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Sinn Fein doesn't give out mixed signals, so are they testing the waters for a policy shift in taking Westminster seats?

Published 05/11/2016

Sinn Fein is a party whose members seldom, if ever, go off message, so it is little wonder that the apparently mixed signals coming from Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness over taking seats at Westminster has led to some bewilderment among commentators.
Sinn Fein is a party whose members seldom, if ever, go off message, so it is little wonder that the apparently mixed signals coming from Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness over taking seats at Westminster has led to some bewilderment among commentators.

Sinn Fein is a party whose members seldom, if ever, go off message, so it is little wonder that the apparently mixed signals coming from Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness over taking seats at Westminster has led to some bewilderment among commentators.

McGuinness' s refusal to rule out such a move is in stark contrast to Adams' declaration that there will be no change in party policy even if Brexit presents an opportunity for Sinn Fein to make its voices heard in all three parliaments in Dublin, Belfast and London.

Abstentionism has long been a central plank of republicanism which for many years recognised the first Dail formed in 1919 as the only legitimate government on this island.

But McGuinness and Adams have been instrumental in forcing republicans to take a more pragmatic view, firstly by taking seats in Dublin and then in Belfast. This pragmatism has coincided with their vision of the party becoming a major political force on the island - it is now the largest nationalist party in the province and a growing influence in the Republic.

But Westminster is something different. Republicans have never accepted its right to govern any part of Ireland - even if by membership of the Assembly it is acknowledging by implication the influence of London in our affairs. After all, the Assembly is to a large extent just administering the funds handed down to it by the Treasury.

Yet it has to be accepted that Sinn Fein has its backwoodsmen, die-hard republicans who cling onto the old ideals. While the party wins votes from plenty of nationalists who would want it to represent them at all available institutions of government it cannot risk any schisms or granting any legitimacy to dissidents.

Adams and McGuinness are men who have worked closely and in harmony to forge the political long war. They don't give out mixed messages. The party doesn't harbour open dissent. So is this testing the water? The party's support in Northern Ireland has plateaued, but might dropping abstentionism give it a new vigour?

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