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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 14:45 GMT
Should Sinn Fein be entitled to Commons offices?
Sinn Fein's MPs have arrived at Westminster to take possession of their new offices in the Commons for the first time following the lifting of the ban on them using parliamentary facilities.
The party's four MPs are now able to use the Palace of Westminster's facilities and receive office allowances after a controversial Commons vote, opposed by unionist parties and the Conservatives last month.
They will receive the benefits despite refusing to take their seats in what they see as a "foreign parliament" and will not make the oath of allegiance to the Queen required to sit in the Commons.
Opponents say Sinn Fein has given no commitments in return for the privileges, but the government says the move has encouraged Sinn Fein to become more integrated into the UK's democratic processes.
Is Sinn Fein entitled to Commons privileges? Or is the party being granted too many concessions?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The SF MPs were elected to represent their entire constituencies, not just those that voted for them. If they are taking the services of Parliament, (funded by all of the UK), then they should undertake to represent all of their constituents in Parliament. They claim to be democratic: their actions show that they are not.
A lot of people seem to miss the point of who a British taxpayer is. The British taxpayers of West Belfast have democratically elected their MP, and that happens to be Gerry Adams.
NI is part of Britain, and it's citizens pay taxes to support Westminster as well. Therefore their elected representative should enjoy the same benefits that other MPs enjoy. You may not like it, but as long as you want to call this country democratic it has to be.
Why all the swipes at the
Government? It could make itself
very popular by alienating Sinn Fein.
What about the hundreds of
prisoners - some murderers - who
were released as part of the Good
Friday agreement? Re-arrest them?
Another popular winner! But what
would that achieve? That path is the
way backwards; Northern Ireland
needs a way forward. The
Government has to be forward
thinking, because obviously most of
its electorate, along with a good
few MPs, are not.
I think many people here are missing the point. I don't think it's relevant whether SF swear an oath to the Queen, or the Wombles of Wimbledon common. This is not the issue. I do however, resent the fact that my, and other taxpayers' money is being spent peddling IRA propaganda on House of Commons headed notepaper. The SF members will receive £100,000 a year of our money to utilise the facilities of an institution that they refuse to attend. Once again we see the instrument of democracy being abused by undemocratic forces (this time with Government approval)
Sinn Fein have been elected by more than 20% of the vote of NI. That in its self should allow them to avail of the Commons services. They are not asking to sit in the House.
Chris P, England
Two points here: firstly, these MP's have been voted in by the electorate, therefore they must be treated just like any other MP. Just because you don't happen to agree with what they say that doesn't mean they shouldn't be entitled to serve in the same way as any other MP.
Secondly, the "oath of allegiance" business is utter rubbish - what if they DID swear the oath? Everyone would know they didn't mean it! I seem to remember a certain MP called Willie Hamilton some years ago, who was an ardent anti-Royalist - presumably he swore the oath, even though he spent his career saying that the monarchy should be abolished.
Are we saying that the only important thing here is swearing the oath, not actually MEANING what you say?
If so, then this country is even more stupid and superficial than I thought, and that takes some doing!
I think that they should swear the oath because if they don't then they don't deserve to have the privileges that they do. People misunderstand the oath - it is to the Queen yes, but more importantly it shows to the public that they respect and want to serve the country and shows that they can be trusted. These men cannot be trusted. They are terrorists and we should arrest them and give them to the American government. They know how to deal with terrorists!
I think that letting Sinn Fein use offices in the Palace of Westminster is an absolute outrage! These people have the blood of British MP's on their hands. The peace process was dead a long time ago - the IRA will never give up arms. They only give up the arms which are out of date and they do not want. The Government and whoever else was involved in allowing these terrorists to have these privileges should be ashamed of themselves. Its time this country stood up for itself and not be pushed around. Its time for to take a tough stance on issues such as this. The liberal attitude of many within this country sickens me.
