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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 15:34 GMT
Sinn Fein could speak in Dail
NI MPs could soon speak in the Irish Parliament
NI MPs could soon speak in the Irish Parliament
Northern Ireland MPs, including Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, may soon be able to take part in debates in Ireland's national parliament.

A parliamentary committee has said the MPs should be able to join deputies in the Irish lower house, the Dail, to discuss issues about Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.

The move would be seen as a success for Sinn Fein which has lobbied intensively for such representation in the Republic of Ireland.

It comes a few weeks after Sinn Fein MPs were granted office facilities in Westminster, despite refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

The suggestion, which welcomes MPs from all Northern Ireland political parties, came in the seventh progress report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution on Thursday.

Gerry Adams: Sinn Fein say Irish citizens have a right to send representatives to the Dail
Gerry Adams: Sinn Fein say Irish citizens have a right to send representatives to the Dail

It included further suggestions that a formal system be set up whereby Northern Ireland political representatives sit in the upper house of the Senate, or Seanad.

The report said: "The Dail could consider taking the necessary procedural steps to allow MPs elected for Northern Ireland constituencies to speak in periodic debates on Northern Ireland matters and on the operation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The expertise and experience upon which Northern MPs could draw could certainly enhance the quality of certain important Dail debates.

"Such an initiative would be strongly welcomed by certain Northern representatives and their supporters, and would address the continuing desire of many nationalists for further concrete expression of their Irish identity," it added.

But the report said that to bring members of the Northern Ireland Assembly into the Dublin chamber would be a "more problematic option" because of the larger numbers involved.

Both the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein made submissions to the committee, which was asked by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern to review how the people of Northern Ireland could play a greater role in the affairs of the Republic.

'Insignificance'

Sinn Fein argued that Irish citizens "by virtue of their entitlement and birthright" had the right to send representatives to Dublin Parliament.

On partition of the island, nationalists in the north were "not allowed participation in the political institutions of the southern state, they were gerrymandered into insignificance in the northern state", Sinn Fein submitted.

They called for the 18 Northern Ireland MPs to be granted membership of the Irish Parliament, with their level of representation reflecting that at Stormont.

Presuming unionist MPs would not wish to take these seats "the door could be kept open to future unionist involvement", they said.

The committee recognised that "at a minimum, Sinn Fein argues that either Westminster MPs or assembly members - perhaps the former, for logistical reasons - should have the right to attend in the Dail chamber, without participating in votes".

They suggested that those minimum requirements be accepted today but rejected calls for the people of Northern Ireland to be given the chance to vote at presidential elections and referendums in the Republic.

"Those citizens resident in Northern Ireland are not affected to anything like the same degree by the actions of the Dail as are those within the state," the report said.

They also rejected the direct election of Northern Ireland representatives to the chamber or for those members to have voting rights in the Dail.

The committee added that they had to "walk the tight rope" of the Good Friday Agreement trying not to upset its fine balances.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Sinn Fein have 'arrived'
21 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein's road to Westminster
18 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Head-to-head: Sinn Fein offices
19 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein 'will sit in Commons'
12 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Rise of Sinn Fein
30 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Irish MPs 'to sit in Commons'
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