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Paul Murphy, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Statement to the House of Commons, 22 October 2003

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Text: Paul Murphy ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

The following is the statement made by Paul Murphy, then Secretary of Statement to the House of Commons, 22 October 2003:


"Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a statement about political developments in Northern Ireland.

The House will be aware that yesterday, although a day of great progress, ended in disappointment. We had high hopes that a sequence of actions involving political parties, the IRA, the Independent International Commission for Decommissioning and the Governments would result in a positive new atmosphere of trust at the beginning of the election campaign.

I believe that we were close to achieving that result. My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach devoted much effort to the task both yesterday and in the preceding weeks. But the significant feature of this recent phase of the process was the direct engagement between the leaderships of the Ulster Unionist Party and of Sinn Fein.

These discussions and related developments have in my view brought us a good deal further than the position we reached in April. Let us be clear what has now been achieved.

First, we have concluded that an election should now be held in Northern Ireland. The date, Wednesday the 26th November, was announced yesterday.

Second, we have an important statement from the leader of Sinn Féin which was endorsed by the IRA. When Mr Adams says that there will be full and final closure of the conflict and his remarks are endorsed by the IRA, I regard that as a significant and welcome step forward.

Third, with the Irish Government we have established the Independent Monitoring Commission to ensure that the promise of the full and final closure of the conflict is a reality.

Fourth, the IRA authorised its representative to re-engage with the IICD with a view to putting arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.

Fifth, there was an important act of decommissioning about which General de Chastelain reported to the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. He confirmed that the arms dealt with included light, medium and heavy ordnance and associated munitions and that the quantity involved was considerably larger than that dealt with in the previous event. His colleague, Mr Andrew Sens, made the point that the material involved could have caused death or destruction on a huge scale if it had been used.

It is, of course, a matter of great disappointment that the IICD, constrained by the confidentiality insisted upon by the IRA, was unable to report all this in a manner which was sufficiently detailed to enable the Rt Hon Member for Upper Bann to make a positive statement about his party's willingness to re-enter a devolved administration following an election. He did, however, say that there were very good things in Mr Adams' speech which were encouraging.

The two Governments have made clear in the Joint Declaration that arms need to be put beyond use in a manner that is conducive to creating public confidence. This has not so far been achieved.

As my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minster indicated at Hillsborough yesterday we shall continue to try to find a way through this difficulty. Further discussions between the parties are obviously essential. The IICD will need to be involved and the British and Irish Governments will do all they can to resolve this problem quickly.

In the meantime the necessary legal steps need to be taken so that the election announced yesterday can take place.

Accordingly, I have made an Order to enable fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly to be held on Wednesday 26 November.

I have also made an associated Order, to defer the publication of the new electoral register due on the 1st December, because the necessary work cannot be carried out during preparations for an election. And I am putting forward a further Order permitting the Electoral Commission access to polling stations.

I cannot hide my disappointment at yesterday's turn of events. I hope and believe that agreement can be reached so that the comprehensive acts of completion which the Prime Minister called for last October can be achieved."

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