EXCL Sinn Féin MP insists party won't take Commons seats despite pressure over Brexit votes
A senior Sinn Féin MP has said the party will not take up its Westminster seats despite calls for them to take part in crucial Commons votes on Brexit.
Michelle Gildernew said she "cannot see a time" when the party, which refuses to swear an oath to the Queen, would end its policy of abstentionism.
A host of leading figures have called on Sinn Fein’s six anti-Brexit MPs to use their influence in knife-edge votes.
They include Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said the party had the chance to "make things better for Ireland" by attempting to block the Government's plans.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson also called for them to take their seats, telling Chopper's Brexit Podcast that it would galvanise Tory support for the Prime Minister.
He said: "I would hope that Sinn Féin would come up and vote. It would remind those ‘Remainers’ in the Conservative Party that if they follow their ideological views rather than support the Government then they will finish up with a Government which contains terrorists in the future."
If they did overturn their long-standing policy, it would all-but wipe out Theresa May's wafer-thin majority, which she only has thanks to the support of the DUP.
But Ms Gildernew, the longest serving of Sinn Féin’s MPs, said in an interview with the House Magazine last week that it would not suit the party’s agenda "to take our seats in a foreign parliament".
"It’s a hundred-year-old policy. It has suited us very well," she said.
"I don’t believe that the British should have any say or interference over what happens in Ireland. Why then would I as an Irishwoman interfere in what’s happening in Britain?"
She added: "I cannot see a time when it suits our project to take our seats in a foreign parliament."
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP said her party would be betraying voters who "turned their back on the idea of sitting on those green benches" by backing Sinn Fein over moderate Irish nationalists the SDLP.
She added: "We are very active abstentionists, we know what we signed up for."
However, she insisted Sinn Fein still had a "strong voice" at Westminster, where it has offices for its MPs.
"For us it’s really, really important to be here and be strong voice for Irish unity in London, but to engage in groups and organisations, to talk to other MPs and peers, to meet with campaign groups, to meet with the trade unionists, the media etc," she said.
"We do the work of MPs both here in London and in Ireland." she said.
Catch up on this week’s PoliticsHome podcast, featuring Dods’ Northern Ireland expert Andrew McQuillan, for his take on whether a change in course for Sinn Féin could ever be on the cards.