By Dan McGinn
SINN FÉIN is to receive around £500,000 (€728,198) in House of Commons allowances after MPs passed a government motion to have them restored.
After a passionate debate at Westminster, MPs gave their approval to the British government’s move as ministers urged them to support Sinn Féin’s efforts to bring republicanism down a path of total peace and democracy.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain told MPs the restoration of the allowances, which were suspended in March last year over allegations that the IRA was behind the €38 million Northern Bank robbery, was a democratic issue at heart.
"Do you want Sinn Féin representing their constituents and developing as a democratic party?" he asked.
"Do you want Sinn Fein 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."
The government, however, faced criticism from opposition MPs for proposing Sinn Féin’s five MPs should receive money even though they did not sit in the chamber of the House of Commons.
During the debate, Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson used parliamentary privilege to name a number of individuals, including a prominent businessman, who he said were involved in financial dealings for the IRA.
The east Belfast MP argued the awarding of allowances to Sinn Féin amounted to the government rewarding continued criminality by republicans.
"The sums of money involved with these allowances would be considerable for other political parties in Northern Ireland but they pale into insignificance within the multi-million pound coffers of the republican movement," Mr Robinson said.
Opposition MPs referred to last week’s publication of the eighth Independent Monitoring Commission report which stated that while the Provisional IRA was making moves towards ending its armed campaign, some members remained involved in criminality, intelligence gathering and unauthorised violence.