“I think that at the moment we let them off the hook…”

The BBC notes the Prime Minister’s comments during Question Time in the Commons on the issue of Sinn Féin MPs’ expenses – which we have previously been told is a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

The comments themselves leave few hostages to fortune.  From Hansard [scroll down]

Q11. [3692] Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Yesterday, we were told that resolute action was necessary to deal decisively with our country’s debt. Does the Prime Minister believe that it is acceptable that Members’ allowances are being paid to Members of the House who neither take their seats nor participate in the work of the House? When will that injustice be remedied, as he promised before the election?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. My views about this issue are on the record, and they have not changed. I would like to see if we can make the argument. There is not a case for Sinn Fein Members not to take their seats. I think that at the moment we let them off the hook, so I would like to re-examine the argument and see if we can find a new way of doing this.

The BBC report points to the Parliamentary “oath of allegiance” as the problem for Sinn Féin.  And it’s just possible that David Cameron has in mind changes to the Parliamentary oath.

But as previously noted, when in 2006 the then-Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland suggested that the wording of the oath could be changed the BBC recorded Sinn Féin’s response.

Mr McGuinness said, while it was quite legitimate for Sinn Fein elected representatives to go to Westminster to engage with other parties, they did not recognise the right of the British Parliament to rule over any part of Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, said he did not envisage any circumstances ever in the future in which any Sinn Fein MP would take their seat.

And as Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams stated before the General Election, it’s not, or at least not just, about the Parliamentary oath of allegiance.

It’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.”

But, as I’ve argued before, 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 regardless of the Parliamentary oath.

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