Political allowances restored to Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin is to receive their allowances for the British parliament and Belfast Assembly after a motion to have them restored was passed tonight in the House of Commons in London.

The funding had been withdrawn last March as a “sanction” over continuing IRA activity. It followed a recommendation in a report by the governments’ IMC monitoring commission.

Last week, the same body controversially claimed that Provisional IRA activity was still continuing following the IRA’s historic initiative to disarm and end its armed struggle last July. The IMC also suggested that some IRA arms may not have been destroyed.

However, the IMC last week also backed the restoration of Sinn Féin funding in recognition of what it said was “a strategic decision” by the IRA leadership to abandon the armed struggle.

British Direct Ruler Peter Hain told MPs tonight the restoration of the allowances, including back payments, was a democratic issue.

He asked them: “Do you want Sinn Féin representing their constituents and developing as a democratic party?

“Do you want Sinn Féin playing the fullest role they can in the Palace of Westminster?

“The question before the House is whether we want to... encourage the Republican Movement further down the path of democracy.

“If we look around the world the transition from conflict to peace was always going to be tortuous.

“International experience demonstrates such transitions always are.

“The House has the opportunity tonight to vote for the normalisation of politics on behalf of all parties in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin included, and a Northern Ireland of democracy, hope, peace and stability by supporting these motions.”

For the first time, Sinn Féin is also to receive ‘short money’, an annual payment to opposition parties in the House of Commons to help them with the costs incurred in performing their parliamentary functions.

The British government, however, faced criticism from opposition MPs, who insisted Sinn Féin MPs should not receive the funds unless they sit in the House of Commons and take an oath to the English queen.

During the debate, Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson said the reinstatement of the allowances to Sinn Féin amounted to the government rewarding “criminality”.

The east Belfast MP also used Parliamentary privilege to name a number of individuals including a prominent businessman who he claimed were involved in financial dealings for the IRA.

During the debate, SDLP leader Mark Durkan argued that the money would give Sinn Féin an unfair advantage at a constituency level against other parties, because Sinn Féin engage in fewer parliamentary activities.

The Foyle MP asked: “Is it not a fact that I will not be able to spend short money in my constituency but Sinn Féin will be able to spend their representation money on activity in my constituency against me?”

Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy dismissed the claims.

Speaking before the debate, the Newry and Armagh MP said: “The sanctions that were introduced in the Assembly at Stormont and at Westminster were undemocratic.

“They should never have been introduced. We are entitled, and our supporters are entitled, to the same rights as every other political party.

“We have put our policies before the people and last year they returned five Sinn Féin MPs - more than any other nationalist party.

“We have made it clear that we will not sit in the House of Commons chamber but we do nevertheless represent our constituents, operating an office at Westminster, and regularly travel between London and the Six Counties to represent their point of view.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News