Gerry Adams 'not allowed' to quit as MP

Sinn Féin leader's resignation letter flouts formal Commons procedure. Party spokesman says: 'We couldn't give a toss'

Gerry Adams remains MP for West Belfast despite dispatching a resignation letter to Westminster, according to the Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Sinn Féin leader's decision to give up his seat has set republican disregard for parliamentary procedures on a collision course with the requirements of constitutional formality.

Adams announced in November that he would be standing for Sinn Féin in the Louth constituency in the Irish Republic's forthcoming general election. That contest is now expected next month.

He also declared that he did not want to be a member of both the Dáil in Dublin and the House of Commons in Westminster, although there is nothing legally to disbar him from dual membership.

Believing that another Sinn Féin candidate should stand for the West Belfast seat and take up the constituency work, Adams last Friday wrote to the Speaker, John Bercow, formally informing him of his departure.

But under parliamentary rules dating back to 1624, an MP who wishes to quit has to apply for one of a number of obscure, paid crown posts: Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham or Steward of the Manor of Northstead.

A Sinn Féin spokesman in Belfast said: "We couldn't give a toss [about these rules]. He's not going to apply for these offices. He has sent in a resignation letter like any ordinary person. We want a byelection in West Belfast. There's no written constitution; they just make it up anyway. It's strange men who parade around in tights. Republicans are not losing any sleep over this."

The parliamentary regulation is enshrined in 400 years of constitutional history and may be difficult to overturn without setting a political precedent.

According to Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary procedure, it is "a settled principle of parliamentary law that a Member, after he is duly chosen, cannot relinquish his seat; and, in order to evade this restriction, a Member who wishes to retire accepts office under the Crown which legally vacates his seat and obliges the House to order a new writ".

The Speaker's office said there was one alternative route - or piece of political pantomime - open to Sinn Féin MPs, who have refused to take the oath of allegiance to the crown, as well as their seats in Westminster.

If an elected MP who has not sworn the oath attempts to take his or her seat in the Commons during a debate, then that would also formally lead to their ejection from Westminster.

Under the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1865, "if the MP sits in the house without having taken the oath" then he would lose his seat, the Speaker's Office confirmed. Sinn Féin said Adams would not participate in such a political charade.


Owen Bowcott

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gerry Adams denies accepting crown title to resign Westminster seat
Prime minister declares Gerry Adams has accepted an office of profit under the crown, but Sinn Féin leader says he has simply stepped down as a Westminster MP

Owen Bowcott

26, Jan, 2011 @4:49 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams: I complained formally over police detention
Sinn Féin president calls on police ombudsman to review his detention, and denies any connection to Jean McConville murder

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

07, May, 2014 @8:22 PM

Article image
Prince Charles to meet Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams
Prince is making two-day visit to western Ireland including to the beauty spot where IRA killed Lord Mountbatten

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

19, May, 2015 @8:10 AM

Article image
Gerry Adams to run for seat in Irish parliament
Sinn Féin president will step down from Northern Ireland assembly seat to contest general election

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

14, Nov, 2010 @5:58 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams wrongly denied compensation after convictions overturned, judge rules
Victory for former Sinn Féin leader in long-running case linked to attempted prison escapes in 1970s

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

28, Apr, 2023 @1:35 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams signals intention to stand down as Sinn Féin leader
President says he will seek re-election in November but wishes to implement a ‘planned process of generational change’

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

05, Sep, 2017 @1:21 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams, the Jean McConville case and the role of Dolours Price
Price, angry with Sinn Féin's strategy and Adams' denial of IRA membership, broke the omertà surrounding the McConville case

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

01, May, 2014 @6:02 PM

Article image
Sinéad O’Connor joins Sinn Féin and calls for Gerry Adams to step down
Dublin-born singer says party elders should stand aside after criticism of their handling of sexual abuse allegations

Henry McDonald in Dublin

09, Dec, 2014 @1:48 PM

Article image
DUP Speaker orders colleague out of Stormont in Gerry Adams IRA row
Democratic Unionists accuse Speaker Willie Hay of victimising own party

Henry McDonald

09, Feb, 2009 @2:59 PM

Mick Fealty: God, according to Gerry Adams

Mick Fealty: Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has admitted he feels more comfortable with the Protestant than the Catholic worldview

Mick Fealty

29, Apr, 2009 @8:00 AM