A SINN Fein MP has spoken of the party’s “significant” decision to let MPs to sit alongside their British peers in Parliament today for a speech by the Irish President.
While members of the republican party regularly attend events in Westminster, Francie Molloy said today marked the first time in living memory that its MPs have sat together with all their Parliamentary colleagues after decades of refusing to take up their seats.
President Higgins delivered an address to the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster this afternoon during the first day of his historic State visit to Britain.
Sinn Fein has said the attendance of three of its five MPs does not amount to a break with its policy of refusing take up seats in the House of Commons.
But Mr Molloy told The Irish Post that the move marked a significant step.
“This is an indication of how important we feel the President’s visit is,” the Mid Ulster MP said.
“It is very important that we are there alongside other public representatives to represent the Irish community and particularly the Irish community that is in London.”
The MPs expected to attend the speech include Pat Doherty, Sinn Fein’s former vice president and MP for West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew and Belfast West MP Paul Maskey.
Mr Molloy said that while their attendance of the event was different to taking up their seats in Parliament, it would be the first time in living memory that the party had come together in Westminster with the whole of the British Parliament for a single event.
“The President’s speech is very important and significant because it marks a better relationship between the two countries,” he added.
“But as President Higgins said himself, we should not forget the past, but we have to build better relationships to try and focus on the future and make it better.”
Sinn Fein MPs have historically abstained from taking up their seats in the House of Commons.
A party spokesperson tried to play down the move to send its MPs to hear President Higgins’ speech, saying they “don’t need to take the oath of allegiance (to the British Monarch) to attend”.
“We do use Westminster and some of the facilities there to lobby and for things like that,” he said.
“We just don’t enter the House of Commons, as we do not believe that as Irish republicans, we should interfere with the Parliament of another nation and vice-versa.”
But he added: “This is a significant step for republicans in terms of recognising the British identity that exists within the North and outreaching to that community.”