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Saturday, 22 December, 2001, 14:56 GMT
Reid hopes SF will take seats
Sinn Fein MPs Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats at Westminster
Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid has said he is hopeful Sinn Fein's MPs will end their Westminster abstention policy after they were allocated parliamentary offices.

Dr Reid told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme that the controversial Commons vote on Wednesday to allow Sinn Fein access to Westminster facilities was "a move in the right direction".

It may one day lead to the republican party's MPs taking up their seats in the House of Commons, he said in the interview on Saturday.

Conservative MPs had joined with Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist MPs in an attempt oppose the move by the government to allow Sinn Fein's MPs office space and access to allowances enjoyed by other MPs, even though they will not swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and take their seats.

John Reid:
John Reid: "It is bringing people further into the process"

But Dr Reid insisted the move would bring republicans "further into the political process".

He noted Sinn Fein, which has four MPs - Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew - was keen to play a greater role in political life at Westminster.

It was, therefore, right he said, that they should be given House of Commons facilities and be able to represent their constituents.

"Our belief is that because of dialogue and bringing people further into the process, it is a good thing to do," he said.

"There have been advances in the past few years - not only the acceptance of the Belfast Agreement but also the entry into the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as ministers in the government and decommissioning.

"And also we want to see all of the constituents in areas which elected Sinn Fein MPs - and remember some of them didn't vote and many of them didn't vote for Sinn Fein - get the representation they are entitled of MPs as constituency MPs."

Gerry Adams' meeting with Fidel Castro caused controversy in some quarters
Gerry Adams' meeting with Fidel Castro caused controversy in some quarters

However, Dr Reid added: "I want to see Sinn Fein MPs in the chamber of the House of Commons and involved in trying to resolve difficulties by dialogue, by debate, by democracy.

"That is what the whole peace process is about - moving people away from trying to resolve things through violence or terrorism."

Dr Reid refused to criticise Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams' controversial visit to Cuba this week, where he met President Fidel Castro despite some unease in the United States administration.

The visit was criticised in Northern Ireland by the Ulster Unionists and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

But Dr Reid said: "That is a matter for Sinn Fein. They have their own reasons for going and they knew the risks attached to it.

"The Americans have made their views known but I can hardly as a government minister decry the principle of it when only last week the Health Select Committee for the House of Commons went to Cuba."

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid:
"I want to see Sinn Fein MPs coming into the chamber in the House of Commons and involved in dialogue"
See also:

18 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Head-to-head: Sinn Fein offices
13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Sinn Fein 'to get Commons offices'
12 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Rise of Sinn Fein
16 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
'Commons access for Sinn Fein'
19 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Adams' Cuba trip comes under fire
19 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Handshakes in Havana
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