SF leader rejects O’Toole’s no-deal Brexit plan as a ‘non-runner’

FG supports Fintan O’Toole’s idea that SF MPs stand down in order to trigger election

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has described a plan to stop a no-deal Brexit which would involve the party's seven MPs standing down as a "a total non-runner".

Fine Gael TDs and Senators have now said the idea should be considered in light of the serious implications that a no-deal scenario would have for Ireland.

Debate on the proposal has been generated by a column by Irish Times writer Fintan O’Toole, the idea being that the seven Sinn Féin MPs would stand down temporarily, triggering elections. If the writs are moved on September 3rd when parliament returns from its summer recess, the elections could be held by the end of the month.

The four main parties would agree a candidate for each constituency who is not politically aligned. They would support all measures to stop a no-deal Brexit and stand down as soon as Brexit is either accomplished or aborted. They would respect Sinn Féin’s policy of abstention on all issues except the ones that relate to Brexit.


Ms McDonald said the suggestion was “unworkable”.

“We published proposals which set out the need for designated special status within the EU, much of which is reflected in the current backstop, we went on a diplomatic offensive internationally, worked as part of a pro-Remain alliance in the North and also alongside the Irish Government. We will continue to stand up for Ireland’s interests.

“As October and the increasing likelihood of a hard Brexit gets closer, we will undoubtedly see more commentators grasp at straws and try to find a loophole which will stop Boris Johnson and the Tories from proceeding with Brexit. This is not real politik; does anyone seriously think that we will stop Boris Johnson on a technicality?

“Fintan O’Toole’s suggestion is a total non-runner and it is unworkable in the real world. More worryingly, it would only heighten the political crisis and farce at Westminster and strengthen Boris Johnson’s hand. The focus needs to stay on delivering the backstop and not fantasy politics.

“If we are faced with the scenario of a no-deal Brexit and the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement, then the people of the North should be given an opportunity to vote for which union they want to be part of in a unity referendum,” she said.

Sinn Féin TD and health spokesman Louise O’Reilly said the suggestion was “unviable and potentially destabilising”.


But Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond said the proposal was “an imaginative one”.

“Every party and person must do all they can to assist in averting this; it is not good for Sinn Féin to sit on the sidelines when they can make a meaningful difference in a Westminster parliament where the government has a majority of just one.

“If they won’t take their seats, perhaps they should indeed step aside and let others who really care about this island’s future step up,” he said.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock said the plan was “innovative” and represented “outside-the-box thinking”.

“The practicality might be a little trickier, not least because the byelections to replace the Sinn Féin MPs would likely all be contested and some could well fall to pro-Brexit candidates.”

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher said he believed Sinn Féin should take up their seats at Westminster and vote only on Brexit issues that affect the island of Ireland.

He said the proposal itself was “a non-runner for many reasons including the logistics and the reality of politics but primarily because Sinn Féin only ever thinks of what is in their strategic interests”.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said he believed Sinn Féin was “squandering an opportunity to work in the best interests of their constituents and Ireland as a whole by continuing to boycott the Houses of Parliament”.

“If ever there was a time for them to take up their seats then surely the threat of the untold consequences of Brexit is it.”

However, he said the idea that they should give up their seats was “an interesting proposition but not one that is based in our political reality”.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times