“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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  • Dixie

    And there was McGuinness over in Liverpool pushing Derry for UK City of Culture…

  • Thomas Mourne

    A prospective candidate for any elected position should have to agree, in advance, to take his/her seat if successful.
    The oath of allegiance is irrelevant – it hasn’t stopped Scottish/Welsh nationalists [or English republicans] taking their seats.

  • Henry94

    Do you really think it makes sense to exclude Irish republicans from elections? I could only see bad consequences to such a policy. Who would want to be the MP for West Belfast for example against the wishes of the vast majority of voters there. What kind of legitimacy would such a person have?

    Sinn Fein are not asking for the removal of the oath. It’s not for Sinn Fein to tell the British how to order their affairs. But should the British decide themselves to remove the oath then it would be open to any Sinn Fein member to propose a change in the policy. I don’t sense much demand for such a change in any event. But you never know.

    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.

    That would only ever be an issue if it was withheld. It is a rubber stamp. But an oath can never be a formality. An oath is a serious thing.

    For example in the Republic the President signs bills into law but nobody has to swear allegiance to the President. A republic is a country with a Head of State where a monarchy is a Head of State with a country.

    The oath of allegiance is irrelevant – it hasn’t stopped Scottish/Welsh nationalists [or English republicans] taking their seats.

    It’s not an issue for the nationalists who as I understand it are not advocating a republic of Scotland or Wales.

  • Dec

    When did Willie McCrea become a Dr? If it’s true, I’m assuming it’s another Bob Jones-freebie. That being said I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to know how wee Willie spends his Members’ allowance in London.

  • redhugh78

    Why would Sf have to explain anything to their voters about not taking their seats at W’minster when the people who vote for them do so in the full knowledge that SF won’t take their seats?
    I don’t think there’s a single SF supporter questioning why the party does not go to W’minster.

  • Pete Baker

    “That would only ever be an issue if it was withheld. It is a rubber stamp.”

    Yes Henry.

    It is a “rubber stamp” representing “the right of the British Parliament to rule over [this] part of Ireland.”

    The power to withhold that assent still exists.

    To use it would cause a constitutional crisis, but that’s neither here nor there.

    As for the oath.

    The head of state in the oath represents the UK constitution as defined by the body of acts passed by Parliament.

    The wording could be changed, and SF say they’d still refuse to take their seats.

    It’s a red herring.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    I think it is reasonable to ask SF why they are not attending and it is reasonable to ask the SDLP why they are attending.

    Personally I think SF are dead right and the SDLP are dead wrong as ‘active’ (as SF like to put it) abstentionism minimises Nationalist Ireland’s dealing with the British parliament and sends an important message to the British they have no moral right to interfere in the affairs of Ireland although recognising under the GFA their technical right to do so. British government interference in Ireland is tolerated but not welcomed and if Cameron doesnt understand the feeling behind that we can only presume he didnt pay attention in Eton during his histroy classes.

    In relation to the SDLP you have to wonder what they have achieved in turning up on the backbenches when SF usually use the front door of number 10 (as befitting of foriegn/overseas statesmen) when the British government needs to be brought up to speed with events in Ireland.

  • Henry94

    Pete

    The wording could be changed, and SF say they’d still refuse to take their seats.

    So don’t change it. Nobody is asking for it to be changed. There is no demand from Sinn Fein or anybody else for the British to change the oath. Nor have they ever said they will take their seats if the oath is changed. Or ever.

    It is a “rubber stamp” representing “the right of the British Parliament to rule over [this] part of Ireland.”

    Bur a rubber stamp all the same. It’s a consequence of the position we are in not a cause of it.

    The power to withhold that assent still exists.

    To use it would cause a constitutional crisis, but that’s neither here nor there.

    It’s not something to worry about then is it?

  • jim

    if you question why the party does not go to w/minster you no longer can be a sf supporter.you become a dissedent sf dont explain anything to their supporters they tell them.

  • Pete Baker

    “There is no demand from Sinn Fein or anybody else for the British to change the oath.”

    Well, as I’ve previously noted, some supporters of Sinn Féin have called for a change. Deluded though they are…

    “It’s a consequence of the position we are in not a cause of it.”

    Yes, Henry.

    A consequence of Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

    And, as David Cameron implies, removing the red herring of the current wording of the Parliamentary oath might provide the impetus for more searching questions of Sinn Féin’s contradictory position from those I mentioned.

  • Pete Baker

    I don’t doubt that many of those who vote for Sinn Féin imagine that there’s a world of difference between the party taking their seats in Stormont and not taking their seats in Westminster.

    But they’d be wrong.

