“there is therefore no good reason why its Members should not take their seats at Westminster”

As the BBC reports, the government has stated that “Over the coming months Ministers will be talking to all Northern Ireland parties to address how to take the issue forward in light of the views and clear issues of principle we discussed today.”  The issue being the payment of allowances expenses to MPs who do not take their seats.  As the Deputy Leader of the House, Liberal Democrat MP, David Heath, told MPs yesterday

The Committee on Standards in Public Life recognised when it reported in November that the decisions on allowances for elected Members who did not take their seats were political, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out. The previous Government promoted the arrangements specifically-it would appear-to support the political process in Northern Ireland and to encourage Sinn Fein to play a greater role in mainstream politics.

The right hon. Gentleman brought up the position adopted by parties in previous debates and before the general election. There are Members who have always opposed the decisions on the grounds that all MPs elected to serve at Westminster should carry out their full duties in representing their constituents, and that includes participating in the business of the House. They have always seen this as primarily a House of Commons issue and agreed with Speaker Boothroyd at the time on “associate membership” of the House. He also said that some Members have always taken the view that the matter should be subject to a free vote-that is, it is for individual Members rather than the parties.

Since the decisions were taken, circumstances in Northern Ireland have changed considerably. We have a new devolutionary settlement, which is at the heart of the peace process. Northern Ireland is now firmly set on the political path, with Sinn Fein Members playing a full role in the Assembly. Though dissident republicans continue to try to undermine those who are committed to the political process, there is no question-I hope and pray-of a return to the troubled decades of violence. As a result, it is time for us to look again at the issue. It is clear that there are real and strongly felt issues of principle under discussion.

The Belfast agreement is clear: Northern Ireland is, and will remain, part of the United Kingdom until or unless a majority of the people of Northern Ireland vote otherwise. Sinn Fein has accepted the consent principle set out in the agreement, and there is therefore no good reason why its Members should not take their seats at Westminster. Whatever arguments were made in 2001 and 2006, they were made in a different political context. Northern Ireland has moved on. The principle for the future must be that all elected Members should take their seats and play as full a role as possible as Members of the House. [added emphasis throughout]

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  • hoboroad

    Sinn Fein voters pay tax. If we want the party we vote for to have some of that money back who are you to object?

  • hoboroad

    Not sure if your comment was addressed to me, but if it was I have no objection to SF MPs collecting their ‘expenses’. The trough seems big enough for all the pigs to get their snouts in why should I think ours should be treated differently.

    For me its about an outdated principle. It took long enough for SF to recognise the Dail.

  • hoboroad

    Pippakin

    No that comment was for Granny Trixie. As for visiting the Republic as a Sinn Fein voter I have visited Dublin and Cork and Donegal and Dundalk and Kerry and Wicklow.

  • hoboroad

    It seems we both know our Ireland, although I must admit Ive never been to Donegal. Dont know why, must have driven through, past or round, but never stopped there.

    Ive no objection to where people live or go in Ireland, to me its all Ireland, but I have noticed some commenters object if a commenters postal address happens to be in the south.

    I totally understand the north is obviously more exposed and more damaged, but sure no one needs to live there to know that!

  • hoboroad

    Pippakin

    You are perfectly entitled to your own political views. I don’t care where anyone comes from it’s where your going that counts.

  • hoboroad

    Im entitled to my own political views. Gee thanks for that, I agree that in relation to the north its the destination thats important, thats why I believe the oath is just another step on the journey, and its so much better than killing anyone.

  • Granni Trixie

    I get back again to the fact that never before has the unthinkable been happening – disabled children having the plug pulled on their summer schemes,no respite for carers, people losing their housing benefits. So I dont see why belt tightening should not also apply to expenses and salaries for MPs. Yes, SF voters pay taxes but I am sure if they had a choice they would prefer that their community and youth groups etc kept their funding that that their SF reps had year round expensive digs in London which they rarely used.

  • dodrade

    I found it. The Government of Wales Act 2006 states that if an Assembly member does not take the oath within two months of election the seat is declared vacant.

    Personally I believe all registered parties and candidates to all elections (not just Westminster) should be required to sign a binding agreement to fulfill all duties of their office (including taking any oaths required) should they win, as part of the nomination process. Should that be broken, then the individual and/or party will be disqualified from standing in any elections for 10 years and the seat given to the runner-up.

  • abucs

    Granni,

    to reply to your earlier post. I find nothing wrong with your expressed opinion. I understand from your perspective what you are saying. But equally i find nothing wrong with hoboroad’s expressed opinion either and understand where he is coming from.

    I’m sure from the British perspective they are more interested in the dangerous precedent it sets for parties to not attend Westminster more than they care about expense claims from 5 members who don’t actually walk into the voting chamber.

    They are probably thinking about what would happen if a stronger Scottish Nationalist Party adopted the same policy. Or the Welsh Nationalists, or a BNP member or possibly English Nationalists down the track or even an upset DUP.

    The British Government is probably doing the right thing to get together and talk about all the issues and find consensus with all the correct (and presently differing) points of view.

  • hoboroad

    (by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

    The Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists have held secret negotiations about fielding a joint ticket of candidates in next year’s elections to Stormont.

    Party strategists say they want to maximise unionist representation in the assembly to prevent Sinn Féin becoming the biggest party and Martin McGuinness being elected first minister. There are fears in UUP ranks, however, that a deal with Peter Robinson’s party could lead to the party’s absorption by the DUP.

    The plan is that in a constituency where five unionists could be returned, the DUP would pick three candidates and the UUP two. A joint committee of the two parties would approve each candidate.

    This is similar to the arrangement the UUP had with the Conservatives under their illfated Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force pact in the recent Westminster elections. Forming a similar pact with the DUP for next year would almost certainly end the UUP’s link with the Tories, and could split the party.

    The drive for unionist unity is being driven by changes to the Good Friday agreement made by the DUP and Sinn Féin in 2006.

    Previously, the largest “designation” in the assembly, unionist or nationalist, nominated the first minister, and the second-largest chose the deputy. Now the largest party chooses the first minister.

    In last year’s European election, Sinn Féin emerged as the largest single party, though there were more unionist than nationalist votes overall. Some unionists fear that this could be repeated next year.

    The unity proposals will be a feature of the forthcoming UUP leadership election.

    Yesterday (Sat), a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Executive in Enniskillen decided that the election will be held on September 25. The frontrunners are Tom Elliott and Basil McCrea, MLAs from Fermanagh and Lagan Valley respectively.