Government must settle Unionist greivances…

Alex Kane is highly sceptical of the Secretary of State’s claim that violence doesn’t pay. He’s clearly not a fan (nor is he of Tory Lord Ancram). The bottom line, he argues, is that if Hain’s claim is to stand up, then the British government needs to make sure there are sufficient outworkings from a re-established Agreement that settle in Unionists favour.By Alex Kane

The first thing to do with any speech by a Secretary of State, and particularly one by Peter Hain, is to hold it at arm’s length and smell it. Within a matter of moments you will detect the odious whiff of the porky; that one paragraph which falls between being an outright lie and a blatant misrepresentation of the known facts. And, paradoxically, it is in the porky that you can discern the real truth of the speech.

In Wednesday’s outing the porky could be found nestling between pages six and seven: “I would simply say that the lesson of the last 30 years is unequivocal: violence does not pay. Republicanism made no significant political headway whatsoever until the IRA called a ceasefire; it will make political progress in the future only in proportion to its adherence to peaceful and democratic means. That is why the IRA has set aside the armed struggle…”

Let me break down that paragraph. “Violence does not pay.” We all know that the opposite is the case. Even Mr. Hain knows it. In an interview for another local newspaper, he said; “Protestants…have gained the fact that their future will be decided by peaceful means, not by brute force.” But if they have only just gained that fact, then it must follow that “brute force” had been the deciding factor up until then. It’s a porky, Mr. Hain.

“Republicanism made no significant political headway…” The closure of Stormont in 1972; the disbanding of the B Specials and the UDR; the Anglo-Irish Agreement; the Downing Street Declaration; secret talks with the IRA dating back to July 1972; de facto joint sovereignty between 1985 and 1998 and the erosion, blurring and undermining of the pro-Union dimension. It’s a porky, Mr. Hain.

“Political progress…in proportion to…adherence to peaceful and democratic means.” In other words, if the IRA maintains its ceasefire then republicanism will reap political rewards. Progress, in republican terms, is progress towards a united Ireland. Why should the Secretary of State be promising the IRA political progress? It’s a porky, Mr. Hain.

“The IRA has set aside the armed struggle…” Set aside is a very unusual term to use in the general context of this speech. It seems to be a deliberate acknowledgement by the Secretary of State that the armed struggle may not, in fact, be permanently over. If that is what he thinks, and, by extension, what Tony Blair thinks, then it would explain the other parts of the paragraph. They are continuing to appease the IRA because they continue to believe that the IRA remains a threat. It’s a porky, Mr. Hain.

So, the political thrust of the speech can be summed us as follows: Unionists should be grateful that the IRA has taken a sabbatical from its terrorism and should now concentrate on where to get the money for water rates, rather than fussing about the fact that the government will continue with the process of sweetening and “buying off” Sinn Fein.

It’s exactly the sort of speech one would have expected from the hollow, constitutionally vacuous, Mr. Hain. He has so little sympathy for the pro-Union cause, and so much contempt for unionists, that he really does believe that he can bamboozle us into imagining that his spineless waffle should be interpreted as gains for unionism.

If, as he stated during the speech, the principle of consent is enshrined; the IRA has accepted that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom; and the Republic has dropped its constitutional claim; then why is he pursuing a policy which makes a mockery of those supposed realities and encouraging republicanism to believe that the British government doesn’t give a damn about the Union? It’s all part and parcel of the same porky, Mr. Hain, and Sinn Fein could not have wished for a more accommodating Secretary of State.

But just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for unionists, up popped the former NIO minister Michael Ancram, to lay into Mr. Hain on our behalf. I say lay into, but in reality being criticised by Mr. Ancram is like being savaged by a geriatric gnat. And what, precisely, was his advice to Mr. Hain? “Be even-handed in dealings between unionists and nationalists; taking nothing from one without taking something from the other.” Ah, so that explains Conservative policy between 1979 and 1997; taking from unionists the signs, symbols, touchstones and benchmarks of their constitutional identity and, in return, taking from armed republicans any fear they may have had that the UK government would destroy them.

The paradox for unionists is that while the IRA hasn’t won (there is no united Ireland and no ending of the British presence) the British government seems determined to encourage Sinn Fein’s belief that its’ republican agenda will emerge victorious. Unless and until the government resolves that paradox, and resolves it in favour of the pro-Union majority, then there is no likelihood of a lasting, let alone a stable political settlement. Things look bad at the moment; very bad indeed. And Peter Hain is too arrogant and biased to realise the damage he is doing.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 24th September 2005