“Is abstention from Westminster now an end in itself?”

With an abstentionist Sinn Féin irrelevant to the number crunching at Westminster it’s interesting to see Gearóid Ó Cairealláin, in the North Belfast News, musing aloud about the “elephant in the room”.

At his Irish Central website, Niall O’Dowd argues that “The time is now to take that step” [end Sinn Féin’s abstentionism] – although he mistakenly believes that “the Sinn Fein party is abstaining because of the oath of loyalty to the Queen”.

As Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams stated before the election, it’s not, or at least, not just, about the Parliamentary oath of allegiance.

That’s a position the party’s held for some time – as a reference to an Irish Times report, dated 5 December 1997, in the Parliamentary research paper [pdf file] noted previously reveals

Mr Adams said the question of the oath was “a bit of a distraction”. While a change might be good for British democracy, it would not alter Sinn Fein’s position. Asked if he could see himself sitting in the Commons following a change to the oath, Mr Adams said: “No, because the issue for us is the claim of that parliament to jurisdiction in Ireland.”

That party position was re-iterated in 2006 when there was a suggestion that the oath could be changed.

But Sinn Féin has abandoned other abstentionist policies in the past.

In 1970 the Official Sinn Féin, later the Workers Party, was created after a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis debate on abandoning the party’s abstentionist policy in relation to Dáil Éireann.  The then titled Provisional Sinn Féin maintained the Dáil abstentionist policy until 1986.

As Wikipedia also recounts 

Sinn Féin adopted the “armalite and ballot box strategy” in 1981, and first contested modern elections in Northern Ireland with the 1982 Assembly elections, from which they abstained. They also abstained from the Northern Ireland Forum but adopted non-abstentionist policies for elections to local authorities (next held in 1985) and to the European Parliament.

But post-Belfast Agreement of 1998, Sinn Féin now sit in a Stormont administration in which all laws passed require Royal Assent before being enacted.

Given that constitutional position, perhaps it’s time for Sinn Féin to explain fully, for the benefit of their own supporters, why abstention from Westminster remains the party’s policy.

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