Talks are to be held with Sinn Fein over government plans to wield the axe on their Parliamentary allowances, the Commons deputy leader has revealed.
David Heath said the political landscape had changed since special rules were introduced granting the party some payments and there was “no good reason” why the five MPs should not take their seats.
Government ministers will hold a series of meetings this summer with all Northern Ireland parties to discuss changes although he refused be drawn on the timescale for reforms or how far they would go.
Last week Prime Minister David Cameron said Sinn Fein had been “let off the hook” and it was time to review the resolutions passed over the last decade that allowed the MPs to claim expenses and staff costs without attending Parliament.
Mr Heath told the Commons: “The principle for the future must be that all elected Members should take their seats and play as full a role as possible as Members of this House.
”Whatever arguments were made in 2001 and 2006, they were made in a different political context. Northern Ireland has moved on.”
Mr Heath was speaking in Westminster Hall during a debate secured by the DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, who warned that there would be an “enormous backlash” if Sinn Fein was allowed to continue operating by a different set of rules.
“I appeal to the Government to now deliver on the promises it made before the election,” the North Belfast MP said.
He claimed almost £4m could be saved over the course of the current Parliament if the allowances were cut.
“Now is an opportune moment in a new Parliament, new politics, with rightly public concern on the issue of wastefulness of public expenditure, value for money and all of that — it’s time to turn our attention once again to this issue,” he added.
But although Sinn Fein obviously was not present in the debate, it later hit back and accused Mr Dodds of hypocrisy.
West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty said: “The hypocrisy of Nigel Dodds bringing a motion on Sinn Féin constituency expenses in Westminster is staggering.
“He is the deputy leader of a party that has been embroiled in scandal over its relationship with property developers and whose members routinely employ and rent offices from relatives all from the public purse.
“I think it would be better for Mr Dodds to get his own party’s house in order when it comes to expenses, employing relatives and relationships with property developers before he wastes parliamentary time seeking to deny ordinary citizens their rights to constituency services.”