Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein must end abstentionism, says veteran Cushnahan

By Gilllian Halliday

Sinn Fein has been challenged to abandon its abstentionist policy at Westminster to "neutralise" the DUP's influence on the Tory Government by a former Alliance leader and Fine Gael politician.

John Cushnahan put forward the argument in response to Monday's open letter to the Taoiseach which was signed by 1,000 prominent figures from civic nationalism calling on Leo Varadkar to ensure the EU rights of Irish citizens on both sides of the border after Brexit.

The letter, published in the Irish News, also criticised political unionism, which it said "continues to deny respect for our Irish identity and language, marriage equality, (and) access to justice for legacy matters".

In response Mr Cushnahan said the signatories are right to cite the DUP as the "main threat" to these rights given the party's confidence and supply deal with the Tories.

But he also urged them to now also write to Sinn Fein to urge it to end its "sterile policy" of abstention.

In a letter published in today's Belfast Telegraph, the former politician pointed out how the current political make-up of Westminster could work to Sinn Fein's advantage if its seven MPs chose to take their seats in the House of Commons.

He said the political arithmetic at Westminster that could secure a decision which would protect the rights of citizens in both parts of Ireland "is on a knife-edge".

"In recent votes on the Brexit issue the Conservative Government was able to secure a majority of only five votes," he writes.

He stressed that it wasn't beyond the party's principles to do so, pointing out Sinn Fein in the past had ditched the policy at the Dail and Stormont "when it suited them".

Doing the same for Westminster, he insisted, would only "best serve" the interests of "all citizens in both parts of Ireland".

The former Fine Gael MEP also said it was "patently obvious" that both the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste had been honouring their pledge to nationalists throughout the current negotiations with the EU.

His comments come after it was claimed by former Ulster and Ireland rugby player Trevor Ringland that this latest letter from civic nationalism ran "counter to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement".

Mr Ringland was one of more than 100 unionists and others who lent their names to an open letter, published in February and backed by civic unionism, urging nationalists to discuss building a "society for the betterment of everyone''.

It was written in response to more than 200 nationalists who turned to the Taoiseach in an earlier letter to ask for him to protect their rights last December.

The latest letter from civic nationalism has also prompted former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie to say that it should pave the way for a subsequent "enhanced version" which could be supported by unionists.

Letters, page 30

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