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Sinn Fein: White House Invitation

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2005

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3 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the United States State Department, or any other branch of the United States Administration, regarding invitations for Mr Martin McGuinness, Mr Gerry Adams or other members of Sinn Fein to the annual White House St Patrick's Day celebrations on 17 March.

My Lords, we have a regular dialogue with the United States Administration on a range of issues relating to Northern Ireland. During those exchanges, we have made it clear that the decision on who should attend the White House on 17 March is a matter for the US Administration alone.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, although I am somewhat less than happy with it. Given that both the Irish and the British Governments accept that Sinn Fein/IRA are indivisible and are an organised crime machine, is it not right for Her Majesty's Government to make representation at the highest level regarding possible White House invitations on St Patrick's Day to that organisation? Furthermore, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking to address the IRA/ Sinn Fein funding streams from the United States?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right. The Government have said on a number of occasions, as indeed have I, that the IRA and Sinn Fein are inextricably linked. But possible White House invitations are a matter for the US Administration, although, as I said in my opening Answer, we have a regular dialogue with the United States Administration on Northern Ireland at a range of levels.

The noble Lord will be aware that concern has been expressed about the funding of political parties in Northern Ireland. We continue to consult on that. One aspect of that consultation and of the review process is talking to our colleagues in the Irish Government and others about outside funding of political parties in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Minister has not mentioned the origin of this controversy, does she not feel that Britain is in a very strong position in this matter, given that St Patrick was born an Englishman and not an Irishman?

My Lords, I think it would be much better—in the vernacular, as it were—for me not to go there.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that St Patrick is historically credited with having driven most of the snakes from Ireland? Is it not possible that the attendance of these gentlemen at this sacred function will enable him to continue his work?

My Lords, I think that that question also is probably best left unanswered. However, I repeat the point that I made earlier. It is our view that it is a matter for the United States Administration. I understand that they will make an announcement on it shortly. The noble Lord may wish to look at some of the reports in the Irish newspapers today which speculate about who may or may not be invited to the United States.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although the decision rests with the White House, it would be giving the right sort signal if it indicated that Sinn Fein would not be welcome on St Patrick's Day? I was reassured to hear her say that talks are ongoing about the outside funding of political parties in Northern Ireland. However, we need to put our foot on the gas as far as that matter is concerned, rather than allow it simply to drift along the normal diplomatic channels.

My Lords, I recognise the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, about funding. The noble Lord has made his concerns known both informally and formally in the Chamber. On his first point, I am sure that, before issuing invitations, the American Administration will consider all the current circumstances.

My Lords, my understanding is that no political parties will be invited this year to the St Patrick's Day event in Washington. That is not at all a bad thing, because it leaves an opening for the real people from the community in Northern Ireland, who are making the real difference, to go to these events.

My Lords, that is certainly the speculation in the newspapers that I have read. I understand that the US Administration want to focus on civic duty and civic renewal.