Speaker is right to make a stand on Sinn Fein

Morning View
Morning View

The House of Commons speaker John Bercow was entirely right to bar Sinn Fein MPs from commemoration of 100 years since the Home Rule Act at Speaker’s House.

A spokeswoman for the speaker told the News Letter that it was a longstanding practice that the hospitality of the State Rooms is not extended to Sinn Fein MPs, in light of the fact that they do not take their seats in the Commons.

“This is a mark of respect to the House,” she said.

There was a time in the 1980s and early 1990s when politicians across the spectrum viewed Sinn Fein with contempt, because the IRA campaign of murder was ongoing and few people in Britain (or indeed the Republic) were foolish enough to harbour romantic ideas about the republican movement.

But the establishment approach to Sinn Fein quickly became craven in the aftermath of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, amid the determination to keep that deal on track (ie to ensure that the Provisionals and their fellow travellers did not return to terror).

This craven approach hit its nadir in 2001 when the then leader of the Commons Robin Cook arranged a special dispensation was given to Sinn Fein to claim £400,000+ in Commons allowances despite refusing to take up their seats.

In a minor gesture the other way, the party was suspended from getting its allowances for a year in 2005 after the Northern Bank robbery and the brutal murder of Robert McCartney (two episodes, incidentally, that it is hard to envisage being linked to a governing party in any other civilised democracy in the world).

But Sinn Fein has received millions of pounds from the taxpayer since suspension was lifted. The Conservatives have not yet fulfilled their pledge made in opposition to withdraw allowances to them, and so republicans continue to get special treatment.

Mr Bercow’s stand will be of little concern to Sinn Fein. But it is a symbolic gesture on behalf of those who play by the rules and who are not associated with a background threat of violence, and who therefore don’t get special treatment.