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BBC's Guto Harri
"This is the latest move by the government designed to consolidate the peace process"
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Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson
"We weren't aware that this was going to happen"
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The BBC's Laura Trevellyn
"It will make a lot of Unionists very uncomfortable"
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DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley: "Government is playing footsie with republican agenda"
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Wednesday, 22 December, 1999, 11:51 GMT
Sinn Fein should take oath - Paisley

Sinn Fein Sinn Fein leaders could be members of three assemblies

House of Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd has said any proposed oath change to allow Sinn Fein MPs to avail of Westminster facilities would need to be debated in parliament.

The Search for Peace
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Link to Good Friday Agreement
In a letter to Democratic Unionist Party leader Dr Ian Paisley, Ms Boothroyd said the Government should bring a motion to that effect before the House of Commons if ministers wished to give parliamentary privileges to SF MPs, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

The letter was in response to a written protest from Dr Paisley over the mooted changes in parliamentary standing orders which bar both MPs from using Westminster facilities because they refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen.

During an interview on BBC Radio Ulster, Dr Paisley said he believed Ms Boothroyd had been undercut by the government.

"She took her stand and was advised by the Clerks of the House whose advice was absolutely correct as it was vindicated by the highest court Britain can go to, the European Court.

"Now she's going to see all that set aside because the government is playing footsie with the republican agenda."

DUP leader Ian Paisley: Opposed to Commons' changes
Dr Paisley also claimed the move had been agreed as a further concession to Sinn Fein during the recent review into the workings of the Good Friday Agreement which was chaired by former US senator, George Mitchell.

Ms Boothroyd's letter to Dr Paisley follows an assertion by Prime Minister Tony Blair that he had "no plans to introduce alternative versions of the oath of allegiance" for Sinn Fein MPs.

Mr Blair issued a Commons written reply after Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd disclosed she had spoken to ministers on the subject.

The speaker said it was up to ministers to decide whether to ask Parliament to allow the Sinn Fein president and Northern Ireland education minister access to the Palace of Westminster without swearing the traditional oath.

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
Link to Good Friday Agreement
Miss Boothroyd said "one or two government ministers" had spoken to her recently on the subject, but did not name names.

Responding to newspaper reports quoting government sources as saying such a move may be imminent, Miss Boothroyd said: "The House would not expect me to divulge any conversations.

"Others may divulge conversations of that nature - I do not."

After the 1997 general election, Mrs Boothroyd ruled that what she called "associate status" for MPs did not exist and threw out Sinn Fein's demand to be allowed to take up its seats without swearing allegiance.

Mr McGuinness then lost a claim in the European Court of Human Rights that her judgement was discriminatory.

Responding to a point of order from Tory Crispin Blunt on Tuesday, Miss Boothroyd said: "Should ministers now wish the two Sinn Fein MPs to have access to some of our facilities, it would be for the government to bring a motion to that effect for debate and decision by this House.

"I am the servant of this House and if the House approves such a motion I would, of course, ensure that it was put into effect."

Major attacks oath plan

Earlier, former Prime Minister John Major attacked proposals to allow Sinn Fein representatives into Parliament without swearing allegiance to the Queen.

The former Conservative leader branded any proposal to allow Sinn Fein into Parliament as "entirely inappropriate" and pledged to oppose it.

He said: "I have supported the government strongly throughout many difficult decisions on the Northern Ireland process, but I cannot and will not support them if they bring forward such a change to the oath of allegiance.

Michael McGimpsey: Beyond the terms of the agreement Michael McGimpsey: Beyond the terms of the agreement
"It seems to be entirely improper that this matter is being floated in public without proper consultation with the principal opposition parties.

"I understand no such consultation has taken place, nor do I understand what this proposal may mean."

Unionist politicians have also expressed opposition to the government's plan to change the law to allow politicians to become members of both the UK and Irish parliaments.

A bill to change the law is to be published later on Tuesday and introduced in the new year.

This would enable Sinn Fein members such as Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness to pursue political ambitions in Dublin without giving up their seats in London and Belfast.

Ulster Unionist Michael McGimspey, Culture and Arts Minister in the new Northern Ireland Executive, said the proposal "flies in the face of the constitutional settlement and the consent principle understood by all to have been resolved in the Belfast Agreement".

"It goes beyond the terms of the agreement and was not even raised in the Mitchell Review," he said.

The Sinn Fein president welcomed the change as a "significant move".

But Mr Adams insisted the move was not linked to arms decommissioning.

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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Adams: MP rule change welcome
20 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Trimble lobbies president on guns
18 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
NI jigsaw missing d-shaped piece
18 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Mallon: All depends on IRA
03 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland makes history

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