Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin trade insults over Westminster abstention
Micheál Martin accuses SF of abdicating responsibility by refusing to take seats
Newly elected Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone Barry McElduff MP (left) with Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill. Fianna Fáil has accused Sinn Féin of abdicating its responsibility to the people Northern Ireland. Photograph: PA
Micheál Martin has accused Sinn Féin of abdicating its responsibility to the people Northern Ireland by continuing to refuse to take its seats in Westminster.
The Fianna Fáil leader said despite the fact that the majority of people in the North were opposed to Brexit, Sinn Féin’s decision meant no one would represent their views on the issue.
However Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald said if Mr Martin was so concerned about Ireland’s representation at Westminster then he should stand candidates in the northern constituencies.
“Micheál Martin is a hurler on the ditch in this election. We will not take lectures from him. Sinn Féin represents the Nationalist and Republican people in the North of our country, Fianna Fáil don’t even attempt to represent people there, so Micheál Martin should either put up or shut up.”
Mr Martin said he believed Sinn Féin’s continued insistence on not taking its seats in Westminster was particularly illogical given that 57 per cent of people in Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU and the only party taking their seats in Westminster were the DUP who were in favour of Brexit.
He said it was “totally illogical for Sinn Féin to say they can stay out of Westminster given that Brexit is the single greatest issue facing our generation. It is the single greatest issue of our generation.”
Sinn Féin had the opportunity to influence moderate opinion after the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party lost all their Westminster seats but instead was continuing to refuse to take its seats in the British parliament, Mr Martin said.
“It shows a party that is just focused on the election and on count day. But beyond count day they are not taking part in governance. It happened after our election here, it happened in Northern Ireland where they brought down the institutions and now it’s happening after the election in the UK.”
Mr Martin pointed out it was the first time since 1964 that Irish nationalists would not have a voice at Westminster and this was happening at a time when the people of Ireland, north and south, were facing the single greatest economic and social challenge in a generation.
And he also expressed the hope that the DUP would make the case for a soft Brexit given that the party would now wield considerable leverage within the UK after being cast in the role of “kingmaker” after doing a deal to support Theresa May and the Conservatives in forming a government.
“There will be concerns there that it (the DUP’s support) might lead to a very imbalanced approach to Northern Ireland politics. It is effectively going to be a very one-sided operation and that is indeed a concern,” he said.
“But there might be potential that voices within the DUP will see the logic of sensible, pragmatic arrangements in Ireland in regards to Brexit. They may not like the language around economic status and economic zone but I think they get the need for the minimal disruption to economic activities.”
Mr Martin said he hoped the results, which saw Labour gain some 31 seats, particularly in constituencies where there was a strong Remain vote last year, would strengthen the hands of those favouring a “soft” Brexit.
“The good thing is that I believe this puts a brake on a hard Brexit. I think there will be many more voices now in the Westminster parliament that want a softer Brexit and a more logical Brexit that retains access to the Single Market.”
In response to Mr Martin’s criticism of Sinn Féin, Ms McDonald said: “We put our position to the people and it has been overwhelmingly endorsed. We are mandated not to take our seats at Westminster and we will honour that mandate. We know Fianna Fáil has issues with keeping promises and respecting mandates but we don’t.
“Micheál Martin says Sinn Féin’s position is incomprehensible. What is really incomprehensible is that a so-called Republican Party doesn’t stand in elections in the North of our country.”
And she said that Fianna Fail, rather than worrying about representation in the Westminster parliament, should work instead with Sinn Féin to secure speaking rights for Irish MPs, representing Irish people, in Dáil Éireann.