I came across the List of by-elections in the UK and noticed that there was a by-election in West Tyrone in 2018. Nothing unusual about that except that the seat was won by Sinn Féin in the 2017 general election and the incumbent resigned (in UK legal fiction: was appointed Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds—an even more amusing side-fact!) in the aftermath of a social media scandal.

Sinn Féin are by default absentionist so Barry McElduff never actually sat in Westminster. While I would perfectly understand a politician resigning if they were doing day to day parliamentary work it seems entirely pointless for somebody who is not. In effect, McElduff lost nothing by resigning. While Sinn Féin did hold on to the seat, they could have lost the by-election meaning an MP would go to Westminster for West Tyrone which would run contrary to their abstentionist policy so even they had something to lose.

Thus why would an absentionist Sinn Féin MP even bother resigning?

  • 1
    a) Why specifically did McElduff resign? Because of the the social media controversy of him mocking the 1976 Kingsmill massacre of ten Protestants b) What is the general non-symbolic point of an abstentionist party's MP resigning? To signal taking responsibility for the MP doing something wrong or losing support c) Isn't it weird and anachronistic that for a republican to resign they voluntarily "accept a paid position as Crown Steward and Bailiff"? Yes but NI and Westminster abound with contradictions and anachronisms.
    – smci
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 15:38
  • @smci Only b) is my actual question.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 16:19
  • @Jan: Err ok but then the first paragraph is stuffed full of irrelevant details: it doesn't matter that is was in West Tyrone, or in 2018, or Sinn Fein, or McElduff, or why he resigned, or the legal fiction technicality such MPs have to use to resign. You should edit it (or at minimum, footnote all the irrelevant stuff and shunt it below a clear statement of the actual question). The question as currently stands could be read as asking all those things. And your title specifically said Sinn Fein: "Why would an elected Sinn Féin MP resign...?" but you actually only meant "abstentionist MP"
    – smci
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 17:01

4 Answers 4


Simply because continuing would reflect badly on him and by extension, Sinn Fein. By resigning the damage was limited.

As an aside, as resignation is actually not possible, I note that he used the usual mechanism of accepting (just for the purposes of disqualification) a paid position from the monarch, something slightly amusing in context.

  • 2
    Indeed highly amusing! But how does an MP in name only reflect in any way on Sinn Féin before a regular election is due?
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 19:57
  • 4
    @Jan because every time anyone wanted to attack them they could bring up their MP, in-name only or not. Once he resigned it is much harder - even if the attack is made they can appoint to the resignation as a genuine acknowledgement/apology for what has come before
    – user19831
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 21:08
  • @Displayname Why wasn't he simply expelled from the party? He wouldn't then be a Sinn Féin MP anymore and the by-election wouldn't be needed.
    – michau
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 22:02
  • 1
    @michau when faced with a choice of being expelled or resigning and a by-election that Sinn Fein could win the latter is a better option for everyone involved.
    – user19831
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 22:29
  • Why would continuing reflect badly on him and Sinn Féin? What “has come before” that required “a genuine acknowledgement/apology”? There seems to be some context missing here.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 4:49

We'll put aside the technicality that one does not resign from the House of Commons, but rather disqualifies oneself from eligibility to sit. But that's separate from your question.

There is more to Parliamentary work than sitting in the Chamber and passing through the division lobbies (as important as those are).

Much of the work of an MP will also involve casework within their constituencies. They will still forward concerns from their constituents to the relevant government minister, and assist constituents in their dealings with the government. In 2011, MPs told the BBC that they spend more of their time on casework than on anything else. Sinn Féin MPs would still be expected to do this casework, even if they don't speak in the Commons or vote in the division lobbies.

  • 4
    Would be expected, are expected or do?
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 20:11
  • I'm not in a position to say do or don't do. But that is certainly the expectation.
    – Joe C
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 20:20
  • Sinn Fein MPs say they have as legitimate a mandate as representatives of their constituents as any MP and seek to do the same job - casework, influence, lobbying media, etc (and betwen them get c. several £000k's individual expenses / Short Money). So a Sinn Fein MP who has disgraced themselves and is not seem as fit to represent their constituency and party is in the same boat as any MP. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 17:12
  • Who is the "relevant government minister" for a Sinn Féin MP? The minister in London or the minister in Dublin? If they refuse to accept that Northern Ireland is under the jurisdiction of the government in London, it's hard to understand why they would forward their concerns to that government.
    – michau
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 18:54
  • I would expect it to be the UK minister in most cases. For example, if a case involves someone applying to settle in Northern Ireland (which is still part of the UK), it will obviously require the intervention of a UK minister (and Irish minister cannot really help here).
    – Joe C
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 19:42

Gerry Adams did the same when he resigned from his Westminster seat of West Belfast, and from the Northern Ireland Assembly, in order to stand for election to the Dail. He said in November 2010:

I have a choice to make whether to stay in west Belfast, a place that I love, or to seek a mandate in another constituency in the south.

The chain of reasoning was that he wanted to be in the Dail in order to address issues relating to the whole island of Ireland; being a Westminster MP did not let him sit there, so he needed an electoral mandate from somewhere in the south. Had he retained his MLA seat, he'd be actively responsible for two constituencies at once (as TD and as MLA), even if he stood down as an MP. While he might retain some nominal clout by having an MP title, it seems he thought it would make more sense to try to pass that to a fellow party member who'd still be active in the West Belfast community. Neither of them would be going to the House of Commons chamber, but Sinn Fein has long held a policy of "active abstention" where they make the most of being visible community representatives, without taking their seats formally. (Indeed, a policy very much associated with Adams himself.)


His Wikipedia page actually gives more of an answer:

On 5 January 2018, McElduff tweeted a video of himself in a shop with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head, asking where the shop kept its bread. As it coincided with the 42nd anniversary of the Kingsmill massacre—where republicans murdered ten Protestant civilians—unionists accused him of mocking the massacre and the video was widely criticised, including by nationalists. Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said "mocking is depraved" and called the video "inhuman".[8] McElduff deleted it and apologised, saying he was not alluding to the massacre and offering to meet the victims' families.[8][9][10] On 8 January, Sinn Féin apologised for McElduff's actions, condemned the video,[11] and suspended him from Sinn Féin for three months.[12] McElduff announced on 15 January that he was resigning his seat.[13] On 16 January the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed Barry McElduff as the Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern, an office of profit under the Crown which causes the holder's parliamentary seat to be vacated.[14]

(Bold and italics mine for emphasis)

From what it says here, the party wasn't happy with his actions - although it is a non-post in Westminster, the party would presumably still have its influence over its MPs. Someone who understands how parties functions better than I should either answer or edit this for more in-depth understanding of that pressure.

  • 2
    I am fully aware of the backstory and that it would have caused any parliamentarian sitting in Westminster to resign immediately. My question revolves around the fact that Sinn Féin is absentionist so they aren’t actually in Westminster, thus it seems like resigning from a non-post.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 12:34

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