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13 February 2003 Edition

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Sinn Féin welcomes northern representation but criticises delays

Sinn Féin on Tuesday welcomed as a positive step the response of the Taoiseach to a question concerning the rights of people living in the Six Counties to representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Bertie Ahern said that many of the recommendations in the seventh progress report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee relating to eligibility for membership of the Dáil and the composition and functions of the Seanad mostly required changes in standing orders and procedures rather than constitutional change. The Taoiseach was responding to a question put by the Sinn Féin Dáil group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Speaking afterwards, Ó Caoláin said: "While I would have wished to have seen progress on the issue of northern representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas advanced much further at this stage, it is nonetheless a welcome and positive step in the right direction. The Taoiseach indicated that many of the recommendations only required changes to standing orders and procedures. These can all be achieved relatively easily in the Houses themselves if - and this is the important point - the political will exists amongst all the parties.

Ó Caoláin said he would be seeking a meeting with the Chief Whip at the earliest opportunity "to see how best we can speedily build on this progress.

"The rights of citizens living in the Six Counties to representation in the Houses of the Oireachtas were a crucial part of the peace process," he emphasised. "There is now a duty and obligation on all the parties in Leinster House to advance the progress announced here today so that the rights of all people living on the island of Ireland are vindicated."

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