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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Sinn Fein demands Commons facilities
Sinn Fein MPs at a press conference in Dublin
Sinn Fein is now the largest nationalist party.
Sinn Fein has renewed calls to be allowed use of House of Commons facilities after doubling its number of MPs at the general election.

The republicans - who have said they will not sit in a Westminster parliament - are currently denied access to offices and other privileges because of their refusal to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

A vote for Sinn Fein was a vote for the peace process and a vote for making politics work

Pat Doherty MP

Pat Doherty, Sinn Fein vice president and newly elected MP for West Tyrone, said the party was in talks with the government with the aim of securing use of facilities for its four MPs.

But as the process of swearing-in began in the Commons on Thursday, the speaker, Michael Martin, confirmed that Sinn Fein MPs would be excluded from the House.

MPs in the Commons
MPs have been swearing-in at the Commons
Mr Martin said: "The services of the departments of the House... will not be available to members who have not taken the oath or affirmed before the date of the Queen's Speech."

Sinn Fein made similar requests following the 1997 election and the prime minister had indicated he was willing to consider reform, but the ban has remained firmly in place.

Speaking at a news conference in a Westminster room booked by a sympathetic Labour MP, Mr Doherty said: "We are an Irish republican party and we will not take an oath to the British monarch.

"But we want to represent our constituents, and we want the facilities to help us do that."

Major voice

Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew, another new Sinn Fein MP, said the party had emerged from both general and local elections as "the major voice of republicanism" in Northern Ireland.

Its four Westminster seats means it is now the largest nationalist party, outnumbering the three MPs won by the SDLP.

Mr Doherty said: "A vote for Sinn Fein was a vote for the peace process and a vote for making politics work."

Describing his party as "absolutely committed" to the Northern Ireland assembly and institutions, he said: "Tony Blair has a renewed, strengthened mandate.

Pat Doherty
Mr Doherty is one of two new Sinn Fein MPs.
"He also has, uniquely, the power to implement the Good Friday Agreement."

The responsibility lay with the government, he added.

But Mr Doherty suggested that unionist complaints about the progress of IRA weapons decommissioning amounted to a cynical refusal to compromise.

He said: "It's about a huge section of unionism that isn't willing to contemplate change.

"If it wasn't this issue it would be another issue."

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See also:

12 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Rise of Sinn Fein
16 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
'Commons access for Sinn Fein'
13 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein aim for top job
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