉

    After all, I’m sure Gerry could argue that sitting in Westminster “does not require the compromise of principles or the diminution of vision.” It seems to work when they want to do anything else.

  • Mik

    “we believe the Westminster parliament has no right to legislate for any part of Ireland.”

    “In the Good Friday agreement we reached an accommodation that, in the words of Gerry Adams when the Executive was formed, “does not require the compromise of principles or the diminution of vision”. “

    “last May some 174,530 people elected five abstentionist Sinn Féin Westminster MPs. This confirmed Sinn Féin as…the largest pro-agreement party.”

    Hmm. These commments from Mr Ó Caoláin led me to refer to the text of the Good Friday Agreement:

    “1.The participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish Governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will:

    (i)recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;

    ….

    (iii)acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people; “

    “33.The Westminster Parliament (whose power to make legislation for Northern Ireland would remain unaffected) will:

    (a)legislate for non-devolved issues, other than where the Assembly legislates with the approval of the Secretary of State and subject to the control of Parliament;

    (b)to legislate as necessary to ensure the United Kingdom’s international obligations are met in respect of Northern Ireland;

    (c)scrutinise, including through the Northern Ireland Grand and Select Committees, the responsibilities of the Secretary of State.”

    Pro-Agreement he said??

  • Jimmy_Sands

    El M,

    You might also more pertinently point out the equally principled refusal to take seats in the Dail prior to 86, no doubt in protest at the voters’ refusal to elect them. As the saying goes, these are my principles – if you don’t like them I have others.

  • Chris Gaskin

    MCT

    As a SF supporter but non member I have to say that’s not good enough

    It may not be good enough for you but it’s the truth. As a member I can assure you that there will be no change in policy on this issue, the grass roots wouldn’t accept it.

    When I voted for Conor Murphy, one of the reasons was because he was an abstentionist candidate. My previous MP was also a non-attender but it had nothing to do with principle.

    it’s an issue for plenty of SDLP voters who like me could be persuaded

    Please tell me MCT what any SDLP MP has secured from Westminster that was of any benefit to their community?

    Sinn Féin candidates stand on an abstentionist ticket and get elected on such a stance. The majority of Nationalist’s do not agree with you on this one MCT.

  • Elector

    Sinn Fein MP’s are guilty of refusing to represent their Constituent’s by refusing to sit in the Parliament they are elected too.

  • Denny Boy

    Just joined this thread, having to prepare for the *gasp* return to the grindstone next week.

    Elector

    “Sinn Fein MP’s are guilty of refusing to represent their Constituent’s by refusing to sit in the Parliament they are elected too.”

    Yes, but somebody made the point earlier that they were elected on the understanding they’d abstain!

    I’ve just posted to another thread about unionists standing on idiot principles. SF ought to reconsider their position as well. I never trust men who stick doggedly to what they call “principles”. Life’s too short (and too precious) for that sort of stubbornness.

  • Jimmy_Sands

    “When I voted for Conor Murphy, one of the reasons was because he was an abstentionist candidate.”

    Really? How would you have voted otherwise?

  • Robert Keogh

    I notice that the people who vote for SF don’t want them sitting in the british parliament while those that don’t vote for SF want them to sit in the british parliament.

    *Yawn* any thread to distract from Onionist terrorism on the streets eh?

  • David

    I have a quick question. Do/are Sinn Fein able to claim their salaries and expenses from Westminister even though they dont take their seats?

  • Denny Boy

    “*Yawn* any thread to distract from Onionist terrorism on the streets eh?”

    How’s this for an effort to get us back on course, Robert:

    “Do/are Sinn Fein able to claim their salaries and expenses from Westminister even though they dont take their seats?”

    Yes, plus expenses, dear boy. Same applies to Mssrs Paisley and McGimpsey, who were drawing their salaries as MLAs while stoking up mayhem on the streets of Belfast, instead of attending to their political duties.

    That help you out, David?

  • Holt

    Judging by the inactivity/silence/uselessness of the 5 SF TD’s currently in the Dail, what difference would it make if there were 20 more?

