Hain: Sinn Fein’s ventriloquist’s dummy

Alex Kane believes that the Secretary of State has simply become a message boy delivering the deal required by Sinn Fein. He argues that instead of waiting until everyone turned against it, he should have face Sinn Fein down with it, and not “tried to “buy off” unionists by including members of the security forces within the measure”. By Alex Kane

What a wretched, wriggling, disingenuous ninny our Secretary of State is. If there are still unionists out there who labour under the delusion that Direct Rule is preferable to an Assembly, could I suggest that they monitor the serially offensive antics of this perma-tanned panjandrum? His handling of the OTR issue has been so sweepingly and thoroughly incompetent, as well as politically biased, that, to my mind at least, it renders his position untenable.

Speaking to Seamus McKee on Thursday’s Good Morning Ulster, he explained the origins and subsequent demise of the OTR Bill. “When Sinn Fein asked for this legislation…” he delivered it for them. Later, “when it became clear that Sinn Fein instructed OTRs not to use it…” he happily dumped the Bill for them as well. In other words, the passage of the legislation was always going to be dependent upon Sinn Fein’s approval; and it obviously didn’t matter what unionists and Conservatives thought about it (as Mr. Hain made clear in the Commons before Christmas).

Now then, given that background and those circumstances, could anyone actually tell me the difference between being Secretary of State and being a ventriloquist’s dummy? I have always opposed the Bill. Anyone, be it a terrorist, a member of the security forces, or an undercover intelligence agent, who takes life, or endangers life, should be held to account. And held to account openly and publicly. The families of victims have rights in these matters. Every single one of us who has endured thirty years of instability here has rights in these matters.

While I have always had difficulty with the early release of prisoners under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, I consoled myself with the fact that, at the very least, they had been convicted and sentenced for their criminality and terrorism. I always had sympathy with David Trimble’s view that just because someone had a past didn’t mean they couldn’t have a future.

My problem with the OTR legislation, though, and also with Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, is that there is a very real sense that the offenders have simply “got away with it.” There is no moral or social price for them to pay, and there is no form of closure or retribution for victims, their families or society in general. I cannot avoid the conclusion, therefore, that such a “solution” is anything other than fundamentally repugnant.

It is good that the OTR Bill has been scuppered. I only wish that Mr. Hain had had the moral and political courage to face down Sinn Fein in the first place and refused to even consider the legislation. I wish that he hadn’t then The Secretary of State has emerged from this episode with his credibility in tatters and his fitness for office irreparably tarnished. He is, in every sense of the term, “damaged goods”.

All of which may explain his sudden desire to win brownie points with the public by threatening to stop MLA’s salaries and allowances. It is, I suspect, no coincidence, that this story was allowed to gather speed in the three days leading up to the dropping of the OTR Bill. And nor is it any surprise that opinion polls in the local newspapers and radio programmes indicate support for such a measure. But you can bet your bottom dollar that he will do nothing about it.

And the reason he will do nothing about it is that such a move would expose both himself and his Number 10 master as the spineless, morally vacuous creatures they truly are. The Assembly remains suspended, and democrats remain out of office, precisely because the NIO and Downing Street have refused to tackle Sinn Fein head on, and allow the moral and democratic majority in Northern Ireland to enjoy accountable government.

Peter Hain has been a disaster for Northern Ireland. If the Prime Minister retains any hope of his legacy including a lasting settlement here, then, while he still has time (and certainly before he comes over in a few weeks to make a keynote speech), he should reshuffle his entire NIO goon squad.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 14th January 2006

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty