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Westminster admits Sinn Fein

Until now MPs like Gerry Adams could only claim Westminster offices if they swore allegiance to the queen  

LONDON, England -- Northern Irish republican politicians have claimed their offices in Westminster for the first time following the lifting of a ban on them using parliamentary facilities.

Sinn Fein's four MPs signed up at the House of Commons on Monday for offices after the party was granted access to them in a government-backed motion passed last month. But they will not take their seats due to a refusal to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

The party's president, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the party's two other MPs, Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew, also have the right to claim expenses of about 100,000 ($143,800) a year.

Opposition Conservatives have criticised the move as the latest in a string of concessions to Sinn Fein, political ally of the banned Irish Republican Army.

In-Depth: Conflict and Hope in Northern Ireland 

They say it creates a two-tier parliament in which some MPs get facilities without taking their seats and representing their constituents.

Responding to the criticism, Tony Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister understood the feelings of some victims of Northern Ireland violence, but also believed the move would help push forward the peace process.

"It is worth continuing to take risks to try and move from conflict to peace," he told reporters.

"The prime minister understands ... that many victims do feel very strongly about what has happened."

But he said Blair's view was "that this process has saved many lives ... and that if it helps move Northern Ireland ... from decades and centuries of conflict to peace then it is worthwhile."

Adams told a news conference on Monday that Sinn Fein MPs would never take up their Westminster seats.

"There will never, ever be Sinn Fein MPs sitting in the British Houses of Parliament," he said.

Adams said his party's view was that the "political centre of gravity" on the island of Ireland was in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, not London or Dublin.

McGuinness rejected suggestions that he and his fellow MPs were getting something for nothing. "We are going to use all of what we gain today in an appropriate fashion and in the interests of our constituents," he said.


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