03/02/2003

Labour Party solicitors slammed over 'British' comments

Unionist Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson has described as "nonsense" the view that the Labour Party cannot set up in Northern Ireland as its citizens are not British subjects.

Mr Donaldson was reacting to documents – leaked to the Daily Telegraph last week – which had been drawn up by solicitors engaged by the Labour Party.

According to Labour Party rules, eligibility for membership is dependent upon the applicant being a British or Irish subject, "or other persons resident in Great Britain for more than one year".

The solicitors' documents stated that citizens in the province are ineligible for membership as they fall outside the criteria – and are therefore not viewed as British subjects.

That policy is being challenged by Belfast GMB union member Andy McGivern as discriminatory and the case is expected to be heard by the Commission for Racial Equality in London.

However, Mr Donaldson rejected the statement as "factually incorrect" saying that the Northern Ireland Act 1999 provided that the province was an "integral part" of the UK. As such, he said, Northern Ireland citizens are British subjects.

He said: "It's a nonsense… When I go abroad I use a British passport which clearly states that I am a British subject. So I'm afraid the lawyers that have been employed by the Labour Party are incompetent when it comes to dealing with such an important constitutional matter.

"That question is whether this document was authorised by the Labour Party – the British government."

He then called on the Labour Party to come clean on why they have denied people in Northern Ireland the right to join.

"The sooner the British government instruct their lawyers to withdraw this document and correct this fallacy the better. It's an entirely spurious basis," he said.

A Labour Party spokesman is reported as saying: "This submission was not seen nor endorsed by the Labour leadership before being submitted. This is correspondence between lawyers dwelling on a technical definition as part of a legal submission and was only seen by party officials.

"The Labour Party leadership fully recognises the strong sense of Britishness felt by the majority of people in Northern Ireland who are, of course, subjects of the United Kingdom."

(GMcG)

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