Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to make a two-day visit to the North next Wednesday and ten thousand free tickets to attend a special celebration of her Diamond Jubilee at Stormont were snapped up in six minutes on Tuesday.

The popularity of the impending visit has already seen an additional 10,000 tickets distributed to invited guests that include youth organisations and the health sector.

But not everyone is happy. According to the Irish Independent there have been complaints from disappointed members of the public, particularly when they learned that hundreds of tickets had already been allocated to politicians.

Responding to the controversy the Northern Ireland Office said in a statement: 'We welcome the interest in the Queen's visit and the Diamond Jubilee celebration in the grounds of the Stormont estate in Belfast.

'Ten thousand tickets were offered free of charge this morning and were taken up in six minutes. Tickets were limited to five per person to allow as many families as possible to attend.

'We recognise a number of people may be disappointed, and we are examining with the Stormont estate authorities and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) whether there is scope for any additional allocation of tickets, but there will be health and safety constraints.'

The Queen is scheduled to visit Belfast and Enniskillen (the town that saw a major loss of life when dissident Republicans set off a massive car bomb there in August 1998) but the Stormont event has attracted the most publicity.

Leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice Party Jim Allister scoffed when he learned that members of the Northern Ireland Assembly were each entitled to at least four tickets. He told the Irish Independent: 'The distribution of tickets for this event should not be an occasion for patronage by politicians.'

Meanwhile members of the nationalist SDLP reportedly advised its elected representatives to apply for their allocation of tickets to pass them on to members of Stormont staff who may wish to attend the celebration.

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