The inevitable conclusion to the abstention debate.

In 2015 there were numerous news stories and debates about the possibility of Sinn Féin ending its abstentionist policy partly fuelled by a belief that the election might produce a hung parliament.

This time around the airing of those arguments have lessened significantly. The polls predict a Tory majority. However the SDLP believe its still a republican weak spot to target every time a Westminster election is called. An area that puts clear blue water between the two parties. In response to Michelle O’Neill’s call for them to stand aside in Fermanagh & South Tyrone and North Belfast recently Colum Eastwood retorted :

“There’s no point running for election if you aren’t going to take your seat.” 

The operation of the Assembly for the past decade has no doubt lessened the influence (and in a lot of cases the public profile) of the MPs flying over the Irish Sea. The only development that could affect that would be if the Assembly’s powers were to return to London for a prolonged period.

Sinn Féin of course already have office facilities  in Westminster. Their MPs have chaired and attended meetings on issues such as collusion and even to mark the Easter Rising centenary.

Interestingly Martin McGuinness took an unsuccessful case to the European Court of Human Rights in 1999 challenging the oath after the Commons Speaker banned Sinn Féin  from using parliamentary facilities.

Irish Republicans will not take an oath or an affirmation to the Queen. Its just not going to happen. And that oath will not be removed either. The Westminster ceremony has its own spin-offs in the Scottish Parliament () and elsewhere. That love of tradition and archaic practices runs deep. If English republicans that have took their seats in the Commons over many decades have not been able to secure the removal of the oath then what chance Irish republicans and nationalists? None.

Watching elected politicians take an oath to the monarch after stating directly before taking the pledge the complete opposite, or mumbling it shows the process up for the farce that it is.

Trying to force a freshly elected representative to betray their mandate by pledging allegiance to a completely different ideology is frightfully undemocratic and archaic. Could you imagine if unionists were asked to swear an oath of allegiance to the Irish President and all his successors before taking their seats in the Assembly? Unionist MLAs would refuse to do it. There would be uproar. So why is it justifiable to thrust a royalist oath on even English republicans?

Of course the Irish abstentionist tradition is about more than just the oath / affirmation.

Ultimately republicans want to take their seats in Dublin not London. Today this is no longer a pipe-dream, certainly in regard to MPs sitting in the Dáil with speaking rights if not voting rights.

The next Dáil election has to be held within 4 years (if its not called long before!) It represents the best opportunity Sinn Féin have had of entering a coalition government if they decide to take it.

In any coalition programme for government that Sinn Féin enters into northern MPs being given their place (and a credible role) in the Dáil chamber should be a redline issue.

In theory this means that the choice of sitting in Dublin – not London – could be put before the incoming cohort of MPs that we elect next month.

Given the fluid political environment created by Brexit the chances of such a proposal being agreed by the other Dail parties has increased significantly.

Whenever northern MPs are given the option of taking a seat in Dublin rather than London the abstention issue for nationalism / republicanism will be put to bed because MPs will be sitting in a parliament – just not Westminster. A role that would evolve with time.

Constituents from Derry, from Belfast and Newry will be able to go to Dublin and sit in the public chamber to listen to their MPs and meet them to discuss relevant issues of concern. This could prove to be an important position now that Article 50 has been triggered and the island awaits an uncertain political and economic outcome.

Nationalists, republicans and indeed others will see Westminster elections as an exercise that elects their representatives in the Dáil. Sooner or later, that is the inevitable conclusion to the abstention debate.

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  • Jag

    “In any coalition programme for government [in Diblin] that Sinn Féin enters into northern MPs being given their place (and a credible role) in the Dáil chamber should be a redline issue.”

    That would require a change to the Irish constitution that won’t happen in advance of the next election. And without a new government (with SF in coalition), how would such a referendum take place?

    Of course, this is the future after re-unification, with around 15 constituencies in what is now the North returning around 60 TDs to the Dail, which if the election were called today in those circumstances would return around 50 FG, 50 FF, 50 SF, 15 DUP, 10 SDLP, 10 UUP, 10 Labour, 10 Solidarity/PeopleB4Profit and around 10 others in a 220-TD Dail.

