08/02/2006

Sinn Fein Westminster allowances restored

UPDATE: MPs voted to restore allowances to Sinn Fein's five MPs following a debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

Although the Republican party's MPs do not sit in Westminster they are entitled to allowances amounting to around £500,000 a year from the British parliament.

The debate over the restoration of allowances was reopened following a recommendation made in the latest report from the International Monitoring Commission.

The party's Westminster allowances had been withdrawn following allegations that the IRA had been complicit in the £26m robbery of the Northern Bank.

Earlier, the Democratic Unionists condemned the move to restore the allowances. During Prime Ministers question time, the DUP's North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds queried how the government could justify this given what he said was "illegality, criminality, spying and racketeering, practiced and sanctioned at the highest levels by senior members of Sinn Fein IRA."

Mr Blair replied that the government was acting in a "fair and balanced" way and that he had noted in the IMC report that the PIRA had taken a "strategic decision to end the armed campaign and pursue a political course," and that this had to be included in the equation.

Mr Blair said that the IMC had specifically recommended lifting the financial sanctions imposed on Sinn Fein.

The Conservative's NI spokesperson David Liddington said that he thought the oath of loyalty to the crown should be re-examined if it would lead to Sinn Fein MPs sitting in Westminster.

However, Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said he could not envisage any circumstances in which the party would sanction sitting in the House of Commons, which they did not recognise as having the right to rule over any part of Ireland.

The allowances paid to Sinn Fein were withdrawn following an unfavourable IMC report last year.

(SP)

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