Alban Maginness: Sneer at the DUP all you want, at least they make their influence felt ... Sinn Fein should take note
Republican MPs could have made difference in crucial Commons votes, but they weren't there, says Alban Maginness
While a general election is no longer imminent, it is still a certainty that in the next month or two there will be an election. And the probability is that the result will be inconclusive and will once again lead to another hung Parliament.
The fracturing of the two major political parties in Britain, in particular the Conservative Party, means that it is likely there will be a repeat of what we have experienced before, namely a minority Government in hock to the smaller Opposition parties in Parliament, not excluding the DUP.
There is little doubt that the DUP could have a pivotal role in the next Parliament and hold the next Government to ransom if their representation is as strong as it was in 2017. In that election they returned 10 MPs - the largest ever in the history of the party.
As we know, the DUP became a major player and were very successful in hobbling the Government of Theresa May.
They successfully squeezed more than £1bn in extra spending for this region from a Tory administration that was still committed to austerity for the rest of the UK.
But it was in relation to Brexit that they were most influential by successfully demanding and getting a veto over the Northern Ireland-specific backstop, which Theresa May had agreed with the EU. This was a particularly humiliating somersault for Theresa May and her administration.
As a result the Northern Ireland backstop became a UK-wide backstop which, ironically, made Theresa May's deal with the EU even more unacceptable to the Brexit hardliners on the Tory backbenches.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
This was because the backstop now compelled the UK as a whole to remain within the customs union and be largely subject to the regulatory regime of the single market, thereby restricting the scope of the UK to negotiate better trade deals with the rest of the world. It also meant the UK could not restrict or control the free movement of people post-Brexit.
It is customary for some to sneer at the DUP because they propped up one of the worst Governments in modern British political history.
But it has to be conceded that they were very successful and adept at using their political muscle on the floor of the House of Commons.
This is in stark contrast to Sinn Fein, who won seven seats last time and who have spent the past two years standing on the sidelines outside Westminster giving cringeworthy television commentaries to Sky TV condemning Brexit and the policies of the British Government in relation to all sorts of matters.
Can you imagine the political earthquake that Sinn Fein could have triggered if they had entered Parliament at a vital moment?
And there were several votes that the seven Sinn Fein MPs could have influenced for the better. Not attending was a major opportunity lost by Sinn Fein.
The reality is that Sinn Fein, by staying out of the House of Commons, actually strengthened Theresa May's hand by giving her seven fewer seats to worry about.
That was not the smartest thing in the world to do, particularly when the DUP were making hay at the expense of the economic and political interests of the people of Ireland, north and south.
If Sinn Fein had entered Parliament they could have brought May's incompetent Government to a much speedier end.
Their ludicrous and self-defeating abstention from Parliament was hugely damaging to all our interests - not least to their own constituents. Sinn Fein need to be reminded that Westminster seats are not political trophies to be put into a display case to be admired until the next outing.
Winning Westminster seats should be about pragmatically defending and advancing the vital interests of the Irish people, not least about Europe.
Those who voted for Sinn Fein should realise that, by voting for Sinn Fein, they actually unintentionally assisted the British Government in pursuing a hard Brexit.
However, not withstanding Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy in the next general election, there are potential opportunities for the Remain parties - Alliance, SDLP, Greens and Sinn Fein - to maximise the Remain vote and to defeat DUP MPs sitting in East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast and South Antrim.
And in North Down, Lady Sylvia Hermon's seat is vulnerable to a DUP onslaught and should be protected by all the Remain parties unilaterally withdrawing to allow her to retain her seat.
The major stumbling-block in any such arrangement is Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy, which jars with many voters as being self-defeating.
These are tough decisions for all those parties involved, but advancing the Remain position should be paramount.
The fewer DUP MPs elected means less malign influence over a potential Tory Government and a less-damaging Brexit - or even none at all.