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Northern Ireland MPs clash over succession law

Unionist and nationalist MPs have clashed as it emerged proposals to change laws preventing members of the Royal family marrying Roman Catholics are not being supported by the Government.

The SDLP hit out after DUP Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson argued a potential monarch who is a Roman Catholic would be required to give first allegiance to the Vatican.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell accused the Lagan Valley MP of peddling “poisonous 16th-century propaganda” and demanded an apology.

But Mr Donaldson said if his South Belfast counterpart had no interest in the 1701 Act of Settlement, which lays down the rules of succession, under which heirs to the Throne lose out if they marry Catholics, he should refrain from press statements on it. Their spat came after a Private Members' Bill aimed at ending the discrimination had its second reading in the House of Commons. While Prime Minister Gordon Brown has opened discussions with Buckingham Palace over the issue, it emerged the Government is not backing the Bill.

Mr McDonnell said: “As Irish |republicans we have no interest in the succession to the British throne or any other throne. However, as partners in a power-sharing government we are deeply concerned that a junior minister charged with direct responsibility for community relations is peddling poisonous 16th-century lies and propaganda.

“Jeffrey should learn some proper history and drop the tribal mythology. Catholics owe no political or constitutional allegiance to the Pope or to the Vatican State and they never have. It is astounding and quite alarming that a junior minister should so deeply misunderstand and misrepresent more than half a million of his close neighbours.

“He has done great damage to his ministerial position.”

Mr Donaldson retorted: “When the Roman Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton said that |allowing members of the Royal Family to marry Roman Catholics was ‘not of major concern’ he was correct.

“There is no-one jumping up and down in the streets demanding this change, so why make such a song and dance about it?

“If the Government really wanted to address issues of concern to Roman Catholic people perhaps they should look at issues like abortion, civil partnerships, |animal-human hybrid embryos and other measures which they have pursued that conflict with established Catholic teaching.”

The 1701 Act says heirs to the throne lose their right to be the sovereign if they marry a Catholic or convert.

Belfast Telegraph