NORTHERN IRELAND – ELECTION POSTPONEMENT – 6 May 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: One can genuinely sympathise with the Secretary of State [Paul Murphy] in seeking to use the prospect of a future Assembly to try to bring Sinn Fein-IRA onto the democratic path permanently; but would not there be an equal or even greater incentive to do that if the elections had been allowed to go ahead, so that Sinn Fein-IRA would have felt that they were the ones who were excluding themselves, while others got on with holding the positions to which they had been democratically elected? Is not really the position that the Secretary of State is taking rather analogous – I do not mean to trivialise it – to that of a referee in the FA Cup Final who, when a player on one side commits a foul, instead of penalising that player, sends both teams off the field?

[Mr Murphy: Except that the match has still be played in the new season. I hope that, as I say, come the autumn, those elections are held and that, at the same time, we have the trust that is necessary to restore the institutions, but the hon. Gentleman is right in this respect: the decision was extremely difficult and the arguments were very finely balanced. It was not an easy decision at all. We think that we have taken the right one because, as I say, what is the point of electing people to an Assembly that remains suspended?]