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Sinn Fein Votes Would Not Count In Westminster

A November interview via The Transcripts - Seán O’Rourke has Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald with him in studio at Leinster House to discusses British Prime Minister Theresa May’s trip to Northern Ireland, Brexit and her meeting last week with Máiría Cahill. 

RTÉ Radio One

Mary Lou McDonald Today with Seán O’Rourke RTÉ Rádio One 27 November 2018

Seán: The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is traveling to Northern Ireland today as part of a tour to drum up support for her EU withdrawal agreement which desperately needs any support as it can find when it comes to a Commons vote in about two weeks time. And as part of that visit she will be meeting the Sinn Féin president, Mary Lou McDonald, who’s joining us now from Leinster House ahead of her journey north. Mary Lou, Good Morning! to you.

Mary Lou: Good Morning, Seán.

Seán: Now, as we know, you described that deal that was signed-off on, on Sunday as the ‘least worst option’, there is no good Brexit you say. But at the same time one of her selling points is that there are one hundred and fifty areas of policy that will pass to devolved parliaments and assemblies after Brexit, in other words, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but what benefit is that to the people of Northern Ireland where Sinn Féin and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) still can’t get their act together and restore power-sharing?

Mary Lou: Well, Good Morning, Seán, and you’re right. I did describe this deal as the least worst option because there is no good Brexit. There is no ‘happy ever after’ outcome from what this can only be described as a political earthquake. Notwithstanding, the content of the withdrawal agreement we have still very big concerns in respect of citizens’ rights – and we’ve addressed these before with the Prime Minister, and indeed with An Taoiseach, and we’ll address those with her again today. Let me assure you Sean, and your listeners, nobody wants those institutions in The North, the Executive and the Assembly, back up and running more than I do. Let me just assure you of that and nobody was more disappointed than I and Michelle O’Neill when last February the accommodation that we had landed on, that we had understood was agreed with the DUP – when that was walked away from. That was deeply regrettable at the time and regrettable to this day.

Seán: You mention the Taoiseach – he had a lot to say, indeed about your own party yesterday – even some suggestions for how you’re approaching the Brexit issue. Let’s listen to some of what he had to say.

(transcript pauses)

Audio: Clip of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments is played.

(transcript resumes)

Seán: Well what about the idea, Mary Lou McDonald, of causing by-elections and having seven Brexit-supporting MPs go over and support Mrs. May?

Mary Lou: Well, the Taoiseach is clearly mixing there, Seán, and using Brexit to make politics and to take a poke at Sinn Féin. His arrogance is extraordinary. I mean the arrogance of the man to suggest that those who voted for their MPs in a free and open democratic contest somehow got it wrong and that on the say-so of him – bear in mind an individual from a party that has abstained from Northern politics for generations, that walked away and never looked behind – should suggest to duly elected… (crosstalk)

Seán: …No, but there’s a real vote that has to be taken and maybe more than one…

Mary Lou: …to duly elected people that they should stand aside because Leo said so is extraordinary.

Seán: No, he’s just putting forward the idea. He’s not directing anybody but he’s raising a question. I mean, politics is about doing things. (crosstalk)

Mary Lou: Of course it is and we don’t need, I don’t need Leo Varadkar, I can assure you, to tell me that. On the issue of abstentionism let me just set out our stall as far as that – let’s start out from first principles: Three thousand people in the course of this week had the very joyous experience of becoming, acquiring, their Irish citizenship, Seán – I’m sure you saw it in the media…

Seán: …Look, we don’t really have time for a seminar – can we just cut to the chase here?

Mary Lou: I’m not giving you a seminar but I think it’s important that you and people who comment on these matters understand first principles. Each of those people had to make an oath of fidelity to the nation and to the Irish state. And I think it is extraordinary that an Irish Taoiseach, the head of government, would be encouraging, cajoling, suggesting – ballyragging even – elected people, elected from the section of the Irish electorate in The North, to go to a British parliament and to make an oath of allegiance…

Seán: …Oh! Could you not just use the famous de Valera phrase that got him into Dáil Éireann? (crosstalk)…

Mary Lou: …to a foreign power– I find that incredible.

Seán: …He called it ‘an empty formula’? And, you know, you somehow managed in your own party, albeit over thirty years ago, 1986 – I was there at that Ard Fheis where you ended your policy of abstentionism – and maybe it’s time to move on…

Mary Lou: …and, and… (crosstalk)

Seán: …I mean, if there is another election called in Westminster – just let me finish this question – I mean, will Sinn Féin fight that election on the basis of more abstentionism?

