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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Committee meetings 'adversarial'
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
political editor, BBC Northern Ireland

The committee has been meeting at Stormont

Stormont's Preparation for Government Committee has decided to circulate transcripts of its meetings to all assembly members in the future - but it's unclear if they will then be published on the assembly's website.

The decision comes after the BBC obtained a transcript of the committee session held on Wednesday 21 June which revealed lengthy adversarial exchanges between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

The committee has been meeting since 5 June, and on 19 June it agreed that a verbatim account of its proceedings should be made on a private basis by the Stormont Hansard clerks.

The transcripts were not obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act because the "Hain Assembly" is not a public body covered by the law.


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During the hearing on 21st June Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy and John O'Dowd made a short submission before being cross-questioned by the other parties.

Mr Murphy identifies issues the committee could address such as the transfer of policing and justice, the departmental model such powers will fit into, the party's demand for a 10bn peace dividend and the setting of priorities for government.

Mr Murphy is then questioned by representatives from the other parties on the committee, with the SDLP leading, followed by Alliance, the Ulster Unionists and the DUP.

Thomas "Slab" Murphy

The unionists focus on areas such as IRA decommissioning, allegations of criminality and republican support for the police.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Junior asks Conor Murphy if the alleged IRA leader Thomas "Slab" Murphy is a member of Sinn Fein or has ever made a financial contribution to Sinn Fein's election programme.

Conor Murphy said he was not aware that he was a member and on the funding question notes that "people can buy tickets and make all kinds of contributions at all levels across the community. I do not have access to that type of information".

Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein
Conor Murphy said how Sinn Fein raises its money was above board

Mr Murphy says that how Sinn Fein raises its money is "above board" and "open to scrutiny".

The combative direct exchanges between Ian Paisley Junior and Conor Murphy last for about an hour.

The Ulster Unionist Alan McFarland questions Conor Murphy about the Independent Monitoring Commission's assertion that some IRA weapons may not have been decommissioned.

Mr Murphy calls the IMC's allegations "vague and unsubstantiated", whilst his colleague John O'Dowd tells the UUP they should be more concerned about the loyalist weapons responsible for the murder of 26 Protestants since the collapse of the devolved institutions.

Mr O'Dowd describes the unionist concern about IRA weapons as "a smokescreen".

Questioned again by Mr McFarland, Mr Murphy replies: "Is Mr McFarland's suggestion that there might have been a rifle hidden in a ditch 40 years ago that somebody forgot about, or that the person who knew about it had died?

IRA weapons

"Is that the case? Could that be the case? It could well be the case. I do not know because I do not know what weapons were decommissioned or what weapons existed."

Questioned by Ian Paisley Junior about whether anyone from Sinn Fein was present at the decommissioning event witnessed by General De Chastelain and two clergymen, Mr Murphy said he was not aware of who was present apart from the three individuals.

Mr Murphy said that if Ian Paisley Junior's father, the DUP leader, had been present and photographs had been taken; "he would have had to ask the representative from the IRA; "is that it?"

The representative from the IRA would have had to say: "yes", and Ian Paisley would have had to accept or not accept that."

Whilst most of the transcript reveals serious and often acrimonious exchanges, there are one or two lighter moments.

I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order
Conor Murphy
Sinn Fein

The Ulster Unionist David McNarry notes that the DUP had been grilled for four and a half hours by the committee on a previous day so he hopes "we would do a similar job on the republicans".

Mr Murphy, a former IRA prisoner, assures Mr McNarry that "we have been grilled for more than four and a half hours, I can tell you".

Mr McNarry replies: "I am sure that you have, but on those occasions you did not have as much light as you have in this room."

At another point Conor Murphy asks that it be put in the record that he has answered all the questions put to him.

Mr McNarry says: "Yes but you have not answered them satisfactorily."

The Newry and Armagh MP replies that it depends what "satisfactory" means.

Quoting the comedian Eric Morecambe he goes on "I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order."






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