Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson offered Sinn Fein the chance to write their own oath for Parliament, warned Stormont to sort out the Parades Commission and told of his hope for a quick conclusion to the PMS fiasco.
Owen Paterson was speaking during his first question session by the newly appointed Northern Ireland Affairs committee in Parliament yesterday.
He revealed how he has told the republicans to come up with an alternative wording to the current pledge of allegiance to Queen and country.
But he was urged to set a deadline for them to take up their seats in the House of Commons or give up their right to claim expenses.
Mr Paterson told MPs he was absolutely clear there was no longer any barrier for Sinn Fein turning up to Westminster and was in talks with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness about possible changes.
“There is no reason for them to stay away,” he said. “I have said if the oath is an obstacle, come to me with an alternative text, we already do it for people who are not Christians.
“So far they have not, the ball is in their court.”
He added: “A date sets up all sorts of pressures and dramas. I would like to do this by talking it through.”
But unionist and Conservative MPs pushed for speedy action, telling Mr Paterson the party’s MPs should not be able to claim cash without sitting.
Ian Paisley said: “Sinn Fein are an abstentionist party. They ain’t coming here, that’s the bottom line. They are taking the mickey and they are taking the cash.”
In the wide-ranging session he revealed he hopes for resolution for the Presbyterian Mutual Society savers “within weeks”.
Meetings are taking place this week on PMS proposals and the government is now looking at two options, he told MPs.
A decision is expected by the time the government holds its Comprehensive Spending Review at the end of October.
On the future of the Parades Commission, the Secretary of State warned Stormont to find a local solution quickly or he would start the process of re-appointing the commission. To have that finalised in time for January, the process would have to begin in Westminster within weeks. “I’m quite clear about this, a vacuum is not an option,” he said.
“If they don’t we will have to set in train actions which will reappoint a Parades Commission by January next year.”