    It’s just another symptom of a political psychosis.

    A person who experiences psychosis may be unable to distinguish between reality and their imagination.

  • Henry94

    Pete

    You think SF supporters are deluded for looking for a change but Cameron might make a change? I don’t think he will. Why would he want SF taking their seats? It would reduce his majority. If this was an issue for the British they would have addressed it by now. They just need to come up with something to say when the DUP bring it up.

    Nothing will change on either side.

  • Henry94

    Thomas Mourne

    The English republicans are in a completely different position. They are not elected as republicans but as Labour candidates so they have no mandate to refuse the oath and their voters would not accept them refusing to take their seats.

    Sinn Fein are elected as republicans and if they took the oath they would face opposition from abstentionist candidates. That would cost them votes and they would probably lose FST to an Orange unity candidate.

  • what next

    Henry

    Gerry received 22,840 votes in the last Westminster elections, a total of 32,133 turned out to vote.

    There were 59,962 registered voters in West Belfast at the end of April meaning that 27,829 chose not to vote at all.

    37,122 did not select Gerry to represent them .

    Your comment above “Who would want to be the MP for West Belfast for example against the wishes of the vast majority of voters there. What kind of legitimacy would such a person have?” has a strong validity.

  • Nunoftheabove

    I am of the understanding that at least one – and possibly two – current unionist MP has injuntion in place in respect of precisely that.

  • Nunoftheabove

    No-one has yet been able to correlate, beyond any reasonable doubt, parliamentary attendance with concrete constituency benefits. Very much open to contradiction on that if anyone has any hard evidence.

  • fin

    McCrea actually said “…who neither take their seats nor participate in the work of the House..”

    what does participate actually mean, is it attending a minimum number of days, or a number of votes.

    I guess by “taking their seats” posters mean taking the oath, would it be OK for SF to take a reformed version of the oath yet not attend any sessions or votes.

    I think the real issue for unionism is that they have repeatedly demanded SF accept various situations and have been repeatedly disappointed that SF have accepted their demands, but more importantly so have SF voters.

    The end of the IRA was a big disappointment, SF votes increased.

    So was SF sitting in Stormont, more votes

    Accepting the PSNI, even more votes.

    Unionism is only looking for more petty games to play.

    Future disappointments for unionism, how about they convince Ireland to adopt a new flag because the Tricolour is tainted by republicans, what happens if republicans openly embrace the new flag?

    Ditto for everything else, because unionism is only interested in finding issues that will be unacceptable to SF voters, hoping that by pressing for it they will damage SF votes

  • willis

    It is a honorary doctorate from Mariette Bible College Ohio.

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/members/biogs_03/mccrea_w.htm

    Which does not appear to exist!

    Marietta Bible College does:

    http://mbc.mariettabiblecc.org/

    Useful discussion on the use of the title ‘Doctor’ by clerics.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:V6SP5HO41gcJ:www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2007/07/free_presbyterian_rumblings.html+william+mccrea+doctorate&cd=11&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Pete,

    The GFA legislation established a constitutional link between Stormo and the Dáil with ministers having a duty of office to attend All Ireland ministerial meetings. Irish ministers in Stormo now have control over Police and Justice and with the possibiltiy of extending its powers into the fiscal area.

    Anyone therefore suggesting that a party which wants to remove the link with Britian completely is being anything other than politically consistent in minimising it’s dealings with Westminster and concentrating its efforts in Stormo is surely having some difficulties in processing political realities themselves.

  • Glencoppagagh

    You’re probably right but then obtaining ‘concrete constituency benefits’ – pork-barrelling in other words – is not what participation in a legislature should be solely or indeed primarily about.

  • Glencoppagagh

    “with the possibiltiy of extending its powers into the fiscal area”

    And how do you think these potential powers might be exercised so as to minimise dependence on Westminster? Are SF or SDLP so enthusiastic about increasing taxes?
    Anyone who thinks the payer of the piper doesn’t call the tune is ‘surely having some difficulties in processing political realities’.

  • Henry94

    It only ever comes up when the Unionists waste their participation time by trying to get SF’s expenses stopped. That is the sole basis for debate and it would make no difference to the policy if they succeeded.

    The people represented by the DUP must be the Queen’s most contented subjects if their MPs have so much time to waste on this issue.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    fin,

    I think the problem for the DUP here is that they thought that the issue of SF allowances was in the bag, posssibly some side deal from the STA? I think they might have been boasting about it or was that the UUP jibber-jabbering about the special realtionship with the Tories.

