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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 14:50 GMT
Murphy rejects solicitors' comments
Secretary of State 'disowned' reports
Claims by solicitors for the Labour Party that people in Northern Ireland were not British have been rejected by Secretary of State Paul Murphy.

GMB trade unionist Andy McGivern, who is taking legal action to force the Labour Party to accept members from Northern Ireland, was angered by the solicitors' response to a questionnaire by the Commission for Racial Equality.

Labour's rule book says "individual members shall be British subjects or citizens of Eire or other persons resident in Great Britain for more than one year".

Both (John Reid) and I disown what was in the newspapers last week and I am absolutely sure that everybody is of the view that people in Northern Ireland are British citizens

Paul Murphy
Secretary of State
However, people in Northern Ireland have not been allowed to join Labour.

Instead, applicants are referred to its sister party, the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

In its response to the questionnaire, Thompsons solicitors, acting for the party, said the ban was in place because "people resident in Northern Ireland are not British subjects or citizens of Eire and are not resident in Great Britain for more than one year and are therefore ineligible for membership".

In the House of Commons, Mr Murphy told Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Peter Robinson that the solicitors' explanation for the ban did not reflect his or the party chairman Dr John Reid's views.

"I have talked to the Minister without Portfolio, the chair of the Labour Party (former Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid).

"Both he and I disown what was in the newspapers last week and I am absolutely sure that everybody is of the view that people in Northern Ireland are British citizens."

'Sensitivity'

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Labour was not arguing that people in Northern Ireland should have fewer rights.

During Prime Minister's Questions, he told Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble: "It is for the very reason that the politics of Northern Ireland is a different and difficult situation.

"Now he and I have discussed this over many years. I hope that we can resolve it.

"But it has to be resolved with some sensitivity to the broader issues that arise particularly in Northern Ireland."

Mr McGivern welcomed the Secretary of State's comments and insisted he was not aiming to embarrass Labour.

"It is with a heavy heart that I have had to take this legal action but I want to be a member of the party I feel the greatest allegiance to.

"The only way Labour can come out of this whole debacle with any credibility is for its leadership to drop its objection to my legal action and lift the ban."

See also:

23 May 02 | N Ireland
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