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Martin McGuinness refuses to rule out Sinn Fein taking Westminster seats after Gerry Adams says party will not end abstention policy

By Noel McAdam

Published 05/11/2016

Martin McGuinness signalled that SF policy could change
Martin McGuinness signalled that SF policy could change

There were signs of a split emerging at the highest levels of Sinn Fein last night after Martin McGuinness declined to rule out the possibility of the party's four MPs taking their seats at Westminster to cast potentially crucial votes against Brexit.

The Deputy First Minister told a Press conference at Stormont: "Who knows where all of this is going to end up? There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all of us face immense challenges that lie ahead.

"But one thing is for sure and that is I have no faith in the British Parliament supporting the democratically expressed wishes of the people of the North to remain in Europe."

But also yesterday, Sinn Fein spokesman Michael McMonagle was quoted by London's Times newspaper as indicating that the republican party would not change its long-held position under any circumstances.

"Our policy is quite clear and it's one that we have maintained at every election," he added.

"We will not lift abstentionism, and it's a policy that has been strongly supported by the electorate."

Sinn Fein has a policy of not taking up any seats at Westminster. The party contests the relevant elections, but does not sit in Parliament.

Mr McGuinness's announcement came just a day after party leader Gerry Adams told RTE that Sinn Fein would not take seats to exploit the opportunity to vote against leaving the European Union.

"No, and you knew the answer to that before you asked me," the Sinn Fein president said after he was asked if the party was planning to change its position over sitting in Westminster.

Mr McGuinness's refusal to rule out the move came after the High Court ruled that MPs must approve plans to trigger Article 50 and instigate Brexit.

Wednesday marked 30 years since Sinn Fein lifted its abstentionist policy in the Dail, thereby recognising what it had historically called "a partitionist parliament" for the first time.

The latest fallout from the Brexit controversy came just 24 hours after the High Court in London ruled that Parliament should vote before the mechanism to kick-start up to two years of detailed negotiations is triggered.

The Government is to appeal the ruling, and permission has been given for the case to bypass the Court of Appeal. It will instead go to the Supreme Court - the highest legal body in the UK.

It has been confirmed that former Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice Brian Kerr will be involved in the hearing, which has been scheduled to take place in December.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was confident the Government would win its appeal and told European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Germany's Angela Merkel she remained committed to triggering Article 50 by March 2017.

But she was dealt a further blow as Conservative MP Stephen Phillips announced that he was standing down due to "irreconcilable" differences with the Government.

His surprise departure increased the pressure on Mrs May's administration, which has a working majority of just 17.

Belfast Telegraph

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