The prospect of a hung parliament after next year's general election has rekindled speculation about the circumstances under which the Sinn Féin members might be persuaded to attend the British parliament. If all five current Sinn Féin members are re-elected (a not unlikely outcome), and if the outcome is such that a gap of less than 5 votes could significantly alter the outcome, then Sinn Féin, it is argued, could exert enormous influence if – and only if – it took its seats.
Such an argument overlooks the fact that the DUP, the SNP, perhaps even the UKIP, will all have more than 5 seats and would have to be already firmly committed to one or other camp in order for Sinn Féin's votes to be important.
But nonetheless the faint possibility that Sinn Féin might exert some influence on the outcome is sufficient to excite some unionists, who would see such a price as miniscule compared with the apparent victory that Sinn Féin acceptance of the authority of the Westminster parliament would imply.
The common belief is that Sinn Féin will not swear an oath of allegiance because they are republicans. This is not the case, however. In the past several avowed republicans (and many closet republicans) have sworn the oath. Tony Benn in 1997 stated that: "As a committed republican, under protest, I take the oath required of me by law, under the Parliamentary Oaths Act of 1866, to allow me to represent my constituency". He also apparently crossed his fingers when he took the oath. Dennis Skinner apparently said "I solemnly swear that I will bear true and faithful allegiance to the Queen when she pays her income tax".
On the other hand, Sinn Féin are not just republicans but Irish republicans, and they are on record as saying that the oath was “a bit of a distraction”. Despite considering that a change might be good for British democracy, it would not alter Sinn Fein’s position. Asked if he could see himself sitting in the Commons following a change to the oath, Gerry Adams said: “No, because the issue for us is the claim of that parliament to jurisdiction in Ireland.”
Between now and next June, of course, no change in the oath is likely, and the wording of it is sufficient that no Irish republican would ever take it:
I ………. swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
(Alternatively, MPs can omit the 'by Almighty God', or the swearing, by saying 'I …………… do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.')
No Irish republican is going to swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen of England and expect to get re-elected ever again. So the fantasies about Sinn Féin 'taking their seats' next year will remain just fantasies.