NORTHERN IRELAND – DISARMAMENT PICTURES – 9 December 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: As no quantity of photographs could ever prove that any group of people had given up all their weapons, does not the Secretary of State feel somewhat exasperated at the insistence of one side on photographs and the refusal of people on the other side to supply them? Surely, what really matters for the future is the intent and action of people on either side of the dispute – not what weapons they may or may not have got rid of, on or off the record.

[The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Paul Murphy): I am often exasperated by what we have to deal with sometimes in Northern Ireland; I sometimes express that feeling in more Anglo-Saxon terms. However, there are also occasions – yesterday was one of them – when I feel disappointment but also hope, because we have come so far in agreement. Although there is still work to be done on the issue we have been discussing this afternoon, there is nevertheless a feeling of hope, even though we were disappointed.

The hon. Gentleman is right. Ultimately, what is important is whether weapons are used and whether there is paramilitary activity in some form or another. That hugely important point is dealt with at great length in the document. Decommissioning is still important, not only because illegal weapons should not be there and should be handed over, but also, as I am sure he understands, as a hugely important symbolic gesture. When those weapons are handed over, in the way specified in the agreement, it will be a question not of anybody surrendering anything, but of abiding by the Good Friday agreement. That is what the agreement said should happen and that is why General de Chastelain has the commission. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments and I hope that we shall be able to resolve those issues in the weeks ahead.]