Sinn Féin House of Commons allowances worth almost half a million pounds are a democratic right, a senior member of the party insisted today.
As MPs prepared to debate whether the allowances which were withdrawn last March because of IRA activity should be restored, Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy dismissed claims that he and his colleagues should not receive the payments because they do not sit in the chamber at Westminster.
The Newry and Armagh MP said: “The sanctions that were introduced in the Assembly at Stormont and at Westminster were undemocratic.
“They should never have been introduced. We are entitled, and our supporters are entitled, to the same rights as every other political party.
“We have put our policies before the people and last year they returned five Sinn Féin MPs – more than any other nationalist party.
“We have made it clear that we will not sit in the House of Commons chamber but we do nevertheless represent our constituents, operating an office at Westminster, and regularly travel between London and the Six Counties (the North) to represent their point of view.”
MPs last year suspended the allowances in the wake of the £26.5m (€38.6m) Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Belfast father-of-two Robert McCartney - both of which were blamed on IRA members.
But last July the IRA declared an end to its arms campaign and in September carried out a final act of weapons decommissioning.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain restored Sinn Féin’s Assembly allowances, worth around £120,000 (€174,000), in November following a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC).
Last week the IMC reported that the Provisionals were making progress towards implementing their July pledge but said it had received reports that some members of the organisation were still involved in criminal activity, unauthorised violence and intelligence gathering.
The Commission and Canadian General John de Chastelain’s disarmament body also said they had received reports that the IRA retained a range of weapons, including hand guns, despite carrying out its final act of putting arms beyond use in September.
While Gen de Chastelain and his colleagues said they were satisfied following consultations with the Irish police and the IRA that the organisation had destroyed all the weapons under its control, IMC member Lord Alderdice said he was not so certain.
The Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists said the IMC report underlined that Sinn Féin was not a fit partner for them in a devolved government.
The DUP and the Ulster Unionists were also expected today to argue that the report showed why it was too early at this stage to reward Sinn Féin by restoring the House of Commons allowances.
The DUP’s East Derry MP Gregory Campbell also accused Mr Hain today of double standards over the question of House of Commons allowances.
“We will be drawing attention to the fact that the (British) government is proposing to give allowances to MPs who will not even sit in the chamber and do their job,” he said.
“This smacks of double standards when you consider that Peter Hain, on a number of occasions, has pointed to widespread discontent regarding Assembly members’ pay and allowances because the Assembly is not sitting.
“We will also be reiterating that far from ending its involvement in paramilitary and criminal activity, the IRA, as the Independent Monitoring Commission’s report showed last week, is still engaged in criminality and violence.”