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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 16:59 GMT
Head-to-head: Sinn Fein offices
Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew and shadow Northern Ireland secretary Quentin Davies
As MPs debate whether to allow Sinn Fein to have Commons offices without taking their seats in Parliament, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Quentin Davies and Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew outline their opposing views on the issue.

Quentin Davies

The decision to allow MPs who refuse to take their seats to enjoy the facilities of the Commons is extraordinarily difficult to justify, and so far the government has not begun to justify it.

We would be prepared to consider even this distortion of our parliamentary system if it were genuinely the price for full decommissioning - but the government appears to have obtained nothing whatsoever in exchange for this promised concession.

The reality is that for Sinn Fein this is about gaining a London propaganda office at the taxpayers' expense

By tabling this motion, the government is breaching fundamental principles of the House of Commons. They are in effect creating two classes of MP.

There will be ordinary MPs, who take their seats, and participate in the usual way to our debates in the Chamber.

In addition, there will be what the former Speaker, Betty Boothroyd described as "associate" members.

Of course the real reason why the government is seeking to make this change is nothing to do with the Commons itself.

It is about the Northern Ireland peace process and the seemingly never ending desire to make concessions to Sinn Fein.

'Propaganda move'

The government says that the move will encourage Sinn Fein to become more integrated into the democratic process. That is not how Sinn Fein see it.

If Sinn Fein wanted to participate in the Commons then they have the same rights to do so as everybody else - by taking the oath or making an Affirmation.

Yet, this morning one of their MPs referred to Westminster as a "foreign" Parliament.

They have made clear that even if the oath were changed they would not sit at Westminster.

The reality is that for them this is about gaining a London propaganda office at the taxpayers' expense.

If this goes through we will be sacrificing fundamental Commons principles to satisfy the wishes of one particular party. It is wrong and the government should be ashamed of itself.

Michelle Gildernew

Sinn Fein has made it clear that we will pursue all of the democratic rights to which we are entitled as a result of our democratic mandate. This includes the use of facilities at Westminster.

The British government, our political opponents and most importantly the electorate, and a majority of nationalists, recognise that we have consistently stood on a legitimate abstentionist ticket.

The use of the Westminster facilities is vital to the vindication of our electoral mandate

We will not be swearing an oath of allegiance to the British Queen and we will not be taking our seats in Westminster.

The British government have used our abstentionist position to deny the rights and entitlements of the Sinn Fein electorate. This is not acceptable.

This development will benefit our electorate and overcome decades of misinformation.

It is a result of repeatedly pushing the British government on this issue. The use of the Westminster facilities is vital to the vindication of our electoral mandate.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Sinn Fein 'to get Commons offices'
13 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Blair to meet NI ministers
14 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Sinn Fein demands Commons facilities
13 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein aim for top job
12 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Rise of Sinn Fein
16 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
'Commons access for Sinn Fein'
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