    On a positive note for the DUP it does feed into their view of the world that you simply cant trust the British Government when it comes to Ulster.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Glencoppagagh

    “Are SF or SDLP so enthusiastic about increasing taxes?”

    They are enthusiastic about reducing corporation tax.

    “Anyone who thinks the payer of the piper doesn’t call the tune ”

    Unfortunately for the British if you transfer powers and dont transfer responsbility for raising tax that is not the case. Ulster decides (on many issues) and Britain simply foots the bill. A guilty conscience still goes a long way as we saw with the funding of Bloody Sunday.

  • Nunoftheabove

    I accept that in the generality however would suggest that for MPs who aren’t members of mainsream government/opposition parties and are on the periphery of the mainstream, like in NI, pork-barreling is more rather than less the measure. What dependable measures exist, criteria even, which could be held up as some form of objective benchmark which would enable read-across from an SNP, Plaid Cymru or DUP MP which would correlate westminister attendance and constituency benefits ?

  • Glencoppagagh

    Sammy, I think you’ve still got it the wrong way round. Westminster doles out a certain amount of money (far too much in my opinion) and Stormont simply decides how to spend it. If nationalists were serious about unity and minimising Westminster’s influence, they’d be trying to reduce it.
    I don’t think they ever envisaged Saville costing so much and they could hardly abort it when the costs got out of hand.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Glencoppagagh,

    Perhaps I should rephrase that.

    “Anyone who thinks the payer of the piper doesn’t call the tune is ’surely having some difficulties in processing political realities’.”

    You were are therefore suggesting that the ‘payer of the piper’ – i.e. it is British money- ‘calls the tune’ i.e. decides how the money is spent.

    That, we both agree, is not the case in Ulster.

  • Seymour Major

    I have already suggested, within the blogasphere, that the oath should be to represent their constituency to the best of their ability. The late Horseman thought it was a good idea.

    You could add provisions about non-discrimination as to race, gender, religion, etc. but I would be in favour of keeping it as simple as possible. This topic is almost most certain to be part of the cocktail of political reform which includes constituency size and boundaries and Alternative voting.

    Having an oath linked to representing constituents also makes it easier to justify financial penalties for failure to take up the seats. I am sure that they would considering also that MPs salary should be forfeited if the seat is not taken up.

  • Henry94

    But if they don’t represent their constituents then they will be thrown out by their constituents. You don’t need an oath to remind a politician which side his bread is buttered on.

    Why bother with an oath at all. Once you are duly elected that should be all you need.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    SM,

    I would be surpised if Horseman suggested that SF abandoned abstentionism which your post implies – have you got a link?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “I am sure that they would considering also that MPs salary should be forfeited if the seat is not taken up.”

    Propaganda coup for SF if they did that, they would complain bitterly but enjoy the extra votes.

  • Seymour Major

    For similar reasons that many other officials in institutions all over the world swear an oath when taking an office of power and responsibility.

    Without an oath, there is no solemnity to taking office as an MP and no tangible connection between the MP and Parliament. The Oath serves to remind individuals taking it of the serious obligations and responsibilities that he or she is assuming.

    Its legal basis is to invest voting and other powers to the MP sitting in Parliament.

    Also, the oath is important to the people the MP represents. If they do not take an oath (which is benign to their political principles) but relevant as a symbol of commitment, it sends a clear message to the electorate that the MP’s only interest in standing at an election is to keep a scoreboard.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    SM,

    The people get who they vote for.

    “Also, the oath is important to the people the MP represents”

    If they dont like the service they are receving they dont vote for them.

    ” no tangible connection between the MP and Parliament”

    If the majority of people dont want a tangible connection for their MP with parliament – then they dont get it. Thats democracy.

    There is a ‘west lothian issue’ here as there is considerable overlap between Stomo and Westminster so the idea that constituents are left without representation is somewhat out of date.

  • Seymour Major

    Sammy,

    It was in this post

    http://ulstersdoomed.blogspot.com/2010/05/fermanagh-and-south-tyrone-story-of.html

    I said.

    “….One reform which would take away their excuse for not sitting would be a change to the oath of allegiance so that it is an oath of representation to serve the electorate, rather than an oath of loyalty to the Crown.”

    Horseman said in reply

    “…..I fully agree on the oath. It is a disgraceful anachronism, and there is simply no way that any SF MP will take it. I wonder what would happen if one went over and then and there (in front of the cameras) took an oath that replaced the queen bit with a promise to represent his/her constituents? It would be refused by that wierd guy in the wig (why does he have to wear that?) but that in itself would surely cause a considerable flutter, and maybe some real movement. It would certainly play well amongst real democrats. Maybe in 2015?”

