Sinn Fein has denounced political parties in the South for attempting to block a plan to have MPs from the North speak regularly to a parliamentary committee in the chamber of the Dublin parliament.
The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced in a letter to party leaders this week a move to have MPs from the North speak at a committee of the whole Dail members at least every six months. This would involve their speaking in proceedings in the Dail itself, a prospect which has provoked a fearful and jealous reaction from the smaller parties.
“The whole purpose of this exercise is to allow Gerry Adams be televised addressing the Dail in the Dail chamber,” a Labour spokesman said. “There are many other ways of doing it, but this is all about the optics of having Gerry and the boys debating in the Dail on television.”
Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats have also objected, also apparently fearing the charisma of Sinn Fein leaders such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
The Sinn Fein Dail leader, Caoimhghin O Caolain, said the opposition to Bertie Ahern’s proposal to provide for participation of Northern MPs in Dail proceedings “exposes these deeply partitionist parties for what they are.
“They want to keep the Oireachtas [parliament] as a cold house for Northern nationalists”.
He said he would now seek clarification from the Taoiseach about the status of the proposal, including the attitude of his coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats.
It is expected that Sinn Fein and the SDLP would take up invitations to attend such Dail proceedings. The DUP has declined the offer, while the Ulster Unionist Party said it was “outraged” at the suggestion.
Suggestions in the media that the proposal cannot go ahead without the support of the opposition parties or the Progressive Democrats has angered Sinn Fein, which has long backed speaking rights as a key confidence-building measure for northern nationalists in recent negotiations.
Deputy O Caolain said Fine Gael and Labour had rejected the proposal “before the ink was dry on the Taoiseach’s letter to them”.
He said their reaction had also exposed “the hollowness of their oft-repeated praise of the SDLP. They want to slam the door in the face of that party’s MPs so that Sinn Fein can also be kept out. And of course this proposal would provide for all MPs to participate, including unionists, but Fine Gael and Labour want to rule out any possibility of such participation as well.
“Above all, the stance taken by the leaderships of Fine Gael and the Labour Party is an insult to the nationalist community in the Six Counties.”
Mr O Caolain said “serious questions” have now been raised for the rank and file membership of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour.
“Are Fianna Fail members content to see Michael McDowell and Mary Harney vetoing this modest and reasonable proposal? Are the rank and file members of Fine Gael - the ‘United Ireland party’ and Labour, the party that claims the mantle of James Connolly, content to allow their leaders to turn them into fully fledged unionist parties?”