Issue 4-2022 small

10 January 2002 Edition

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Democratic Rights and Entitlements

BY PAT DOHERTY MP


     
Westminster facilities is only one element of the battle to secure full democratic rights and entitlements for our members and electorate
Sinn Féin's position in respect of attendance at Westminster is an established and well known policy position. This is the basis on which the electorate voted for the four Sinn Féin MP's in the last election of June 2001.

Also, prior to the 1997 Westminster election Sinn Féin made it very clear that any members elected would begin to use the facilities at Westminster available to all other MPs. This is a democratic entitlement of our electorate.

But when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were elected, Betty Boothroyd the then speaker of the British parliament changed the rules so as to prevent Sinn Féin members from using the facilities in Westminster.

Since then we have consistently raised this issue with the British government in a bid to secure the full rights and entitlements for our electorate and to provide Sinn Féin MPs with all available resources to represent our voters interests.

The recent decision by the British parliament to restore these rights to Sinn Féin members and to revert to the situation which obtained prior to the Bootroyd dictat, was a belated recognition that this decision was discriminatory and wrong.

In the most recent Westminster election in June last year the majority of the nationalist population endorsed the Sinn Féin position of abstentionism from the British parliament while at the same time working to ensure our full democratic rights and entitlements.

Sinn Féin has long argued that effective representation amounts to much more than parliamentary activity. We are a campaigning party who have consistently brought the republican analysis to an international stage. We opened a office in Washington in 1994 and set up a political lobbying facility in London headed by Michelle Gildernew in 1997.

Sinn Féin will use the resources now restored to us to expand this operation and to lobby for support for a democratic British policy in respect of Irish national self determination and unification.

This is a crucial area of work for republicans. An expanded Sinn Féin presence in London will be to the benefit of our electorate, our constituents and those of us who wish to see the peace process consolidated.

But Westminster facilities is only one element of the battle to secure full democratic rights and entitlements for our members and electorate. This does not stop with the decision to grant Westminster facilities. The Irish constitution recognises that it is the entitlement of every person born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation. This however does not obtain at the moment in terms of democratic participation in the life of the nation.

For instance, Sinn Féin have consistently argued for representation for Irish citizens living in the north in the political institutions in Dublin.

Scores of thousands of electors living in the north wish to be effectively represented as Irish citizens in their national assembly. For one thing it is an equality issue. Unionists can go to Westminster but nationalists in the north, at present, cannot as of democratic and national right be represented in the institutions of the 26 Counties. We have worked long and hard to reverse this inequality and hope that this will come to fruition in the course of this year. It is a sensible and democratic development of the new dispensation we are all seeking to elaborate and develop.

Irish citizens across the island should also be given the right to vote in certain referenda. These should include matters relevant to issues affecting all citizens on the island.

Another straight forward constitutional amendment would be to allow Irish citizens in the north to vote in Presidential elections.

Clearly, the provision of a facility to Irish citizens living in the north to secure as entitled an Irish passport in the same way as other Irish citizens would be a useful development of political, symbolic and practical importance. Sinn Féin has also lobbied hard on this issue for some years now. Again, we would hope to see this develop positively and speedily.

For the peace process to be consolidated and bedded down, the rights and entitlements of all citizens must be respected. This is the responsibility of the two governments.

Sinn Féin for our part will not accept less than full rights for our members and our voters. The decision by the British government to remove the bar on our MPs availing of Westminster facilities is a small but welcome step along this road.

An Phoblacht
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Ireland