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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 March, 2005, 17:22 GMT
Allowances bar on Sinn Fein MPs
The Northern Bank in Belfast
Millions were taken from the vaults of the Northern Bank last December
Sinn Fein MPs are to be stripped of 400,000 in parliamentary allowances following claims that the IRA stole 26m from the Northern Bank in Belfast.

It follows the Independent Monitoring Commission's report which recommended imposing financial penalties.

The motion to suspend allowances for Sinn Fein's four MPs for 12 months was passed without a vote.

A cross-party motion to permanently evict the MPs from their Westminster offices was defeated by 358 to 170.

The debate was proposed by NI Secretary Paul Murphy after the commission's report on the December robbery.

Sinn Fein MPs have never taken their seats at Westminster because doing so would involve swearing an oath of loyalty to the Queen.

But they took up the offices at Westminster just over three years ago, and claim allowances to support their constituency work and pay for travel.

Paul Murphy at the Commons debate
Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy had proposed the debate

The four received an average of just under 110,000 each last year.

Speaking in the debate, Mr Murphy said the government motion "made plain parliament's disapproval of criminality" while locking all the main parties in to the "democratic path".

DUP leader Ian Paisley asked how the government could reconcile the motion with the "strong line it was taking on terrorism" in the Bill currently being debated in parliament.

UUP leader David Trimble said that his party had "lukewarm support" for the government motion but would vote for the stronger amendments.

The SDLP's Seamus Mallon told the chamber that he would not vote for the motion or amendments because he did not want to "make martyrs" of Sinn Fein MPs.

He accused them of "hypocrisy" for taking their Westminster allowances in the first place.

Last month's report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, which monitors paramilitary activity, recommended imposing financial penalties on Sinn Fein.

It backed the police assertion the IRA was behind the raid at the Belfast headquarters of Northern Bank on 20 December - a claim the IRA denies.

Mr Murphy has already confirmed a further 12-month extension on a ban on Sinn Fein's 120,000 Stormont assembly grant for earlier IRA crime.

This sanction is to come into effect on 29 April, the day after an existing sanction expires.

What the decision means for the Sinn Fein MPs

New Northern Bank notes unveiled
09 Mar 05 |  Northern Ireland
PMs discuss NI political process
03 Mar 05 |  Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein facing raid sanctions
22 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Money 'linked to Northern raid'
01 Mar 05 |  Northern Ireland
Gang in '20m' bank raid
21 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland

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