McGuinness sets out stall as MP

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The Sinn Fein strategist Martin McGuinness pledged yesterday to be an active Member of Parliament and warned Britain not to treat him and Gerry Adams as second-class MPs simply because they were not prepared to swear oaths of allegiance to the Queen.

He demanded that they be given full access to House of Commons facilities, including offices, the library and the postal service, in order that they could fulfil their responsibilities as constituency MPs.

Mr McGuinness said that he and Mr Adams, the Sinn Fein president - elected to represent Mid-Ulster and West Belfast respectively - would be pursuing a policy of "active abstentionism" at Westminster. "It means that short of taking our seats in the British House of Commons we will be fulfilling all the other functions and responsibilities that elected Members of Parliament have. We will provide active representation for the people who elected us."

He added: "The first thing I expect is that I will not be treated by the new British government as a second-class MP. I have the right to expect that the British government will not hold against me my refusal to take an oath of allegiance."

Speaking at a press conference in London, Mr McGuinness said that many voters had asked him if he would actually take his seat in Parliament.

He had explained that he could not. "I am an Irish republican. I would not take an oath of allegiance to the English Queen. I don't wish her any ill-will at all, but I cannot take an oath of allegiance," he said.

Negotiations have begun with Commons officials for a Sinn Fein office to be set up at Westminster, but Mr McGuinness was scornful of the suggestion that it would heighten the security threat to known IRA targets like Baroness Thatcher and Andrew Hunter, the chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland.

"I don't want to kill anybody and I don't want to see anybody killed," said Mr McGuinness. "What we are hearing from the most negative elements of the British establishment, the Andrew Hunters of this world, is their unwillingness to recognise our electoral mandate."

Mr McGuinness said he was in London on constituency business, visiting Roisin McAliskey in Holloway prison, where she is awaiting extradition to Germany on charges relating to the mortar bombing of a British Army base. Ms McAliskey, 25, daughter of prominent republican Bernadette, is due to give birth a week today. Yesterday a stipendiary magistrate agreed that she was too ill to attend a court hearing on the extradition.

Mr McGuinness complained that his constituent was being held in "inhuman and degrading" and was locked up "for very long periods of time".