It seems that whatever happens (or happened) in a UK general election, the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Féin, will presumably always be in opposition.

This means that the British government - whoever they may be at the time - will always be happy with the fact that Sinn Féin don't take their seats - this time around, that's 7 opposing votes they don't have to worry about in parliament. So Sinn Féin is in effect half-supporting whoever is in power.

Surely they could do more damage to the government and further their own policies more by going to Westminster, even if it is quite a small minority.

What is the goal of this policy? What are they hoping the result will be?

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    If there are a total of, let's say 99 seats, and 50 are needed to pass a measure, not seating 7 still won't help the majority to reach that 50 vote threshold. Though, if it were some measure generally opposed by the ruling majority and there were enough defections, then the missing 7 votes would have more of an impact on something not getting passed. Or do measures pass by a majority of members who are seated in any session? Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 16:48
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    @PoloHoleSet: The latter. Measures pass if more votes were for it than against it. With 650 constituencies, an outright majority would require 326 MPs—but many measures are passed with fewer than that voting. That Sinn Féin do not take up their 7 seats means that measures can be certain of passing with only 322 MPs (but then, equally, they can be certain of being defeated with that many too—so it's a benefit to neither side).
    – eggyal
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 16:54
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    @eggtak "it's a benefit to neither side" - my assumption was that Sinn Féin would tend to vote against the British government as part of an attempt to subvert them, if that was the case it would be a benefit to the government that they don't sit.
    – komodosp
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


The New Statesman sums it up fairly succinctly

Sinn Féin is an Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Its central aim is for a united Ireland. It opposes Westminster’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, and its oath to the Queen, so its MPs abstain from sitting in parliament.

In order to sit and vote in parliament, MPs must take the Oath of Allegiance

I, (Insert full name), do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.

While there is provision for atheist and agnostic MPs to affirm rather than invoking a deity they don't believe in, there is no provision to swear allegiance to an entity other than the British monarch, which Sinn Fein MPs refuse to do. In this sense, abstaining is the ethical thing to do. Having said that, it's unclear if Sinn Fein MPs would choose to sit in the House if the obligation to take the oath were waived, since they also believe the true government of Northern Ireland to be in Ireland, with the British an occupying power.

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    "there is provision for atheist and agnostic MPs to affirm rather than invoking a deity they don't believe in" Theists can affirm too (and do). Indeed, there was a period of time 1832-1888 when Christians could affirm, *e.g.*Joseph Pease, but atheists,like Charles Bradlaugh, weren't allowed.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 13:55
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    There is another important reason. Arthur Griffith, the founder of the party, saw rejecting seats as a clear and powerful symbol of rejecting English sovereignty in Ireland. As a result, Sinn Fein run on an explicit platform of abstentionism. Even if the oath were changed or waived, they would thus refuse to take their seats because that's what their supporters voted for. They confirmed this during the negotiations following the 2017 hung parliament. This is pretty significant - I would consider detailing it an answer if this wasn't already accepted.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 16:25
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    @owjburnham But you still have to swear allegiance to the Queen and the empire that occupies and enslaves your people. The DUP doesn't even want to recognize their language. No wonder they are upset. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 18:03
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    @dan-klasson Er. In what sense is any enslavement taking place? Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 22:42
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    Enslaved as in subjugated. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 9:25

There is a historical context to this. Irish MPs have either withdrawn Westminster, abstained in votes, or acted to obstruct the processes of Parliament since 1845.

Prior to the formation of the Irish Republic The Irish Republican Brotherhood refused to engage with the UK parliament by having imprisoned felons elected. Others, in the Home Rule League proposed that Irish MPs should meet in an alternative parliament.

After 1916 the Irish Parliamentary Party did take their seats, while Sinn Fein did not. The question of taking seats in the Parliament of the Irish Free State. Some did, and some did not (as they did not recognise the legitimacy of the Irish Free State)

Sinn Fein has been through various splits. The offical party evolved to a workers party (far left wing) and has largely disappeared. While a provisional party, associated with the Provisional IRA, contested elections while refusing to take their seats. The Modern Sinn Fein party evolved after the electoral success of Bobby Sands, who won his election while in prison and on hunger strike. Party conferences in the early 1980s re-affirmed the principle of refusing to take seats in Westminster.

The Parliament in Stormont doesn't require members to swear allegiance to the Queen, to allow Sinn Fein to join. Instead there is a pledge of office (promising to act in good faith, and renouncing violence)

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