Mary Lou: Of course we will…

Seán: …Even though it could, your influence could, could stop the DUP having the kind of influence they have?

Mary Lou: Seán, Seán, we always fight elections in The North and I hardly believe that your are naïve enough to have any belief that Irish interests are protected at Westminster or ever were. Your listeners will be very well aware that the Brexit debate took place… (crosstalk)

Seán: …there are votes at Westminster…

Mary Lou: …with absolutely no cognisance. And let me come to the mathematics of it. There’s over six hundred members at Westminster. You’re hardly naïve enough to think, Seán, that seven Nationalist, seven Sinn Féin votes will allowed to be the deciding factor…

Seán: …Well ten DUP votes…

Mary Lou: …you are hardly…

Seán: …ten DUP votes have huge influence. It all depends on the mathematics, as you say.

Mary Lou: …and…well, no, no. It also depends on the politics, Seán. And you’d hardly expect that Sinn Féin members, if they were to do so (which is not going to happen), coming into Westminster on our white charger as it were to save Theresa May. Do you actually believe that that political scenario would play out?

Seán: No, well, no, no, I’m simply, I’m thinking…

Mary Lou: …That is ridiculous…(crosstalk)

Seán: …I’m thinking beyond Theresa May…

Mary Lou: …Ridiculous!

Seán: …but there may be the possibility, it’s not very difficult to work out a scenario in which another election is going to happen quite soon, maybe early in the new year, and there may be a question of a choice between a Corbyn premiership and a continued Tory premiership and Sinn Féin are just going to sit back with their arms folded and let the DUP have the casting votes?

Mary Lou: No, no, no. No, and we have not sat back or sat on our hands. We’ve engaged with this process at every level…

Seán: …but when it comes down to votes – you have.

Mary Lou: …at every level. And Seán, when it comes to it the reality is that Brexit is going to happen whether on Jeremy Corbyn’s watch or on Theresa May’s. Bear in mind the English Labour Party are gearing up to vote against the withdrawal deal so….

Seán: …Yes, they are…

Mary Lou: (crosstalk) …so our position…

Seán: …with a strategy of what happens afterwards which is…

Mary Lou: ….No, no. No, no, I think…

Seán: …to work towards another referendum. (crosstalk)

Mary Lou: …with the greatest of respect to you – the policy of Sinn Féin, of abstentionism, is a century old this year. You’re right to say that we participate fully in the Seanad and the Dáil and indeed in the Assembly and the Executive in The North. Both of those are Irish democratic institutions, elected by the Irish electorate, that make decisions that affect Ireland….

Seán: …Yeah, but…

Mary Lou: (crosstalk)…that’s our duty and responsibility…

Seán: … for the most of three-quarters of a century, or half a century, you stood back from them on the basis that they weren’t proper assemblies. You didn’t recognise them…

Mary Lou: ….well listen…

Seán: …You only had a loyalty to the First Dáil of 1919…

Mary Lou: …Yes, and…

Seán: …and then you did the pragmatic thing and people say – and you should be acknowledged for having done that – and it has served the country well arguably. I’m simply suggesting that maybe you should think about doing the same thing in Westminster.

Mary Lou: And I’m simply suggesting to you: Firstly, that you acknowledge that that was way, it was before my time in political life and secondly, there is an absolute qualitative difference between democratic institutions on the island of Ireland that are elected by the people of Ireland that serve the Irish national interest and entering a parliament that is, who expressly serve the interests and the ambitions of a different country, of a foreign country – that, it is…(crosstalk)

Seán: …And how does it serve the interests of your voters and the Irish people…

Mary Lou: …to my mind, an insanity to suggest that we would enter…

Seán: And how does it serve the Irish nation by having that potential influence and not using it?

Mary Lou: Well, you are overstating it mathematically and politically misunderstanding what you call the influence of those votes.

Seán: You could blunt the influence of the DUP for starters.

Mary Lou
: Can I, can I, can I tell you…well, Seán we could debate that, too, for I believe that you’re…(crosstalk)

Seán: …I’m just looking at the sums. You’ve got ten votes – you’ve got seven.

