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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
SDLP rejects Commons criticism
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said it was a "narrow, party political point"
The SDLP has rejected criticism by a Labour Party MP for not turning up in Westminster to hear the Northern Ireland secretary's statement on the peace process.

Andrew Mackinlay said he was "sick to his back teeth" of going to debates on Northern Ireland to discover that the SDLP had not turned up.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, he said other MPs were acting as proxies for the SDLP and it had to stop.

The Thurrock MP, a regular watcher of Northern Irish affairs, said it was wrong that the nationalist community was not being properly represented at Westminster, even though the SDLP MPs sit on the Labour benches.

He said Labour should organise in Northern Ireland to ensure the election of proper Labour MPs.

In response, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy refused to be drawn on the issue of party membership in Northern Ireland but said he would raise the SDLP's non-attendance with the party.


SDLP Assembly member Alex Attwood said Mr Mackinlay's comments were part of a campaign by a faction who want the Labour Party to organise in Northern Ireland.

He said Mr Mackinlay "quite cynically took an opportunity to make a narrow, party political point".

Mr Attwood said Monday's debate was organised at short notice and its parliamentary team was unable to reorganise travel plans to go to London.

He said Mr Murphy had delivered a "holding statement" on the Northern Ireland political process, and the situation remained "live and current".

The party's three MPs are Eddie McGrady, Seamus Mallon and John Hume.

GMB trade unionist Andy McGivern, who is taking legal action to force the Labour Party to accept members from Northern Ireland, said Mr Mackinlay's comments showed that support for his cause was growing.

"I think what he had to say was indicative of the mounting pressure on the party hierarchy now that information is getting out about the plight of people who would be Labour supporters in Northern Ireland," he said.

"People are shocked to learn you can be a Labour Party member in Baghdad but not Belfast.

"There is no doubt Labour's leadership is feeling the heat on this issue and I am still hopeful that I may not have to go to court to force their hand."

Applicants to the Labour Party from Northern Ireland are referred on to the SDLP, which is its sister party.

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