Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin leader pours scorn on Fintan O'Toole's proposal for stopping Brexit

Mary Lou McDonald called Fintan O'Toole's proposal to block 'wishful thinking'. Picture by Hugh Russell

MARY Lou McDonald has described an ambitious proposal to block Brexit by Sinn Féin MPs temporarily vacating their seats as "flawed mathematics and political wishful thinking".

Commentator Fintan O'Toole last week suggested the abstentionist party could halt the UK's departure from the EU by engaging in a strategy of "boldness, imagination and patriotism".

In his column in the Irish Times, he argued that the Tories' slim parliamentary majority could be overcome by a pact among all Northern Ireland's anti-Brexit parties which would see Sinn Féin MPs resign their seats, triggering by-elections.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens would then agree non-aligned candidates to contest the seats. He suggested candidates who would "command wide respect" – former president Mary McAleese, former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, Ulster University's Deirdre Heenan, Senator Ian Marshall, actor Adrian Dunbar, former secretary general of the EU Commission Catherine Day, and Queen's academic Katy Hayward.

Each candidate would sign a public contract committing themselves to stand down as soon as Brexit is either accomplished or aborted, Mr O'Toole proposed.

"Their platform is simple – they will support all measures, procedural or legislative, to stop a no-deal Brexit, up to and including the revocation of article 50," he wrote.

He said such a move for Sinn Féin would signal an "end to impotence".

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In a subsequent article published after criticism of his proposal on social media, Mr O'Toole said Sinn Féin wanted Britain to crash out the EU.

Fintan O'Toole suggested Sinn Féin MPs resign their seats and trigger by-elections. Picture by Frank Miller

His claim has been dismissed by the Sinn Féin president, who in a reply yesterday, said accusing her party of wanting a no deal Brexit "runs contrary to our positions and actions over the past three years".

"Sinn Féin has played a central role in building the political consensus, north and south, to ensure our island is protected from the recklessness of 'little Englanders' in their pursuit of Brexit," Mrs McDonald said.

"We pulled on the green jersey and found common ground with our political opponents because Brexit is beyond party politics."

Responding to Mr O'Toole's proposal to "stop Brexit" and "abandon our electoral mandate", she said the idea was is "based on flawed mathematics and political wishful thinking".

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"There is a strong majority of MPs in Westminster in favour of Brexit and seven MPs – be they Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin proxies or otherwise – will not 'stop Brexit'," the Dublin TD said.

"There is already a Westminster majority opposed to a no-deal or crash-out Brexit. Seven additional votes are not required for this purpose."

She said there was a "strong and determined Westminster majority" that rejected the withdrawal agreement and the backstop which could not be overturned by seven votes – "and that is the crux of the problem.

"Our Brexit problem cannot be wished away or magicked away by clever mathematical contortions – the Brexit problem will only be answered with a political solution," the Sinn Féin leader said.

"The fact is that the British government and the British parliament cannot agree with the EU a viable framework for delivering Brexit."

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