Mary Lou: Yes, and there is over six hundred members and it’s a British political decision – largely an English decision it’ll be, by the way, on this Brexit issue. We’ve said from the beginning, Seán, that Irish interests North and South would be protected and served by the government in Dublin acting with our partners in Europe. We have been proven right. We said at the very beginning that we needed to argue for what we called ‘special status for The North’ in terms of the Customs Union, the Single Market and protection of citizens’ rights. When we said that in the Dáil, Seán, do you know that we were scoffed at by other political parties who said we were grandstanding?. That position, though. became Irish government’s position and indeed, the European position. And the Irish national interest is jeopardised by partition. I think this whole Brexit episode shows that writ up in large letters. The Irish interest, the national interest, has never been served at Westminster, will never be served at Westminster – that is not what Westminster is about. And if you look to our Scottish friends, who aren’t abstentionists and who will go in and who will vote against this withdrawal deal, they will tell you because they have learned what we have learned ’til now – from out history and from our current politics – is that Westminster looks after specifically, specifically English and British interests – they do not look beyond that so our presence there will not happen, would achieve nothing bar create a whole set of political dynamics and things that actually, Seán, would not be helpful to Theresa May.

Seán: So you’re saying your votes wouldn’t count.

Mary Lou: Our votes, in any event, I am saying to you: Yes, would not count. But that is academic because on a matter of principle and a matter of granted principles which we…(crosstalk)

Seán: Well all I can say is that every time the news comes on we have those library shots of Jeffrey Donaldson, Sammy Wilson and colleagues going in and out of Downing Street and having meetings…

Mary Lou: …yes…

Seán: …and I mean, they managed to get a billion pounds sterling….

Mary Lou: …well, they didn’t actually…

Seán: …so people called it a boon for their support. Then again, it shows you the leverage they used and meanwhile, the only thing Sinn Féin get is their expenses.

Mary Lou: Well, listen – and I’m glad you clarified that because many people seem to be…

Seán: …and their salaries, of course, as well.

Mary Lou: …No, no. Abstentionists MPs don’t collect salaries, Seán, but that’s entirely right.

Seán: Sorry. Thanks for the clarification. I beg your pardon.

Mary Lou:
The DUP equally, and we said this from the beginning when they signed up to this confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May – a very toxic arrangement which, by the way, is the central dynamic keeping the institutions of government in the North down – but we said from the beginning that this would be an arrangement that would end in tears. Anybody with a passing knowledge of Irish history will know that the Tories use Irish Unionists when it is expedient for them to do so and then they dismiss them. And mark my words – that will be the case in the course of this episode – but of course, the decisions the DUP make are a matter for themselves.

Seán: Okay, just one other question I want to ask you – it’s about a meeting you held last week with Mairía Cahill who has repeated claimed that your party, Sinn Féin, has covered up her allegations of sex abuse. Now, she went into that meeting with low expectations and, in her own words, left with even lower ones. Did it have to go as badly as it went, that meeting? Or appears to have?

Mary Lou: Well in fact, it didn’t go badly. It was quite a lengthy meeting. It was a very candid and, I believe, a very cordial meeting. I offered to Máiría a very sincere apology for the short-comings and the failures within Sinn Féin at the time of her disclosure.

Seán: But not for what happened?

Mary Lou: …at the time of disclosure. Well, you see, Seán, it is my duty and my responsibility to be accountable for Sinn Féin. I’m not accountable for the person who visited the abuse on Máiría – responsibility for that rests solely with that person.

Seán: But you could have made inquiries, or maybe deeper inquiries, than you appeared to have about whether there was, in fact, an IRA investigation into what happened.

Mary Lou: Well no, I couldn’t have and those matters – and I talked this out with Máiría – any allegation of criminal activity by anybody – in Sinn Féin, in RTÉ, in any organisation, anybody – is investigated by the relevant statutory authorities. In fact, it would be entirely improper for any private organisation…

Seán: …Yeah, but you insisted and you accused her…

Mary Lou: …including, including a political party to investigate such matters.

Seán: You accused her of casting a slur against Sinn Féin for suggesting that members of the party did not cooperate with the inquiries by the police. Now, it appears that cooperation was quite limited. It extended only to supplying statements, signed statements, and not doing full police interviews. Is that what you call ‘full cooperation’?

Mary Lou: Well, the people in question cooperated with the investigation, I think, would take grave issue with the commentary that you have made. They cooperated, they cooperated with the assistance and advice of their solicitors…

Seán: …Did Gerry Adams make himself available for interview?

Mary Lou: They cooperated with the assistance of their solicitors which they are fully entitled to do and I dare say, Seán, if for any reason you were summoned to a Garda station in the morning I imagine that you would take advice from a legal person…

Seán: Absolutely. But I mean, did…

Mary Lou: …and you would be very wise to.

