Sinn Fein member first to address Parliament

An Irish teenager made parliamentary history yesterday by becoming the first ever Sinn Fein member to cross the threshold and speak in the House of Commons.

Connor Morgan, 18, had been invited to Westminster as the representative for Co Derry in the UK Youth Parliament. The party has five MPs and the largest share of the vote in Northern Ireland, but no one from Sinn Fein has ever stepped foot in the chamber of the House of Commons.

Shortly after noon he stood at the dispatch box – in an unusually packed Commons chamber – and made the case for free higher education. But before he did so he made a second piece of history by addressing the chamber in Irish.

"It is a great honour to stand here before you and to have the opportunity to address you in Irish," he translated afterwards, having just been introduced by the Commons Speaker John Bercow, who was chairing the second ever meeting of the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) in the chamber.

Around 300 members of the Youth Parliament aged between 11 and 18 sat on the Commons' green benches during the meeting. MPs voted earlier this year to allow the UKYP to hold an annual sitting in the Commons for the remainder of the parliament, which is due to end in 2015.

Mr Morgan, from Maghera, who is studying politics at Leeds, spoke to oppose the proposed removal of the cap on university tuition fees.

"Students will be trapped beneath a crushing burden of debt up to £95,000," he said before adding, to cheers from the chamber: "We need to send a clear message to decision-makers that we matter."

Speaking afterwards, Mr Morgan insisted his Sinn Fein membership was "completely irrelevant" as members of the Youth Parliament do not have party loyalties.

"This event is not party political," he said. "I'm here today just for the young people of my area. I want to represent their views."

Sinn Fein's MPs do not take their seats in Westminster because they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.