  • David

    Thanks Denny Boy, so Sinn Fein get paid for not doing their job. Do they not have a moral objection to getting paid by a foreign establishment? I maybe would support their descision if they were totally abstane from all facets of Westminister

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    Yes, but somebody made the point earlier that they were elected on the understanding they’d abstain!

    As you will know it is often the case that MP’s are elected on the minority of the overall constituency’s electorate. So I now ask you … Is the SF’s ‘MPs’ decision not to represent there constituents not an Elitist decision??

  • Denny Boy

    “… Is the SF’s ‘MPs’ decision not to represent there constituents not an Elitist decision??”

    It’s a bloody farcical decision, FYU! My dad always said that if you want to change an organization then the best way of doing that is from within. What’s the point in Shinner MPs howling at the back door when they could be savaging their enemies within? Makes no sense at all to me, never has.

    And look at all the fun they’re depriving us of! Gerry Adams, no matter what anybody thinks of him, is a damned good orator. I’d love to see him go head to head with a few of the Right Honourable gentlemen in the House. :0)

  • Gum

    From a practical point of view – the British have never taken any account of Irishmen in the Commons. Parnell, Redmond, Hume… what was the point? They didn’t achieve anything there. The presence of 1, 5, or 75 Sinn Fein MPs would make no difference whatsoever in how the government treats their electorate.

    From a principled point of view, Sinn Fein have always clearly stated they will not take their seats if elected. There is no deception of the electorate – indeed this is one promise that a politician will keep! Why is there so much fuss over abstention? There is no significant level of protest (if any) from the voters. It is an issue that does seem to get the SDLP very hot and bothered though.

    This is an old issue thats been debated for decades. Why’s it up again?

  • Robert Keogh

    Denny Boy,

    You make a valid point about the potential effectiveness of SF oratory within the house of commons rather than without. However, you neglect the PR bounty those opposed to unification would derive from SF sitting in the british parliament. SF can fudge ruling in the Assembly because it’s local power but sitting in westminster would be an official recognisation that westminster has the right to administer the 6 counties.

    Now think about which segments are making a ruckus and how this outcome would jive with their goals.

    Besides, this is all moot until the oath is amended to remove references to the monarchy and/or the institutionalised sectarianism of the act of settlement is removed. Who do you think would be the first and loudest to name SF forsworn hypocrites if they took their seats before those issues had been resolved?

  • middle-class taig

    RK/CG

    Every time republicans take a new initiative which is cast as a humiliating defeat o a climbdown from principle it has three effects:

    (1) a jump in the polls for the Shinners North and South, plus a bit of credit with the yanks, and a few baubles on demilitarisation and devolution;

    (2) a huge public relations boon giving Gerry another opportunity to look statesmanlike while pushing the republican message, giving moderate unionists and decent Brits a chance to see that shinners are not the bogeyman of orange and tory legend; and

    (3) demoralisation for hardline unionists who can’t stick fenians getting any good publicity, even where deserved, especially when they see that having slaughtered the sacred cow the shinners get to feast on the succulent beef of political influence.

    Played right, this could be a trade-off for something big. The oath is an obstacle. Let’s get it out and shinnners in. It’d be doing the Brits a favour and there’s so much they could do at Westminster, including on a world stage. In any event, SF could turn up for Westminster once in a blue moon, yet never be out of the Oireachteas.

    The decision of withdrawal (whether in the form of a border poll, a declaration of joint sovereignty or creeping salami slices) will be made (or not) by British politicians currently in their 20s. Let’s get in and find out what makes them tick.

  • D’Oracle

    Sure the oaths a problem in Westminster but so too is the fact that the Dail isnt just a debating forum for the islands elected TD/MP’s(at least ‘pending national re-integration) ; it decides how to spend my taxes and no one whos not been elected in the jurisdiction has any right to any share in that decision.

    I do see the problem however ; the max possible would be some sort of speaking/debating rights but voting must be out in present circs. How about some sort of standing Forum separate from Dail where the “no taxation , no representation” problem could be sidestepped ?

  • Denny Boy

    Yeah, I swear to God, that oath is a sticky one 😉

    But joshing aside, anyone know what the Christian position is on all that swearing at the queen? Or was it to the queen? I was brought up Catholic and seem to recall some difficulty the Church at that time had with secular oaths.

