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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 10:04 GMT
SF in Commons 'could endanger MPs'

Sinn Fein MPs are denied access to Commons facilities Sinn Fein MPs are denied access to Commons facilities

Unionist politicans have reacted angrily to proposals which would enable two Sinn Fein MPs to use House of Commons facilities.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson intends to table a motion allowing Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to use facilities at Westminister for the first time.

However, without taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen they would still be barred from the chamber.

But the move has prompted criticism from unionists in Northern Ireland amid fears that it could endanger the security of MPs.

Gerry Adams: One reservation
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the Rev Ian Paisley said: "It's absolutely outrageous.

"Here are people who refuse to take the oath of allegiance and take their seats and the traditions of the House of Commons are being set aside for them.

"This is a party the Prime Minister has said is inextricably linked with violence and the IRA who have not handed over their weapons. It's another capitulation by government."

Deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist party John Taylor said that the secretary of state's proposal could endanger the security of MPs.

"The reality is that the IRA's arsenal of firearms is still intact," he said.

"So we have Sinn Fein/IRA now going to be financed by the government to have offices in Westminster and yet refuse to recognise the parliament."

It's another capitulation by government
Rev Ian Paisley
His comments were backed by party colleague and Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson.

He said: "It poses a potential threat to the security of the Palace of Westminister and the people who work there, particularly MPS who have been the target of republican violence in the past."

Shadow Secretary of State Andrew Mackay also criticised Peter Mandelson's decision.

The government motion, to be debated in the Commons early next week, would also give West Belfast MP Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness, who represents mid-Ulster, access to various allowances for office staff and facilities.

But they could not take part in any business on the floor of the Commons or participate in committees as long as they refused to take up their seats nor could they claim their salaries or pensions as MPs.

One reservation

Speaking about the move, the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: "Our one reservation about the changes which are being made is that they are only for the life of this parliament.

"So, we think that is wrong. We think that the denial of rights, not to us, but to the people who elected us is wrong and undemocratic."

Martin McGuinness:  Did not take oath of allegiance Martin McGuinness: Did not take oath of allegiance
Commons Speaker Betty Bothroyd previously barred the two Sinn Fein MPs from the Commons because they refused to swear the oath of allegiance and would not take their seats in the House.

But Mr Mandelson said the IRA ceasefire and Sinn Fein's positive role in the new power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland meant that it was time to reconsider.

He said: "The circumstances in Northern Ireland at the time that the speaker made her ruling were very different to the situation now."

"With the establishment of the executive and the cross-border institutions, the coming into effect of the British-Irish Treaty, and Sinn Fein actively and positively participating in the new administration, I believe it is now time to look again at how they should be treated at Westminster."

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See also:
20 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Sinn Fein may get Commons office
04 Dec 97 |  Politics
Sinn Fein MPs demand parliamentary facilities
04 Dec 97 |  UK
Commons Speaker stands firm on Sinn Fein ban

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