Seán: …just, can you just clarify, do you know, did Gerry Adams make himself for an interview or was his cooperation limited to just supplying a written statement signed in the presence of his solicitor?

Mary Lou: Gerry Adams’ cooperation with the investigation was full and was mediated through his legal representative and it’s not for…

Seán: …Did he answer questions about what he knew?

Mary Lou:
Excuse me, excuse me, Seán. Excuse me, Seán – those questions are properly answered by Gerry Adams, not by me, not by a third party, that’s entirely…

Seán: No, no, but you said there was full cooperation I’m just asking about one particular thing that was highlighted, I think, in the Ombudsman’s report.

Mary Lou: I want to take you up on your assertion, again on the radio, that Sinn Féin covered up abuse. Can you state for me, Seán…

Seán: …No, I don’t think I said that. I don’t think I said that – I said that is the suggestion that’s been made.

Mary Lou: So, yes and let me just take you back to my meeting with Máiría because we talked about that. Let me reiterate: I apologise absolutely for the shortcomings and failures in the organisation and I can assure you we have very robust procedures now and that would never, ever happen again. But I do not accept and it’s entirely not true, untrue, to suggest that there was a cover-up and on the issue of the slur…

Seán: …No, but I’m, no, I’m – yes, go on.

Mary Lou: …on the issue of the slur – I spoke to Máiría about that and I said to her: Look, we’re an organisation of thousands and thousands of people right across the country, as she knows. When an accusation is repeated again and again in the media – and you did it again this morning – that Sinn Féin covered up abuse – that is felt by every single member of Sinn Féin and, Seán, it is felt as a slur. Máiría said to me that she certainly never intended it to be interpreted or read that way and I accept that….

Seán: …No, but I’m simply saying….

Mary Lou: …and I accept that.

Seán: Now I’d have to listen back to the tape to know if I said there was a cover-up by Sinn Féin. What I’m simply saying is the suggestion is that there was lack of full cooperation. That there was not full cooperation between Sinn Féin and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) over her complaint.

Mary Lou: Well, listen to me…

Seán: …and your definition of…

Mary Lou: ….the statutory…

Seán: …And Sinn Féin’s definition of full cooperation is a statement provided and signed in the presence of a solicitor, in Gerry Adams’ case, but not being made available for interview.

Mary Lou: Sorry, Seán, just to remind you, the matters in question here were investigated and went to court – books of evidence were created. It was to go to trial. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for reasons that have absolutely nothing got to do with Sinn Féin – and that is the appropriate forum – with the greatest of respect to you – for evidence to be presented, for evidence to be tested and for a conclusion to be reached – not on the airwaves and not by questioning me, Seán.

Seán: No, you seem to be saying that a statement being signed in the presence of a solicitor amounts to full cooperation. I’m simply questioning that.

Mary Lou: Well, that’s a matter with you. We can have a legal argument as to what, what you view as full cooperation. I would say to you…

Seán: …I think it’s pretty obvious – anybody would know – I mean, if you go down to a Garda, just to go back to what you asked me earlier, and you hand in a statement and your solicitor’s there and said: Right. That’s it. That’s all you’re getting from me. Good-bye! Do you call that full cooperation?

Mary Lou: I call that cooperation with an investigation – yes. If you’re called, if a charge is put to you, that’s a different matter. If you’re called as a witness, that’s a – you know – all of these things is different stages to any investigation or any judicial process and every citizen is absolutely duty-bound to fully cooperate, to fully and fulsomely cooperate, and they’re also, they’re also entitled to the protection of the law and to the protection of their good name and their liberty if a charge is put to them.

Seán: Okay.

Mary Lou: No charge was put in the case of Gerry Adams – just for the purposes of clarity…(crosstalk)…in case of any of your listeners are…

Seán: …Oh, I was never suggesting that – everybody knows that…

Mary Lou: Well, I’m not sure anymore what everybody knows. What I’m doing is taking the opportunity to be absolutely clear – as you’ve asked.

Seán: Okay. Mary Lou McDonald,…

Mary Lou: …Thank you…

Seán: …Sinn Féin leader. Thank you, indeed, for coming into studio at Leinster House. Safe journey north later in the day.

(ends)


The Transcripts, Of Interest to the Irish Republican Community.
You can follow The Transcripts on Twitter @RFETranscripts 

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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