Parties unite to pile pressure on Sinn Fein to take seats in Westminster
Sinn Féin is coming under mounting pressure to take its six seats in the Westminster parliament ahead of potentially crucial votes on Brexit.
Taoiseach Leo Varakdar has urged Mary Lou McDonald's party to consider using its numbers in the House of Commons to influence the outcome on what are likely to be tight votes on the issue.
Fianna Fáil and Labour have also raised questions about Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy in the face of the threat Brexit poses to Ireland.
However, Sinn Féin last night remained defiant, insisting the issue is not even being discussed internally and reiterating its abstentionist position.
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn last night delivered a speech calling for the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU.
Such an arrangement could avoid a return to Border controls in Ireland post-Brexit.
It's believed that some Conservative MPs could support Labour's position in a House of Commons vote on future customs arrangements.
Given British Prime Minister Theresa May's lack of an overall majority - and her reliance on the DUP for support - the result of any vote on the matter is likely to be close and could hinge on Sinn Féin's six seats.
Mr Varadkar last night said such a vote may not take place for a number of weeks.
But he added: "It is important that people who do have influence, people who could attend the House of Commons, bear in mind the effect that they could have."
He said that Irish MPs' votes haven't always mattered historically, but that at key points in the past they held the balance of power and "were able to really make things better for Ireland by forcing things like land reform, for example".
"So I'd hope that those who could cast their votes will bear that in mind," he added.
Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly said that the lack of nationalist representation in Westminster "is hurting the people in Northern Ireland".
He said the combination of the failure to restore power-sharing in the North and Sinn Féin's refusal to take its seats in Westminster "essentially means a hard-line unionist voice is heavily influencing the future of Northern Ireland."
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said Ms McDonald is faced with a "difficult and historic decision" to make ahead of a Westminster vote on customs arrangements.
But he argued that allowing such a "critical vote to take place without Ireland's voice being heard would be an abdication of political responsibility".
He said Sinn Féin participating in the vote would show the party's willingness to act in the overall national interest.
Mr Howlin said: "Sinn Féin has an opportunity to assist this process ... it is an opportunity that cannot be missed."
Ms McDonald refused to answer questions on the issue while she was attending an event in Dublin yesterday. Instead she referred the issue to the Sinn Féin press office.
A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "This is not even a topic of discussion within the party, we are an abstentionist party, and we are mandated to abstain from Westminster by the people who vote for us."