08 February 2006

MPs oath 'should be re-examined'


Sinn Fein has five seats at Westminster

The oath of loyalty to the Queen should be re-examined if it meant Sinn Fein would take their Commons seats, the Conservative NI spokesman has said.

David Lidington made the comments before a debate on proposals to restore Sinn Fein's Westminster allowances.

Mr Lidington said a general commitment to uphold the law and democratic politics could be considered as an alternative to the compulsory oath.

The Commons allowances are worth about £500,000 to Sinn Fein's five MPs.

"If Sinn Fein said it was the wording of the oath that was the sole obstacle, then I think that it's something any government would have to be willing to re-examine," Mr Lidington said.

"But at the moment Sinn Fein are taking a very firm line and saying it's not the wording of the oath, it goes far beyond that."

Following a General Election, all MPs and peers must take an oath of allegiance to the monarch before they can take part in the work of Parliament.

The debate on Sinn Fein's allowances is expected to take most of Wednesday afternoon in the Commons.


"I swear by Almighty God [or, I do solemnly and sincerely affirm] that I shall be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law [So help me God]."

They were withdrawn last year after allegations of IRA involvement in the Northern Bank robbery.

The government wants to restore the allowances in recognition of the IRA's disarmament initiative last year.

It is also proposing to pay Sinn Fein £80,000 a year assistance for the party's representative business.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said the party was entitled to the money.

"The allowances that are afforded to people isn't dependent on anyone sitting at Westminster," the Newry and Armagh MP said.

"I think this whole situation highlights how farcical the situation in relation to the Independent Monitoring Commission has become.

"The IMC, on the basis of what they alleged were IRA activities, recommended to the British government that financial sanctions be imposed against Sinn Fein and the British government moved on that.

"Then we have a situation that the IMC reports that the IRA are engaged in a range of activities and recommends that the sanctions be lifted."

The Independent Monitoring Commission was set up by the British and Irish governments in January 2004 to monitor the activity of paramilitary organisations.

It also monitors the "normalisation" of security measures in Northern Ireland.

Its four commissioners come from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Britain and the US.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said that both payments would be backdated to November last year, if approved by MPs.

"Some MPs have objected to the additional financial assistance, arguing that a new kind of allowance is being specifically created for Sinn Fein," he said.

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