The point is simple. No expenses or offices unless they swear the oath. The oath, it is immaterial to whom, confirms acceptance of our democratic norms. Failure to swear implies rejection of these. This is why Labour and Liberal republicans are happy to swear the oath without believing in it. Sinn Fein is clear in its rejection of the British state, so it could not take any oath. In any event they have also confirmed they would not take up their seats under any circumstances and so will not represent their constituents in Parliament, surely another reason to deny offices and expenses.
An oath of allegiance would mean that these "former" terrorists publicly declare
that they will put their country's well-being above their own interests and that they
represent ALL of their constituents. Perhaps a
regular citizen would be able to get away with not taking an oath of allegiance, but
a MP, a representative of the people and an agent of the government, has an obligation to
take such an oath.
In other words, they knew the rules of the game. They can't break them and still expect to play.
Tom B, Northern Ireland
The oath of allegiance is an irrelevance. More to the point is the fact that Sinn Fein has taken up office in a parliament which it says it does not recognise. If it does not recognise the Westminster parliament, why does it stand for election to that parliament? The whole position of the legality of Sinn Fein as a political party should in my view be reconsidered on this basis alone.
Sinn Fein form part of the executive of the government of Northern Ireland, itself a part of the UK. It is preposterous to suggest that they shouldn't have offices at Westminster. This is a practical issue, not a political one. It only has political significance in the minds of both British and Irish nationalists.
The constitution means that they have a right to have an office in the Commons. The constitution also says that they have to swear allegiance to the head of state of the UK. If they do not accept the latter, they are not entitled to the former. It should be as simple as that, otherwise laws are not worth the paper they are written on.
Ben Broadbent, England
I think we've forgotten here that Martin McGuiness, and a lot of other top level politicians are in fact old IRA members, and have in their time murdered, and sanctioned murder, of British troops.
Let us not forget that Sinn Fein / IRA have always considered British citizens and their elected representatives as fair game for the bomb and the bullet. I couldn't care less about oaths of allegiance - but I have a fundamental objection to terrorists being allowed to enter this country, let alone sit in the Commons and use its facilities at the expense of us taxpayers. Who needs Northern Ireland anyway? The sooner we can dump those six counties out of the UK the better!
Liam Ó Ráiste, Ireland
Typical. This country is willing to let a chance of taking the peace process a stage further slip through its fingers, and all for the sake of a silly empty ritual. Sometimes I think we get everything we deserve.
For as long as I was growing up, innocent people were being murdered by terrorists, prominently the IRA, of which Sinn Fein is the political wing. Is the US going to elect Osama Bin Laden in to the House of Representatives? Progressive governments are trying to please everybody and it won't work. The rules are that you have to swear allegiance to the Queen and Sinn Fein should not be an exception.
Bob N, UK/NZ
I don't get it. These guys don't acknowledge the sovereignty of the UK Parliament. But it is that same Parliament which raises the taxes which fund these offices, and which makes the laws which govern the electoral process and the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly - in which Adams and McGuinness are ministers. Does that strike anybody else as deeply illogical to the point of being untenable?
For me as an outside observer this is very simple: If you do not take the oath of allegiance to the nation that you are elected to represent you cannot be a member of its parliament.
Forget the monarchy. If the UK was a republic, MPs would be swearing allegiance to a flag and Sinn Fein would not. MPs should be made to swear allegiance to the people they represent. Surely that is democracy?
Sinn Fein are completely entitled to their Commons privileges. As are the Khmer Rouge and how about our good friend General Pinochet while we are being so generous?
These men freely admit to their links with terrorists who have been responsible for the deaths of several MPs. Will the person who has decided to lift this ban take personal and moral responsibility for the safety of his fellow MPs?
When candidates put themselves forward for election as MPs it should go without saying that in doing so they are willing swear an allegiance to monarch and country. Sinn Fein are entitled to have their rooms but only if they are prepared to swear loyalty to the UK and not their own causes.
Is there any point in Gerry Adams swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen? The guy doesn't even have any respect for English people so his oath would be worthless anyway!
