In a long interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, former IRA chief of staff and one of the stalwarts of Sinn Fein’s peace strategy, stood firm on one of the few pillars of traditional Republican orthodoxy still standing.
Asked if Sinn Fein would take its seats at Westminster in the event that a friendly Labour government needed its support in parliament, McGuinness was adamant:
No. Our position has been on the record for many decades and I don’t envisage any change whatsoever; there is no mood for it within the party. Quite apart from the principle involved it could damage the cohesion of mainstream republicanism. I think that is not something that a leadership that has been very precious about cohesiveness would contemplate.
He denied that this position was underpinned by fear of a backlash from Sinn Fein supporters who up until now have gone along with every compromise the party’s leadership has made, from declaring a permanent end to the armed campaign, standing down the IRA, decommissioning weapons, to recognizing the legitimacy of the PSNI, taking seats in the partitionist institutions of Stormont and Leinster House, and administering British rule as partners in government with the DUP.
That is not the reason. The reason is that we have a principled republican position. Politicians are criticised left, right and centre for not having principled positions but on this matter we don’t see any advantage in change either. The negotiations that I have been involved in with successive British Prime Ministers over the the last 20-odd years have borne more fruit than me being the MP for Mid Ulster. I had more access than many Labour and Conservative backbenchers had.
So that settles it then. This is the one Republican principle left on which the party stands firm. Until it doesn’t.
And that time will come, as McGuinness unwittingly acknowledged, when the party’s leaders no longer see any advantage in leaving the last pillar of Republican orthodoxy standing.