Two new Irish nationalist MPs have made protest statements while swearing allegiance to the British Crown in the House of Commons, a process required before they are allowed to speak in debates, vote or receive their salary at the Westminster parliament.
Completing the swearing-in process as he took his seat for Foyle, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed he was only going through the process on behalf of his constituents.
He said: “Under protest and in order to represent my constituency, I do solemnly swear, 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.
In a further departure, he said: “My true allegiance is to the people of Derry and the people of Ireland.”
The oath of allegiance is a major obstacle for republicans elected as MPs to taking their seats at Westminster. In 1969, republican MP Bernadette McAliskey said she had crossed her fingers and spat to disown the oath. Sinn Fein MPs continue to refuse to swear it.
The SDLP has previously drawn a distinction between “affirming” and “swearing” the oath. The second SDLP MP to be sworn in, Claire Hanna, submitted a letter to the Commons Speaker to protest the need to express her allegiance.
While repeating the necessary statement, she said: “My allegiance is to the people of south Belfast and, in order to serve them, I’ve made this affirmation.
“My political commitment is to the Good Friday Agreement, relationships in Northern Ireland, between the north and south of Ireland, and between these islands based on mutual respect and co-operation.”
Some Scottish MPs also stressed this week they were making the pledge only in order to serve their constituents, with one visibly crossing his fingers as he spoke.