Electoral calculus
April 30, 2010 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Naive Northern Ireland political question: at the moment there are 5 seats in the UK parliament held by Sinn Fein MPs who do not attend or vote on principle. One possible outcome of the UK election next week is a minority Conservative government reliant upon the Ulster Unionist bloc of MPs for a working majority. Is there any possibility that Sinn Fein MPs will end their boycott of parliament to prevent the concessions the Unionists are likely to demand in return for support?
posted by cromagnon to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm no expert on Northern Ireland, but I'd recommend Slugger O'Toole as a good blog for getting up to date on things. If you don't get the answer here, that's a place to go.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:11 AM on April 30, 2010

Data point: The Conservatives relied on the Unionists in several votes toward the end of the 1992-1997 government. Sinn Fein didn't end their boycott then (nor did the Unionists demand concessions, as far as I know).
posted by caek at 7:18 AM on April 30, 2010

There is always a possibility, but Sinn Féin have had this policy basically since 1905.

Sinn Féin's main electoral rival for nationalist/republican votes is the SDLP*. The SDLP do take their seats and are campaigning in this election on a platform of representation.

It would be a major policy shift for Sinn Féin to end their abstentionism, a shift that has split republicanism previously. If it happens it will be major news, and will likely increase support for the so-called 'dissident' republicans currently opposed to the peace process and still engaging in armed conflict.

* Full disclosure: I work for the SDLP.
posted by knapah at 7:20 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also Sinn Féin have recently criticised the SDLP for being 'lazy abstentionists' rather than 'principled abstentionists'.
posted by knapah at 7:21 AM on April 30, 2010

Sinn Fein won't take their seats in Westminister, because to do so requires, amongst other things, taking an oath to the Queen. I think there's precicely 0% chance of them doing that - if only because doing so would expose them to political attack from the even more extreme republicans.
posted by prentiz at 8:16 AM on April 30, 2010

Oh, there is a distinct possibility - see that nice collections of snowballs in Hell? there, just near the bottomless pit....
No, seriously, the day Adams and McGuinness go and say

"I swear by Almighty God that I shall be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law"

is the day the 32 County Sovereignty Movement start winning counsellor posts in West Belfast and the fun starts all over again....
posted by MessageInABottle at 8:17 AM on April 30, 2010

prentiz and MessageInABottle are right to an extent, but from what I hear they are getting a pretty concerned response from potential voters as they're canvassing.

Nationalists/Republicans are worried about a Conservative government. The Irish have long memories, and it hasn't been that long since the Thatcher era.

As the OP says, a hung parliament could potentially allow parties from the north of Ireland to be in the balance of power. Some Sinn Féin supporters, of the less hardcore republican variety, think that taking the oath insincerely would be a lesser evil than allowing the Unionists to sway the British government.

It could be interesting.
posted by knapah at 8:25 AM on April 30, 2010

There's potentially not going to be an Ulster Unionist bloc in Westminster, if you specifically mean the UUP: Sylvia Hermon left the party to stand as an independent unionist over the electoral pact with the Tories, and Cameron's talk on the size of the public sector in NI didn't do Reg Empey's chances much good.

I'll cede the floor to knapah about the feeling on the ground, though I think all precedents point to a no. John Major faced a very different situation when he called on the unionists towards the end of a period of extended Tory rule than Cameron would at the start of a term in office.
posted by holgate at 10:04 AM on April 30, 2010

I was operating on the assumption that cromagnon was referring to a unionist bloc comprising DUP+UUP, rather than the solely UCUNF, but I could be mistaken.

Incidentally, I will take great pleasure in watching Sylvia Hermon annihilate Ian Parsley (note: not Ian Paisley) after his rather sickening switch from the cross-community Alliance Party to a right-wing unionist party (UCUNF).
posted by knapah at 12:41 PM on April 30, 2010

I was, yes.

Thank-you all: I've learnt a lot from this. Whatever happens, I hope the temperature stays down for all concerned.
posted by cromagnon at 7:17 PM on April 30, 2010

Gerry Adams was on BBC Ulster today and was asked whether he would sit in Parliament if Sinn Féin didn't have to take the oath of allegiance. He said no.

Here is a thread on Slugger O'Toole (A Northern Ireland politics blog) that discusses this and is related to your question. It also links to a Parliament Research Paper on the oath and Sinn Féin's objection to it.
posted by knapah at 6:53 AM on May 4, 2010

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