Gerry Adams denies accepting crown title to resign Westminster seat

Prime minister declares Gerry Adams has accepted an office of profit under the crown, but Sinn Féin leader says he has simply stepped down as a Westminster MP

Gerry Adams has been granted an ancient English aristocratic title thereby securing his resignation as a Westminster MP, the prime minister told the Commons today. The formal declaration by David Cameron that the Sinn Féin leader has become Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead clears the way for a byelection in West Belfast and sidesteps the issue of whether or not a 400-year-old constitutional precedent has been broken.

But Adams insisted the prime minister had misrepresented his departure. The outgoing Sinn Féin MP denied requesting the position, one of the obscure crown offices which MPs who resign have to apply for, according to parliamentary rules. He said he had only sent a letter of resignation to the Commons' Speaker, John Bercow.

In a detailed statement, Adams said: "Mr Cameron has claimed that 'the Honourable Member for West Belfast has accepted an office for profit under the crown'. This is untrue. I simply resigned. I was not consulted nor was I asked to accept such an office. I am an Irish republican. I have had no truck whatsoever with these antiquated and quite bizarre aspects of the British parliamentary system.

"Mr Cameron's announcement that I have become Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, wherever that is, is a bizarre development. I am sure the burghers of that manor are as bemused as me. I have spoken to the prime minister's private secretary today and he has apologised for today's events.

"While I respect the right of British parliamentarians to have their own protocols and systems, no matter how odd these may appear to the rest of the world in general and Irish people in particular, the prime minister should not make claims which are untrue and inaccurate."

Adams announced in November that he would be standing for Sinn Féin in the Louth constituency in the Irish republic's forthcoming general election. He said another Sinn Féin candidate should stand for the West Belfast seat he first won in 1983.

One prominent Sinn Féin figure, Danny Morrison, has already suggested that George Galloway, an "incendiary presence" and the Respect party's former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in east London, would make a worthy successor to Adams.

Confirmation that Adams had been awarded the ancient title – whether or not he wants it – came during prime minister's question time. The Democratic Unionist party MP Nigel Dodds taunted the outgoing Sinn Féin politician.

Addressing Cameron, he said: "You may be aware that one of the members elected to this house has decided to emigrate – and you may want to chalk that up as one of your achievements.

"The said member for West Belfast, Gerry Adams, seems to be embarrassed about applying for an office under the crown, an office for profit – although he has shown no such embarrassment of profiting from his office in this house for many years at taxpayers' expense.

"When will you deliver on your pre-election pledge to hardpressed taxpayers that you will abolish parliamentary money for parliamentary purposes going to those who do not fulfil their parliamentary duties?"

The prime minister replied: "First of all, just in case people haven't caught up with the news, you are quite right that the honourable member for West Belfast has accepted an office for profit under the crown, which of course is the only way you can retire from this house.

"I'm not sure that Gerry Adams will be delighted to be a baron of the manor of Northstead. But nonetheless I'm pleased that tradition has been maintained.

"In my view, what we should be aiming for is for all members who are elected to take their seats in this house. That is what should happen."

Sinn Féin MPs refuse to take an oath of allegiance to the crown and do not take their seats at Westminster.

The Treasury, which oversees the awarding of the crown office, issued a terse statement later, merely recording that: "The chancellor of the exchequer has this day appointed Gerard Adams to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead".


Owen Bowcott

The GuardianTramp

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