Call to lift Catholic monarchy ban

Tony Blair could boost the peace process in the North by lifting the ban on Catholics becoming King or Queen, it was claimed today.

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent called on the British Prime Minister to lead the fight against sectarianism by changing the 1701 Act of Settlement.

The Act bans Catholics from ever becoming the monarch and requires the King or Queen to be in communion with the Church of England and uphold the Protestant line of succession.

As Greens on both sides of the border prepared to launch a joint paper next week on the future of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Sargent said: "Not only does the Act of Settlement embed sectarianism but it gives the all clear to those who make sectarian comments.

"What we in the Greens are asking for is the British government to lead by example in the fight against sectarianism.

"In our submission to the review of the Good Friday Agreement, we are urging the British government to send out the right signals to people in Northern Ireland. A good starting point would be amending the Act.

"A simple legislative amendment is a pretty straightforward example of how the British government can lead by example."

In December 1999, MSPs unanimously backed a Scottish National Party motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the Act to be changed.

Other prominent supporters of a change have included the Guardian newspaper, Tory peer Lord Hamilton, SNP leadership candidate Alex Salmond, Labour MP Tony Wright and the late Cardinal Thomas Winning of Scotland.

In December 2000, Cardinal Winning described the Act as "an embarrassing anachronism" which discriminated against Catholics and which no-one could justify.

He argued: "It is quite ludicrous to suggest that if a dashing young princess from Spain or Belgium or Luxembourg were to sweep Prince William off his feet and the young couple wished to marry, that somehow the British state would be brought to its knees."

Mr Sargent revealed today his party was also calling in its document for an end to the practice of making Northern Ireland Assembly members designate themselves as 'unionist,' 'nationalist' or 'other'.

Under current Assembly rules, the votes of non-unionist and non-nationalist MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) do not count in the election of a First and Deputy First Minister.

Stormont's First and Deputy First Ministers can only be elected if their joint bid secures a majority of unionist Assembly members as well as a majority of nationalists.

In November 2001, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and SDLP leader Mark Durkan were elected First and Deputy First Minister at the second attempt.

Cross community Alliance Party and Women's Coalition MLAs were forced to temporarily redesignate as unionist and nationalist to guarantee Mr Trimble and Mr Durkan a majority.

Mr Sargent said: "I think it is a major flaw in the Agreement that some Assembly members are actually disenfranchised when it comes to electing key posts in the Stormont executive because they do not define themselves as nationalist or unionist.

"It is an unfair system which only entrenches divisions. The Greens believe everybody should be able to elect ministers."

With devolution still suspended in the North, the Dublin North TD said the Greens agreed with the SDLP that the Assembly and Civic Forum should be recalled and commissioners put in charge of the running of the Stormont departments until MLAs were able to elect a power sharing government.

"Direct rule is becoming embedded in Northern Ireland in ways that no-one ever envisaged," he warned.

"It is resulting in political stagnation and we all know how dangerous that can be in Northern Ireland."

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