Westminster admits Sinn Fein
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.
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.
More violence in Northern Ireland
January 10, 2002
Belfast tense after sectarian violence
January 10, 2002
CNN Access: Adams; Hope and history in N.Ireland
October 24, 2001
Northern Ireland unites against terror
January 18, 2002
Q&A: Belfast school violence
Janaury 10, 2002
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
WORLD TOP STORIES:
Blix: 'Iraq could do more'
N. Korea warns of nuclear conflict
Serb hardliner refuses to plead
NASA: Flight-deck video found
Caracas tense after bombs
|Back to the top|