The seven new Sinn Féin MPs from northern Ireland held a meeting for members and supporters last Wednesday at the London Irish Centre in Camden Town, attended by over 70 people despite less than 12-hours notice of the event being given.
The MPs, along with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and MEP Martina Anderson, were also in London to sound alarm bells about the threat to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) posed by the planned Tory–DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] deal.
It was clear from the MPs, and the mood of their supporters at the meeting, that they were up for a fight with the Tories and there would be some blunt speaking in their meetings with ministers.
The general election saw both the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the moderate nationalist Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) wiped out at Westminster, and the Unionist vote dropping below 50 per cent for the first time ever in a Westminster election.
One item on the DUP’s wish list in its talks with the Tories is to block Westminster funding for MPs who don’t take up their seats, which if implemented would be a virtual declaration of war with Sinn Féin.
Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin’s first ever MP in South Down, told the meeting that Sinn Féin would never drop its abstention policy, which was “part of the DNA and heritage” of the party, and said “the idea that we will give that up is pure fantasy”.
He also revealed that Sinn Féin had offered an electoral pact with the SDLP, “but this was rejected to their cost”.
Commenting on Tory attempts during the general election campaign to damage Jeremy Corbyn for his historic dealings with republicans, veteran MP and ex-Executive member Michelle Gildernew pointed out that Corbyn “was vilified for talking to us, not just the IRA.”
The GFA has been brought to the brink of almost total collapse through a combination of lack of interest by David Cameron and, as Chris Hazzard put it, “growing accusations of corruption and back-room deals by the DUP” that brought the Northern Ireland Executive down last March.
Gerry Adams said he told the British Prime Minister Theresa May that “she and her government are in default of the Good Friday Agreement, and that they have turned a blind eye to the disruptive actions of the DUP over a long time.”
The outgoing Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also warned that a Tory–DUP deal could pose a challenge to the peace process. But his successor, Leo Varadkar, said on Monday he was “very reassured” about the Irish government’s concerns after meeting Theresa May.
The cosy relationship between Tory northern Ireland ministers and the DUP since 2010 has seen major commitments promised under the 20-year-old GFA kicked into the long grass, whilst the DUP has slipped back into calling Sinn Féin representatives “IRA terrorists” as if the peace process had never happened.
Sinn Féin has called for DUP leader Arlene Foster to resign before it will re-join the executive, and Hazzard said that the party would only do so on the basis of “respect, integrity and equality”. He also stressed, to loud applause, that “the Orange State is dead and buried, and it can never come back again”.
The fighting mood of the meeting was summed up in a question from the floor by a factory worker and Sinn Féin member from Waterford in the Irish Republic, who denounced the Tory–DUP deal and asked: “How are we going to rid ourselves of this despicable alliance of bigots?”