Speaking at the Féile an Phobail festival in West Belfast today (Thursday), Fine Gael Senator and spokesman on European Affairs, Neale Richmond, has repeated the call for Sinn Féin MPs to take their seats in Westminster, citing the need to ensure any Brexit deal gets through the House of Commons as well as the European Parliament.
“Sinn Féin are in a unique position to materially influence the futures of all peoples on this island in the post Brexit era. In having mandates to serve in both the European Parliament and the House of Commons, Sinn Féin representatives can stand up and be counted when it comes to minimising the damage of Brexit on the island of Ireland.
“This suggestion is not a new one and indeed some commentators have sought to dismiss it or portray themselves as being tired of this debate. However I make no apology for once again pointing out the gravity of the situation and the opportunity that lies before the seven Sinn Féin MPs and indeed the four Sinn Féin MEPs, to be part of the meaningful Brexit vote.
“Hiding beyond the mantra of abstentionism is no longer credible. It is not a sacred cow that is above analysis or indeed a change of opinion. The approach of Sinn Féin to elected office has evolved throughout the course of Irish history. Indeed I still get regular correspondence from Republicans who only recognise the authority of the first Dáil while Republicans of every shade sit dutifully in Dáil and Seanad Éireann today serving the people that elected them.
“When this subject is raised, the usual voices chirp up that Sinn Féin MPs are elected on a policy of abstentionism and it cannot be changed. It is remarkable then that when I looked through some of the election literature from the 2017 snap election that there is minimal mention of abstentionism but blanket coverage of the perils of Brexit.
“From entering the Dáil in the 1980′, entering power sharing in the 1990’s to embracing the European Parliament from 2004 onwards, Sinn Féin’s approach has been flexible before. The time is now right again for that level of flexibility in order to provide the highest possible representation to the Irish people. Attending protests outside Westminster, while not participating in votes inside Westminster despite having an electoral mandate to do so, is the highest form of irony.
“The recent votes on the Withdrawal Bill as it passed through Westminster gave us a clear insight into the battle that lies ahead for any Brexit deal. Margins of three or four or five cannot be merely dismissed. The voting to take place on any deal will be even more vital.
“If Sinn Féin MPs continue to remain outside the process they were elected to participate in and we find ourselves thrown into a no deal scenario because of a handful of votes, that legacy will be a mill stone around the necks of the Irish people for years to come.
“I challenge my Oireachtas colleague Mary Lou McDonald to prove that she is prepared to provide real leadership and to send her MPs to Westminster so they can truly fulfil their duties to the people they were elected to represent.
“If needs be, why don’t the Sinn Féin MPs resign their seats and run in the subsequent bye elections stating that if elected, they will take their seats and they will vote against a hard Brexit. If Republicans like Denis Skinner or indeed Eamon de Valera can take the oath, even as an empty gesture, then surely this is not beyond the new, forward looking Sinn Féin?”