The 100th anniversary of the 1918 election is fast approaching.
This was the first general election in which women could vote on the same basis as men. Constance Markievicz was the first woman MP to be elected to the House of Commons. As she was elected on an abstentionist ticket and as a result along with other Sinn Féin MPs elected to Westminster in 1918 they refused to take their seats there and instead constituted themselves in Dublin as the TDs (Teachtaí Dála) of the first Dáil.
The 1918 election also saw the Labour Party stand aside to allow the election be a historic vote on independence. Abstentionism was never seen as an end in itself, but as the precursor to the establishment of an independent parliament in Ireland. Whether in Dail Eireann, Stormont or Westminster after partition Labour took their seats to represent their constituent’s interests.
Fast forward 100 years and Ireland is now confronted with the enormous challenge of Brexit.
Theresa May’s Government is pursuing the most damaging Brexit possible with little regard for Ireland north or south. That Government is now hopelessly divided on key Brexit related issues, particularly the customs union issue, and is reeling from a series of self-inflicted wounds.
This weekend the new Sinn Fein President again claimed that Brexit could not be stopped or ameliorated at Westminster. Mary Lou’s remarks are self-serving nonsense designed to justify Sinn Fein’s total inability to put the country before the party. Sinn Fein’s six abstentionist MPs could hold the balance of power in respect of the UK remaining in the customs union and in turn whether there will be a hard border in Ireland.
There is support in Westminster for positions less damaging to Ireland. The House of Lords has defeated the Government on four occasions now on the EU Withdrawal bill. Crucially Theresa May is running from a vote on a UK EU customs union which would go some way to address the issue.
It’s time for Mary Lou to demonstrate the courage and leadership that has been thus far lacking in relation to the challenge of Brexit.
On this issue Westminister matters – a lot.