Sinn Féin accused of failing the North by not taking Westminster seats despite tight loss in votes
Sinn Féin has been accused of failing Northern nationalists by not taking its seven seats in Westminster, as MPs voted on potential options for a softer Brexit.
The party was criticised by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as one proposal suggesting that the UK would stay in a customs union with the EU failed to pass by just three votes in the House of Commons.
However, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was defiant, insisting her party's MPs were elected as abstentionists and that this policy wouldn't change if the chaos in Westminster led to a UK general election in the coming months.
Health Minister Simon Harris led the criticism, saying it's "hard to see how Sinn Féin contend that taking their seats would not change the outcome on Brexit" given the three-vote margin on Monday night.
His party colleague, Senator Neale Richmond, argued that the votes of seven Sinn Féin TDs could help the push towards a softer Brexit that "will allow the Withdrawal Agreement and limit the damage to our island". He accused the party of "abdicating their responsibility".
"Abstention simply doesn't cut the mustard," he said, adding that Sinn Féin previously changed its policy on taking Dáil seats and "now is the time for Sinn Féin to put the country first".
Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said the nationalist voice needs to be heard in Westminster and Sinn Féin members' refusal to take its seats represents a "complete failure on their part".
Ms McDonald said that Sinn Féin "will not swear an oath to a foreign power".
She said that she would be "astonished if critics like Mr Harris would be prepared to do so".
She said the party's MPs are "elected explicitly on an abstentionist mandate" and argued that "Irish interests in this Brexit debacle are not best advanced at Westminster".
Ms McDonald said that Westminster advances "British interests".
She suggested that Sinn Féin MPs entering the House of Commons would "only heighten the political temperature" and have the effect of "making things perhaps even more confused and more chaotic".
She responded to Fianna Fáil's criticism, saying that it represents "precisely zero Northern nationalists".