  • Muiris

    There is good historical precedent for this, of course. The first Dáil were all elected to Westminister.

  • hugh mccloy

    As soon as that happens ff and fg will both be standing up here, maybe thats just whats needed

  • Obelisk

    Daithi I would love for this happen but I got to be honest, I just can’t imagine it taking place. Ireland is one country, but it is currently split into two jurisdictions and while we may all hope that that split will one day be removed, I can’t see how trying to pretend it isn’t there is helpful to our cause.

    Besides, I can see no circumstances under which the Southern parties would assent to Westminster MPs sitting in the Dail, even if it is purely as an observer without voting rights. There are real questions of sovereignty and law we would have to deal with. That’s why we have to vote Northern Ireland into oblivion one day, not pretend it doesn’t exist.

    We can’t lose the run of ourselves just as the path to reunification starts to take shape. We have to be ambitious, yes, but not waste political capital on what could be perceived as a grandstanding gesture that would surely sow ill will between Dublin and London (London doesn’t care about us, but it does care about it’s image, and this would surely be perceived as a provocation).

    Sinn Fein should continue to refuse to take their seats in Westminster. I vote for my Sinn Fein MP on this basis. As long as Sinn Fein has access to the facilities they need to perform their constituency duties (which I help pay for via my taxes, as do all constituents in Sinn Fein constituencies), perhaps that is the best outcome.

    One day, TDs from the former Northern Ireland will take their rightful place in Dail Eireann. That is what we should work for.

  • Brian Walker

    Although Daithi starts with the problem of the oath, he goes on to make a far bigger point. In the anguished Dail debates to approve the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, the oath which embedded the king in the constitution of the Free State became a casus belli of the civil war. Some historians eg,. TP Coogan argue that de Valera hyped it at the time as an issue to conceal the failure to stop partition. When the time was ripe to contest elections Dev was willing to abandon abstention, and take the oath as “an empty formula” in 1927, and so giving de facto recognition to the Dail as the legitimate parliament before going on finally to abolish the oath and the governor general in the 1937 constitution. To do so he abandoned SF to form Fianna Fail and soon became the IRA’s implacable enemy within thew territory of the state.

    Such comparison as is valid shows that the principle of abstention can be breached if it becomes politically expedient. Today it is no more than a minor debating point. .

    But Daithi springs on us ( me, at any rate) the idea that Sinn Fein should Insist , as terms for joining another coalition, that SF MPs should have at least “speaking if not voting “rights in the Dail. This proposal upscales previous SF ideas for northerners to elect the president and members to the seanad.

    The Dail is quite a different matter

    Does this have any serious support?

    It would be illegal in the UK and the Republic and is in fact fantasy.

    I suggest SF will set no such a red line.

  • SDLP supporter

    Let’s face it, the Sinn Fein Abstentionist MPs-Paul Maskey, Mickey Brady, Francie Molloy and Pat Doherty (outgoing)-are not exactly the sharpest tools in the kit. The calibre isn’t going to be enhanced by the arrival of Barry McElduff, a true lightweight.
    The depth of Sinn Fein’s commitment will be apparent if/when the Brits cut the Sinn Fein MP allowance, currently worth £100k per MP per annum.
    Also, Sinn Fein have used the ‘principled’ card too often. For decades as a matter of ‘principle’ they didn’t take their seats at Stormont or the Dail, because these bodies were set up by a U.K. Act of Parliament. But, they jettisoned the ‘principle’ as they did so many others.

  • Zig70

    Why would it be mp’s that get speaking rights and not assembly members? Surely it makes more sense to give local reps the right.

  • Skibo

    If FF are true to their word, they should be standing in the North from 2019 on. That is game changing.

  • Roger

    To talk of SF MPs attending and “chairing” meetings at Westminster is totally misleading. These “meetings” are not parliamentary ones.


    The failed ex leader of the S.D.L.P Mark Durkan has yet to make any impression.although some may say that bowing to the speaker as he counted votes a few weeks ago is a start.

