Why forming an Executive with the DUP is more difficult NOW for Sinn Féin – By Danny Morrison

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Why would Sinn Féin go into an executive in which the DUP has a disproportionate degree of influence over the British government – an alleged, joint-guarantor with the Irish government of the Belfast Agreement

Sinn Féin won seven seats in the Westminster general election, running on an abstentionist ticket, which has been the party’s policy for at least one hundred years.

The SDLP, which boasted about sitting in Westminster but had nothing to show for it, lost its three seats – seat held by three former party leaders and two of which have now been taken by  Sinn Féin.

And yet despite the wishes of the electorate which had been heavily exposed to all the arguments, Sinn Féin’s critics, including the SDLP and southern political parties, and many in the media, few of whom wish Sinn Féin well, continued to criticise the party for keeping to its manifesto commitment.

I was at the Belfast count on Thursday night/Friday morning and was asked by a succession of journalists about whether in the circumstances of a hung parliament Sinn Féin would not drop its policy and help Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party or, at least, make it more difficult for Theresa May to form a government with the help of the DUP.

I said, No, it was not going to happen.

Many arguments have been advanced in defence of abstentionism including that the oath or affirmation of allegiance to a foreign monarch and her heirs presents a difficulty and is inimical to one’s republicanism; or that one’s influence is miniscule and dwarfed by the major parties with few from the North able to demonstrate worthwhile achievements commensurate with their attendance.

These arguments, whilst valid, are not at the core of abstentionism. For example, the oath could be completely removed. Or, imagine Britain a republic. It might well be possible for some of the parties which take their seats to point to pieces of legislation that they have influenced or initiated. In the circumstances of a hung parliament it is undeniable that a tail might be able to wag the much bigger dog for a time.

Even if the oath was removed and I was an MP I would still not take my seat.

Even if Britain was a republic I would still not take my seat.

Even if I held the balance of power and could get through bits and pieces of legislation (while flattering myself as to the magnitude of my importance) I would still not take my seat.

For me, it is quite simple.

How can I object to Britain interfering in Irish affairs if I go over and interfere in theirs?

Once I took my seat, with or without an oath, I have lost the moral high ground on that question of Irish sovereignty. I have already conceded Britain’s right to govern on this shore – a claim that was demonstrably rejected in December 1918 by the majority of people in Ireland in a democratic election.

Even though for reasons of pragmatism I support Agreements which were passed into law in the House of Commons, this does not mean that I recognise Britain’s claim to rule over me as being legitimate.

Leinster House and Stormont, for all their many flaws, are assemblies of the people of this island. Furthermore, the state in which I live is not the state in which I grew up. Much has changed; often beyond recognition. Much has clearly still to be changed. I am in the business of building a new society in Ireland out of the two states which currently exist. To do that I need to win over a significant body of support from the unionist community, as well as winning over people in the South who have lived for a century under successive partitionist governments which have never acted in truly national terms.

The establishment in the South distances itself from us by increasingly in its discourse conflating the Twenty-Six Counties with ‘Ireland’; although the threat of Brexit to the southern economy, and to the security of the peace process, has suddenly produced fresh – some might say, opportunistic – interest in reunification.

On Friday, the day after the general election, I tweeted: “In interfering in British affairs the DUP will gather many enemies.” I hadn’t appreciated how quickly that would happen nor the scale of the revulsion.

The British, especially the English, deeply resent anyone else telling them what to do.

In simplistic terms it explains their dislike of Europe and the way they voted on Brexit.

As an exercise, imagine that the Labour and Tory wins were reversed and that Sinn Féin’s seven seats would be enough to support a Labour minority government, and that the party, out of the blue, took its Westminster seats.

Make no mistake about it: the British public and the British media would be just as scathing of republicans as they are now of the DUP; although the DUP because of its homophobic, racist and sectarian proclivities present much more fertile ground for ridicule and attack.

And that is because the British, especially the English, do not like outsiders interfering in their affairs.

Although the SNP would also have faced criticism were it to prop up, say, a Corbyn minority government, the criticism and the type of condemnation would not be as visceral as the attacks on the Irish unionists because Scotland and Wales are unquestionably viewed differently from the Six Counties.

Incidentally, those famous Irish politicians who did take their oath and seats in Westminster failed abysmally in their objectives.

Daniel O’Connell failed to achieve the Repeal of the Union. Charles Stewart Parnell and his Irish Parliamentary Party after decades in Westminster, and his successor, John Redmond, failed to achieve Home Rule, but did manage to sacrifice the lives of 50,000 Irish Volunteers in WWI who were fooled into believing they were fighting for the freedom of a small nation, Ireland.

I’m not including one major success at Westminster by the original Ulster Unionist Party because their exclusion of the Six Counties and the abandonment of the Home Rule Act has proved to be one unmitigated disaster for everyone.

By abstaining from Westminster Sinn Féin is making a powerful statement – that the people who vote for it reject British rule and British interference.

And that is something that should give British people pause for thought: if you are livid at the prospects of a party from here, going over there to interfere and make your laws, how do you think we feel after all these centuries?