  • Cormac Mac Art

    They are citizens of the UK.

    They represent citizens of the UK.

    They live in the UK.

    All they are doing is making fools of themselves.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    They are citizens of the UK.

    They represent citizens of the UK.

    They live in the UK.

    All they are doing is making fools of themselves.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    SM,

    Fair enough, he certainly is in favour of reform and seems to be suggesting that Nationalists should take their seats if there was.

    ps I seem to remember pointing out to him that SFs policy could have come under pressure if their votes were actually needed in response to something he had said on the subject -but there is no search thing on his website for me to locate it.

  • Glencoppagagh

    I’m sure they’d prefer to have the dosh. Is it not an ‘entitlement’ like.

  • Glencoppagagh

    …like DLA.

  • Seymour Major

    Sammy,

    I note that you say “….is in favour of reform”

    It shows that you believe in heaven.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Cormac,

    “All they are doing is making fools of themselves”

    The only people getting in a muddle are Cameron – who promised something he is having difficulty delievering, Unionists who thought that the allowances was being delivered as they requested and of course our very own Pete B. and Cameron (again) trying to pretend they dont understand why SF dont want to take their seats.

    All good entertainment.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Glencoppagagh,

    “I’m sure they’d prefer to have the dosh. Is it not an ‘entitlement’ like”

    It’s a win either way for the insurgents.

    ps Glad to see you have given up on the Piper and Tune metaphors.

  • Seymour Major

    It seems to me from what you are saying, Sammy, that the oath has nothing to do with the reason why Sinn Fein abstains from taking its seats in the UK Parliament.

    The trouble is, that is what the typical man in the street, including the average SF voter, thinks. If the oath is not relevant, it is a “fig leaf” but that doesn’t mean it would be a bad thing if it was removed, if only to enhance understanding of where SF are coming from and to challenge democratic instincts.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    SM,

    “if only to enhance understanding of where SF are coming from and to challenge democratic instincts”

    SF have made it clear that the oath is not the issue, others like Pete B. (who thinks that removing the silly oath will make it more difficult for SF to abstain) and Cameron who is not able to deliver what his party promised Unionists are trying to pretend that it is or might be the issue.

    Republicans as I mentioned earlier want as little to do with reinforicng the link with Britain and are therefore both sensible and consistent in ignoring Westminster – as their constituents obviously agree with them there is not any likelyhood of change.

    Frigging about with their allowances or pay will only reinforce the fact that Britain is trying to change the rules because it doesnt like the democratic result and will be a propaganda (vote catcher) for them.

    The problem is not so much double-jobbing but double-parliamenting for the same constituents – Westminster is a waste of time for Irish MPs – as it has always been – let Ulster politicans concentrate their efforts on Stormo and send their leaders over as required through the front door of Downing Street to sort any difficulties and of ocurse to pick up their cheque for the year.

  • Thomas Mourne

    SF constantly refer to their democratic rights while ignoring many of their responsibilities – in particular, representing their constituents.

    I agree that the Oath is codology but MPs should be judged on suitable performance criteria, including attendance, and should be barred from public office when they do not meet the required standards.

    Of course if the UK were a democratic country there would be no royalty and no Oath.

  • Peter Fyfe

    the vast majority of those who got off there asses to vote unless there was 20,000 spoiled ballots we didn’t hear about.

  • Peter Fyfe

    Why don’t we refer to Roy Keane as a doctor then? The media here are tools for even going along with the charade. When do ever here of Dr Obama or Professor Churchill and they were respectable universities that awarded the honours.

  • Pete Baker

    Guys

    I’m not usually in the business of editing Hansard.

  • Michael

    “I agree that the Oath is codology but MPs should be judged on suitable performance criteria, including attendance, and should be barred from public office when they do not meet the required standards.”

    Who sets the standard? Their peers? tabloids? a government appointed body?
    Surely not voters.

  • fin

    always been curious about the role of ‘The Speaker’ that MP does’t participate or vote either, do they? are their constituents also been shortchanged.

    Living in London, just after the local and general elections this year we found out our local council were doubling the size of a nearby school, we all complained at a meeting held by the school and council, I asked were my local councillor was as they lived 200 yds from the school, turns out they’re Mayor this year so can’t get involved in politics, go figure.

    At least SF front up on the doorstep when they’re asking for your vote

  • willis

    Oh it is better than that.

    I realise he has been a bit quiet lately but compare this wee laddie with a bona fide PhD from The University of Edinburgh.

    Gordon “Call me Mister” Brown

    http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/gordon-brown/25779

    With our own “Dr” McCrea

    http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/william-mccrea/33616