Congratulations to Susan from the UK for an excellent comment. Sinn Fein, while having a political agenda that they are expected to further for their voters, are expected to fulfill their job title and represent their constituencies. As for the oath of allegiance to the Queen, today it is not seen as the Queen as an individual to whom you owe allegiance, but the the head of state, the system of government, the nation etc. After all it is a defacto duty of the Monarch to serve the people as a watchdog, and as a figurehead. Sinn Fein has a declared manifesto that makes clear that they are not happy with the present system, so perhaps the solution is that they make clear that they respect the system and the reality of the situation, while retaining their constitutional agenda.
I see all the comments regarding Sinn Fein in Westminster, and not a single one about politicians that are supposedly loyal to the crown while their voters continue to attack crown forces. The Provisional IRA have at least shown willing to attempt to commit fully to the process. What of our supposed "loyal" friends? Or do they not count because they wave the St George Cross? Is there a difference in anyone who is representative of a violent community that attacks police and army personnel on a regular basis?
Perhaps Colin, UK, can point out the MPs of these loyalist groupings sitting in the House of Commons? I'm afraid I cannot. The vast majority of protestant people of Northern Ireland do not vote for parties affiliated to terrorist groupings (Just look how well they did in the local/general elections). It is a pity that our catholic neighbours have less qualms about voting for a party that was created by the IRA for the sole purpose of generating support its terror cells. Its also ironic that SF, as they stand at present, would not be allowed to sit in the government of the Republic of Ireland, while its perfectly ok for them to sit in the government of Northern Ireland.
In a true democracy there must be a place for all the elected representatives of the people. In a true democracy there can be no place for an oath of allegiance to the monarchy. MPs are the servants of the people NOT the servants of the crown.
First we release convicted terrorists and murderers from our jails.
Then we arbitrarily lock up suspected terrorists who may or may not have supported attacks in other countries. Then we give offices to representatives of terrorists. As a young Briton looking forward to voting for the first time next election, I have absolutely no idea what to do. Could it be the Tories are the only ones left talking sense? Please, no.
Sinn Fein was elected to represent the people who voted for them and not to prop up a non-elected undemocratic and intolerant monarchy.
Those people who say that an MP only owes an allegiance to his constituents are missing the point about democracy. There are times when the views of certain parties will not carry sufficient weight to have effect, but they will only be heard and considered in a liberal democracy.
Elected MPs who have hitherto been denied allowances have had them denied them on the basis that the MP's had not entered Westminster because they would not swear the oath of allegiance. The refusal to swear that oath is not a rejection of the monarch, but a rejection of the democratic institutions of the United Kingdom.
Those IRA members are quite entitled to do so, but it also seems eminently reasonable for the expenses to be withheld.
Swearing allegiance to the Queen is a debatable point. However, if Sinn Fein
want to be have privileges within the House of Commons, they must behave in
a constitutional way, which means abiding by all the rules of office - not just the
ones they happen to agree with. This is the same with all members of government,
even anti-royalists, and I don't see why Sinn Fein should be made a special case.
Whether the oath is to the Queen, country, Parliament or the British people, I very much doubt that Sinn Fein would take that oath. It is not really the oath that they have the problem with, it is Parliament (and all it stands for) that troubles them. Sinn Fein has principles, (some of them vile) that it sticks to whilst the current government is generally unprincipled, so Sinn Fein will always get what it wants in the end.
In the 21st century, nobody should have to swear an oath of allegiance to an unelected individual.
Sinn Fein most definitely do not have any entitlement to the privileges of our House of Commons. This is yet another blatant abuse of privilege by our dictatorial government. These issues should only be decided by British citizens via a referendum.
Brian Langfield's comment takes my breath away! Perhaps he'd like to tell us who his local community elected as an MP, and allow the rest of us to have a referendum on whether or not we give that person money to pay for staff to assist him or not?
You don't need a referendum - these people have been elected. I don't like them either, but the only fair way to get rid of them is defeat them at the next election.
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