This sordid Tory/DUP arrangement, if it comes off, may not last long, will ultimately damage both parties, but more immediately will jeopardise the prospects of a return to devolution.

Why would Sinn Féin go into an executive in which the DUP has a disproportionate degree of influence over the British government – an alleged, joint-guarantor with the Irish government of the Belfast Agreement?

One, perhaps unforeseen consequence of the DUP’s willingness to go into coalition with a British government is that the DUP is effectively relinquishing any objection it might make in the future to Sinn Féin doing exactly the same in Dublin.

For the DUP I hope that the demonization they are facing (and which must appear as unjust and unfair to them) is a chastening experience and one which will make them or their supporters reflect on the antediluvian nature of their policies which encroach on the freedom of others.

I also hope it makes them realise that in actual fact they belong here more than over there.

It is here, not over there, they should be entering into a true pact with their fellow Irish people.


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  1. All 3 dethroned SDLPers had once been SDLP leaders.
    I agree with Danny bout the oath, but I would never say never in this case – I remember saying that about de-commissioning and hopefully we will never have cause to regret that action. A form of words which would be more fitting may not be out of the question. The again, – the Anglo Saxon mind is a belligerent one!

    If I remember correctly Tony Blair in early 2000s brought a law in to allow MPs who may be members of a legislature in another jurisdiction to also take their seats in W/minster if elected.
    If I am correct about this it could well open up the way to new, creative constitutional arrangement(s).
    If Dáil were to do similar and we could all fairly, peacefully, securely, make our way along to a new place.
    Best of both worlds for the 6 Cos.

  2. Danny, by taking the office within Westminster, the flats in London, the hefty expenses, while at the same time not taking seats, surely is still legitimising English rule in Ireland. Principled abstentionism would be to reject the parliament in all its forms, including the expenses forms.

  3. On the face of it, Danny, I can see the purity of your argument. However, the fact is Sinn Fein DO want to influence British government policy. Indeed the very election posters I saw dotted around Belfast in the run-up to this election were emblazoned with the slogan “No Tories, No Border, No Brexit”. Items 1 and 3 on that list constitute direct manipulation into English affairs.

    Also, regarding Daniel O’Connell’s supposed failure to achieve anything meaningful in his political career … come off it. Catholic Emancipation is far more than either you or your party have ever achieved.

  4. “By abstaining from Westminster Sinn Féin is making a powerful statement – that the people who vote for it reject British rule and British interference.”

    indeed by voting SF the nationalist/republican people of NI have turned their backs on Westminster. i doubt if Stormont will be resuscitated unless an independent, international chairperson can be appointed to fulfil the role that cannot be undertaken by Mr Brokenshire, Secretary of a British State that is attached at the hip to the DUP.


  5. Barry McEvoy on

    It is essentially an argument of sovereignty then why sinn fein adopt an abstentionist policy in west minister election. I’m curious how the party views the EU and it’s aggressive austerity policies enacted by the various govt s of southern Ireland. The James connelly quote about setting up a socialist republic lest the replacement of one flag with another becomes a futile act is worth due consideration in the modern age of EU neo liberal policies. How can sinn fein be anti British union but pro European union?

  6. SF’s local organisation looks successful. How is that built upon unless through effective representation at national and international level?

    The Brexit mess has arisen from those wishing to abstain from Brussels or interference from Brussels. I am not sure if the Brussels brokenness and lack of accountability can be fixed from within. Brexit is largely delusional, some fantasy of re-establishing a sea trading empire of the 1900’s. Brexit is Brexit is tautological nonsense and this is as good as it gets. Last week was a start at reversing this rubbish and your votes may be needed to push it back further.

    UK Parliament is also very broken. £700bn of public expenditure a year with a Parliamentary Select Committee process where CEO’s can lie with impunity. Stormont processes appear even less effective!

    Abstentionism is a luxury dependent on the non-effectiveness of existing institutions. Your argument is that turning up makes no difference so that’s ok. Is that it? The energy I have witnessed in your party suggests otherwise.

    If SF has worked out how to get things done locally, then the same is needed wherever public money is being allocated and spent.

    Daniel 0’Connell a failure! He continues to be an inspiration for those lucky enough to study his work. He initial efforts did not bear fruit, but he was not just working for himself but for better more just place for all.,

    Your votes might be needed, and you should reserve the right to use them should the need arise. Preventing new border installations would be a good reason to turn up to vote. Preserving the freedom of movement is another good reason to turn up to vote. The EU institutions, which do need reforming, arose from the waste of two world wars and those 50,000 who were ‘fooled’! Maybe, but it does not have to remain so, 70 years of relative piece is a start, the 50,000 and c6m others are owed more.

    Neither the Irish nor the Brits can define their identify by living on two small islands on the edge of Europe. Is the commitment to abstentionism underwritten by some universal law of nature? I cannot see it. If not, and the need arises, then it can and should change.

