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London calling... Sinn Fein MPs to up presence at Westminster

Sinn Fein MPs are to start making weekly trips to Westminster, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The party plans to step up its presence in London now its MPs have given up Assembly seats.

But it insisted there was “absolutely no chance” of taking its five seats in the Commons.

Instead, it will lobby ministers and meet MPs and members of the Irish community.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said there would be “a regular and more frequent presence in London”, adding: “We would certainly be looking to have at least one, or probably two MPs there every week.”

The DUP dismissed the plans, reiterating its calls for Sinn Fein to sit in the Commons.

The party’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: “They are not paid Parliamentary allowances to come and drink tea and have meetings with people.”

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Once the party conference season is over, Sinn Fein MPs will usually travel to London on a Tuesday night, spending Wednesday at Westminster.

The party makes use of meeting rooms in Parliament to hold functions, but has not previously made this a regular arrangement.

With Sinn Fein having given up its London accommodation during the expenses scandal, the MPs will stay in hotels, in common with members of other parties.

The party said most of the time previously taken up on Assembly work would be spent in constituencies. The spokesman added: “The other benefit is more time for work in Britain in general including in London. People want to meet us, there are media requests, and more interaction with the Irish community.”

Each of the five MPs will be involved, although the precise logistics have yet to be worked out.

The party will be looking to meet the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and her opposite number from Labour, Vernon Coaker.

The spokesman added: “There is absolutely no prospect of us taking our seats. Absolutely none.”

Sinn Fein has been vocal in its opposition to coalition spending cuts and in particular the welfare reform package.

Recently it has hit out at plans to charge hauliers up to £1,000 to enter the UK, including from the Republic of Ireland.

Four Sinn Fein MPs — Michelle Gildernew, Pat Doherty, Conor Murphy and Paul Maskey — gave up their Stormont seats this year, while there will be a by-election to replace Martin McGuinness, who is remaining in the Assembly.

Rival parties are furious that it has the same entitlement to office and staff allowances despite its abstentionist policy.

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