27 January 2006

DUP to resist move on SF allowances


**Via Newshound

Unionists today pledged to resist British government plans to restore parliamentary allowances for Sinn Fein MPs.

By:Press Association
26 January 2006

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has confirmed Westminster will debate ending the ban introduced almost a year ago because of IRA crime levels.

But Jeffrey Donaldson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, claimed a new ceasefire watchdog report, due to be given to the British and Irish Governments on Monday, would show it was too soon to reinstate payments.

The Lagan Valley MP said: "This announcement by the Government is highly premature.

"It`s unlikely that the Independent Monitoring Commission will give the IRA a clean bill of health.

"We have evidence from police that the IRA is still engaged in criminal activity, so it`s wrong that Sinn Fein should be in receipt of taxpayers` funding from Westminster.

"We will be opposing this in the House of Commons."

Sinn Fein`s MPs were stripped of their allowances last March for a 12 month period.

The sanction followed IMC recommendations for financial penalties to be imposed amid claims that the IRA carried out the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in December 2004.

Although Sinn Fein`s five MPs have never taken their seats in the Common, because they refuse to swear an oath of loyalty to the Queen, the party has offices at Westminster and claim allowances for constituency work.

The year-long ban could have involved more than £600,000 in allowances being withheld.

The motions tabled for debate on February 8 involve backdating payments to November 1, 2005.

MPs will vote on the restoration of Sinn Fein`s entitlement to allowances and to receive financial assistance for the party`s representative business.

Its £120,000 grant from the suspended Stormont Assembly has already been reinstated.

According to Mr Hain the move at Westminster was based on the Provisionals` pledge to abandon their armed campaign.

He said: "The Government is of the view that the major advances by the IRA since its statement of July 28, 2005, including decommissioning, and Sinn Fein`s commitment to the political process mean that the time is right to reinstate the allowances to encourage further political engagement at Westminster."

The proposals also sparked angry protests from the DUP in the House of Commons.

Belfast East MP Peter Robinson challenged ministers to "reflect on the wisdom" of the motions.

He demanded: "I expect that the Government will know the outrage in Northern Ireland that at a time when they still continue to use the proceeds of the largest bank heist ever to take place in the British Isles and while the police are indicating a high level of criminality within the Republican movement, that the Government is intending to reward them?"

Commons Leader Geoff Hoon replied: "What is vitally important is that we encourage organisations that have in the past been engaged in terrorist activity to be able to participate effectively and peacefully in the work of this country.

"In those circumstances the opportunity to debate these questions and have a vote upon it will come on February 8.

"It is a matter for this House to decide and it is a matter that I am sure will be fully and thoroughly debated on that occasion."

Belfast North MP Nigel Dodds persisted: "How on earth can it be justified that the Government brings forward a motion to restore allowances, indeed, increase them for their representative work when they do not attend the House?"

He challenged Mr Hoon to withdraw the motion if the IMC report showed that the IRA was still involved in criminality.

Mr Hoon told him: "I accept your argument entirely, if organisations are not committed to a peaceful process, if they are not committed to democratic work, then clearly they should not be entitled to those allowances."

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