  7. Election 2017: So where does this all leave us then?
    The DUP are in bed with the Tories, (hetrosexual sharing only now Cedric and Sylia). Devolution talks look very shaky and the prospects look poor. Sinn Féin don’t need Stormont, at the moment. Nationalism and Republicanism needs it like a kick in the proverbials.
    Sinn Féin finally caught up with their base early last year and collapsed the place, at last retiring an increasingly infuriating Arlene Foster and leading to an election which saw the combined Unionist vote in the Wee Six sitting at 45.2% while the Nationalist share stood at 38%. 15 months on, following the Westminster election, we now have the combined Unionist vote at 46.7% (a very modest 1.5% increase) the Nationalist vote is now 41.03%. (a bigger increase at 3.3%).
    The Ulster Unionist demise will simply further consolidate the DUP as leaders of a minority Unionism. The SDLP demise and demographics, as more young voters come on the register, will on the other hand see North Belfast and possibly Upper Bann go to SF next time. South Belfast is also up for grabs. Nationalism generally understands the fatally flawed nature of the wee six and has its eye firmly on All-Ireland arrangements. Unionism, while just as capable at Math, simply cannot emotionally process the blatantly obvious.
    The DUP are also deluded if they think Nationalists have overplayed or are overplaying their hand post the AE2017 nationalist vote surge, as Ian Paisley Jnr claimed they were doing. The nationalist surge has continued albeit modestly with an increased nationalist turnout at Westminster. The DUP managed to reap the benefit of unionist shock after the assembly election and brought out a grand total of 29,268 extra unionist voters across the north over their combined AE2017 total. But this is way too little too late. Politics is in a confused state indeed, within this confused statelet. Unionism will inevitably and woefully overplay its sense of resurgence and power via their Tory deal. They will however, again face the underlying changed reality with even greater dismay in the next Assembly and next Westminster elections which may not be too far distant.
    In the interim the badly shaken Assembly experiment and DUP dalliance with perfidious Albion will have made new, and from unionism’s perspective, even more appalling vistas all too real.
    It is really high time for Unionism to get real. A shared Ireland which they can help to shape will be better than an inevitably reunited Ireland which still hasn’t managed to lance the sectarian boil.
    There is an inexorability about the demographic change so clearly contained in the 2011 census, which unionists held back for almost a year and a half and which led to the short-lived Peter Robinson overture to Catholics. King Canutism, however, has reasserted itself within Unionism and now the DUP is duped into a false sense of resurgence and power when even the most obtuse should be able to read the writing on the wall. The tide will keep coming.
    The Tories will also drop them as soon as is expedient, ala Thatcher and The Anglo Irish Agreement.

  8. it annoys me when you keep referring to “we” like you are speaking for all of NI, or that its nationalists vs the unionists.

    and let me just say at the outset, that as Northern Irish, the politics are an embarrassment. DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP etc etc, im non-partisan in my sweeping statement. ranging from homophobes to bigots, to those paid to govern that don’t on principle, to the long proud history of principles that suddenly are overcome by a steady salary and a nice office. a little separation of history, religion and state would do us all some good.

    i was born and raised in NI, have as much right to choose my heritage as you and i see myself as British, only because Northern Irish isnt a tickbox on the form. i was born here, raised here, and am proud of my country. im not really that fussed about pre 1921 events, it just isnt of concern to me. i can see it as abhorrent in the time, but right now, Northern Ireland isnt exactly an occupied state under the sword….

    your unified ireland is lovely, but in pursuing your goal under your perceived moral high ground, you exclude the many who are equally as justified to be content in what they are and the nationality they were born into and the government to which they were introduced through birth.

    spare a thought for the significant portion who care not for the politics of the matter, but love their home just the way it is.

    you fail to see that in your happiness lies plenty of people’s unhappiness, so you have no right to talk in “we”. If a referendum were held tomorrow and even if the outcome was a unified Ireland, it would likely have a similar feel to brexit, a lot of unhappy people alongside a lot of happy people, neither being particularly capable of articulating why.

    and all this not taking seats westminster or NI. i am certain of one thing above all. the surest way to ensure nothing changes is to do nothing at all….no one has ever changed anyone by not talking to them. Even donald trump understands this! if he wants to deal with North Korea, its going to involve a concversation at some point. I wonder do you not feel the battle for the democratic vote and the voice given all and sundry is a cause equally worth upholding. it causes me a great swell of sadness to see my home, where i was raised where my family reside used as a “cause” and not treated with the respect and love that it so dearly deserves.

    you may have guessed that I’m not particularly for reunification, not for political reasons, but basically because I then get to tell my children that the country i was born in no longer exists. the values and morals and culture (which is as unique from Irish as it is from English, Scottish and Welsh I’m sure you will agree) has been assimilated into the republic of Ireland. How can losing a unique country with almost 100 yrs of unique heritage, good and bad, make the world a better place. how can that even make the republic of Ireland a better place?

    i might be taking a leap when i say it is again similar to Brexit, if it ever happens it will be most pleasing to the generation who will be around to enjoy it for the least, yet it will affect those most whom it concerned not at all.

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