New rules possible for Sinn Fein MPs in London

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THE GOVERNMENT is considering legislation that would allow Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to use Westminster facilities without having to swear the oath of allegiance to the Queen, Downing Street confirmed yesterday.

Ministers are drawing up a compromise under which the two Sinn Fein MPs could use the library and even claim an allowance for their offices without having to take their seats in the chamber.

Under present parliamentary rules, Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness have been barred from having offices or drawing any allowances usually available to MPs because they refuse to swear their allegiance to the Queen.

But the Prime Minister's official spokesman said yesterday that "active consideration" was being given to bring in legislation to allow them to use the facilities amid the developments in the Northern Ireland peace process. "I am aware there are discussions about the issue. It is being looked at. It is quite complicated. I think it would require a resolution of the House," he said.

Under the changes considered, the men would receive an allowance for their office which would be a maximum of pounds 50,264, but would not be able to claim a sitting MP's salary of pounds 47,008.

Ministers hope that such compromise would appease hardline unionist MPs and some Tories who are strongly opposed to see any attempts to change the oath of allegiance. The measure would be regarded as a boost for the deal brokered by the former US Senator, George Mitchell, aiming to implement the Good Friday agreement and hand over power to the devolved Northern Ireland government.

Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were elected as MPs for Belfast West and Mid Ulster respectively at the last general election. But Betty Boothroyd, the Commons Speaker, ruled at the time that they were not entitled to offices in the House unless they took the oath of allegiance, an act which would be in direct conflict with Sinn Fein's constitution.

Ruairi O Bradaigh, who led Sinn Fein before Mr Adams but broke away from the mainstream party in 1986 when it adopted a more political role, claimed Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were "moving towards accepting the British colonial presence in Ireland".