  • SDLP supporter

    At least he didn’t turn up in white tie and tails at Windsor Castle, like the late St. Martin McG….or cringeingly accept a Royal Pardon, like Gerry Kelly.

  • Katyusha

    It would be illegal in the UK and the Republic and is in fact fantasy.

    “Illegal”, really? You say this like its some kind of barrier, when the Dáil is the body with the power to create/amend legislation. If there is to be a move to allow speaking rights then obviously there will have to be a vote to enact this, either in Dáil Éireann or by referendum. But speaking rights is a big issue. Not even all TD’s are entitled to them.

    This proposal upscales previous SF ideas for northerners to elect the president and members to the seanad.

    SF have been talking on-and-off about this for over a decade. The idea of sending representatives to the Seanad was actually a scaling back their requests for speaking rights in the Dáil for MP’s. which met with considerable resistance.But we’re in new territory now, so it makes sense to put the issue back on the radar if they want to push it. Not that I really agree it would be a significant or positive strategic step.

  • johnny lately

    Gerry Kelly did not cringeingly accept a Royal pardon it was imposed on him by the British government who needed to quash his sentence in order to have him extradited from Holland.

  • Brian Walker

    A member elected to one legislature can’t be a member of another. Both agree. This is 2017, not 1919

  • Daithí McKay

    The disqualifications act 2000 should still stand I presume? This permitted MPs to sit in the Dáil.

  • Katyusha

    But they would not be members of the Dáil.
    They would be members of the Westminster Parliament, permitted by the Dáil to speak to the chamber as the elected representatives of Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland, perhaps restricted to matters affecting the north. I mean, I too look forward to the day I can elect Michelle Gildernew as a TD, but that is not what was being proposed.

  • aquifer

    Collusion with Neocons in shrinking and subverting the democratic space is odd, when SF have already conceded Westminster’s primacy, with the Good Friday Agreement recognising its jurisdiction until a successful vote for a United Ireland.

    Why vote for them if they won’t vote for us? Because the party treasurer says so?

  • SDLP supporter

    And he could have refused it, and stayed in Holland forever, maybe? Anyway, plenty of Provos accepted Royal Pardons and Get Out of Jail Letters. Sinn Fein were happy to do a dirty deal over amnesty for Provos and British soldiers until Mark Durkan called them out on it.

  • johnny lately

    It was imposed, he had no say in the matter. the imposed royal pardon allowed the Dutch government to extradite him back behind bars.

    Yes im sure lots of on the run provo’s got Royal pardons just like I know lots of republican prisoners took parole, it still doesn’t make them any less republican.

  • Roger

    They would not be “elected representatives of Irish citizens”. They would be the elected representatives of those entitled to vote in their UK constituencies. Some of those electors may be Irish citizens; some may be only UK citizens; to the extent UK permits persons other than UK or Irish citizens to vote, they could be representatives of persons with neither nationality. That said, TDs elected in Ireland are not just representatives of Irish citizens, as for example, UK citizens can vote on elections of TDs.

  • Vince

    In the “real world” outside politics, it just seems strange that given the opportunity to represent others one would choose not to turn up to an invited meeting but leave an empty chair – instead deciding to hold a meeting in a building across the street or alternatively standing outside with a placard (whilst simultaneously claiming expenses for turning up in the vicinity of the meeting). This just appears ludicrous in the 21st century.

  • hugh mccloy

    FF inclusion will, I said it many time it will take a party big, bad and smart enough to take on whats happening up here and FF ticks the boxes

  • SDLP supporter

    And showing respect to the Commons Speaker by bowing doesn’t make Mark Durkan less of an Irishman.

    I appreciate that it wasn’t you, but John Turley, who made the initial smart aleck remark.

  • catholicus

    They could be made ex officio members of the Seanad. That’s a more reasonable starting point.

  • Paddy Ferris

    Oh dear. Nasty personalised attacks on individuals is hardly likely to warm people to the SDLP.

  • Kevin Breslin

    70% of the North Oppose Abstentionism. The same percentage as that which supports Equal Marriage.

    Sinn Féin can be quite DUP-eque from time to time!