    There’s also that passage in James 5:12 that goes: “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.”

    How does this square with the oath of allegiance?

  • middle-class taig

    “no one whos not been elected in the jurisdiction has any right to any share in that decision….”

    … unless the Irish people decide they do!

    There is no “no taxation, no representation problem”. It’s a figment of the imagination. If you want, there could be a list of reserved matters on which northerners didn’t vote – the budget for example. But the principle should be equality, with exceptions in some cases.

    I’d be happy with speaking/debating in the first instance, with limited voting rights on issues affecting the whole island – cross-border stuff, peace process stuff, cross-border trade etc.

    While we’re waiting for a United Ireland, there’s nothing to stop us having a uniting Ireland.

  • Denny Boy

    “While we’re waiting for a United Ireland, there’s nothing to stop us having a uniting Ireland.”

    Nicely put, M-CT!

  • middle-class taig

    cheers db

  • darthrumsfeld

    is it a principled objection

    Yes

    -er, so why scream and scream until you’re sick to get an office at Westminster, allowances from Westminster, free postage from Westminster, rent rooms for meetings in Westminster- inshort do everything except stand up and debate on the floor of the House, where your nasty racist politics are open to challenge? What in fact is the principle that says you seek election to a Parliament that you do not recognise?

    Surely the principled position is to refuse to accept the invader’s jurisdiction, spurn his institutions, reject his bribes-including motability cars, refuse to pay his taxes(OK you’ve got me there)?

    Rory Brady’s is a 120% gold plated loony, but at least he has principles , of a warped sort. The Shinners are nothing but Vichy collaborators with the hated British, delaying the day when our ireland is free from the foreigner anmd the Judean People’s Popular Front-Splitters!

  • Denny Boy

    WTF is Rory Brady?

  • middle-class taig

    darthrumsfeld

    “nasty racist politics”

    I think criticism of SF is good. I think all parties need that. But I think inane, hysterical, emotive criticism of this nature lowers the tone of debate.

    The principle, at the moment, is the monarchist oath.

    “The Shinners are nothing but Vichy collaborators with the hated British…”

    Alternatively, SF has led a move away from ancient enmities in a seach for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

  • darthrumsfeld

    “WTF is Rory Brady?”

    I’m sorry I would only mangle the Irish of Ruari O’Braudaigh or whatever the proper spelling was so when I’m not sure I choose the safer option-like Senhor DeValera was really Eddie Coll, or Cathal Brugha was Charlie Burgess

    MCT
    SF do not apologise for killings done in their name, nor do they say they would never do so again. They peddle an outdated form of nationalism which most of the civilised world has left behind- though it seems popular with the Sunnis of Iraq, with similar consequences- and they occasionally wibble on in quasi-pinko economic arguments that their chums in Cuba and North Korea only deploy ironically. Their populism is more opportunist and shamelss than that of the “Daily Mail”.

    O’Briaidiagh(?) is a consistent fascist-Adams wants to be seen as a treehugging author-(published by Mills Bomb and Boon?), and Marty is the taciturn flyfishing Red Indian, but they both share the unshakeable belief that as republican”royalty” they are above criticism or scrutiny. You share that belief apparantly mct-you persist in claiming “it’s the oath,really” ignoring what O’Caoilin said. And if he’s right, then what are their actions if not stinking hypocrisy?

  • Denny Boy

    “I’m sorry I would only mangle the Irish of Ruari O’Braudaigh or whatever the proper spelling was so when I’m not sure I choose the safer option-like Senhor DeValera was really Eddie Coll, or Cathal Brugha was Charlie Burgess.”

    Darth, I’ve never come across such pettiness in all my life! Unworthy. You might not like certain people but you diminish yourself and your arguments when you engage in this sort of infantilism.

    You got a handy anglicization of Osama bin Laden we could start using? Oscar MacCamel or suchlike?

  • middle-class taig

    darthrumsfeld

    Still waiting for those examples of SF’s “nasty, racist politics”.

    You have helpfully pointed out that they are nationalist and left-wing, neiterh of which you appear to like. But racism? No, you haven’t come up to the mark there (save perhaps with your own disrespect for people’s Irish names).

  • Brian Boru

    They shouldn’t sit in Westminster.