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

  • Alex,
    once again I’m afraid you articulate views that would be perfectly fine in a “normal society”, but you are trying to fit norn iron into your rigid morality. Square pegs in round holes.
    It’s a failed idea, no matter how much you try to force it.
    Apart from Nuremberg and Milosevic which other examples can you offer of post-conflict prosecutions.
    The unionist obsession with crime and punishment, to the detriment of meaningful dialogue is your undoing.
    It was a political conflict.
    The continuing attempt to criminalise it, just don’t wash anymore with mindsets other than your own. Am willing to debate this with you.
    Will the penny ever drop?

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Yes indeed SL — a ‘political conflict’ — and of course the victims of La Mon, Kingsmills, Bloody Friday, Teebane, Enniskillen, Omagh and countless other less ‘spectacular’ atrocities would have to agree. Is shooting worshippers in a Darkley church political? Is it politically teneable to murder members of a showband or shoot a taxi-driver for the crime of being a roman catholic?
    What we have to face is the fact that the overwhelming majority of those killed in ‘the troubles’ were innocent civilians — no political justification is possible.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Gerry Lvs Castro

    “Yes indeed SL—a ‘political conflict’—and of course the victims of La Mon, Kingsmills, Bloody Friday, Teebane, Enniskillen, Omagh and countless other less ‘spectacular’ atrocities would have to agree. Is shooting worshippers in a Darkley church political? Is it politically teneable to murder members of a showband or shoot a taxi-driver for the crime of being a roman catholic?
    What we have to face is the fact that the overwhelming majority of those killed in ‘the troubles’ were innocent civilians—no political justification is possible.”

    This isn’t about “justification”, it’s simply about getting real. There was a conflict here. Listing some the most repugnant crimes of that conflict doesn’t change the fact that it WAS a conflict. It was a sickening, hellish, stomach-turning fit of insanity that lasted nearly thirty years. Justification has nothing to do with it. It happened. Lots of people bloodied themselves. Everyone here has at least some sympathy for someone who murdered someone else. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

    Question is, how do we deal with it?

    First thing, I think, is that we reconcile ourselves in our own hearts to the fact that it happened, none of it can be undone. None of it was just and there will be no justice, no victory, no vindication, no closure, no schadenfreude. ‘Should’ has nothing to do with it. We lost our right to act like a normal society a long time ago.

    Second is to whisper to ourselves “never again”. The peace process, flawed as it is, is making that possible. La Mon, Kingsmills, Bloody Friday, Teebane, Enniskillen, Omagh, Claudy, Bloody Sunday, Dublin, Monaghan etc etc etc. All these things happened at a time of political hopelessness. There was no justification for any of them. They were vile and monstrously cruel and insane actions, but they were not inexplicable. Thankfully today, we have some, slender hopes for our political future, and consequently we have not seen a massacre in eight years.

    It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that the massacres in our history were simple criminal acts unlinked to our wider political situation, and it’s not justifying anything to point that out.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    I hear what you’re saying up to a point Billy, but the atrocities I listed were, I think most people would agree, impossible to justify from a political point of view. Granted they were not ‘crimes’ as in the sense of a burglary or a deliberate murder of a chosen person, but they were criminal acts insomuch as the victims were innocent people not involved with either security forces or paramilitaries.
    My next door neighbour never returned from the La Mon Hotel that night — she had gone to a dinner for members of the collie club — hardly a political activity. That particular blow for Irish freedom was reportedly sanctioned by a man who nowadays is a leading politician with an impressive mandate. Had I sanctioned or been involved with such an atrocity I would have withdrawn entirely from civilised society, never to look anyone in the face again. How anyone can claim that this was not a criminal act is beyond my understanding.
    A friend of my mother’s was badly injured on Bloody Friday for the crime of going shopping. My cousin was one of the first on the scene of the Monaghan bombing, and has been traumatised ever since.
    There may be an arguable case for members of the security forces and paramilitaries being ‘legitimate targets’, but none whatsoever for the people mentioned above. These atrocities were criminal acts and those responsible should in no way hide behind flags or political excuses to escape retribution.
    The early release scheme may indeed have contributed to the relative peace we have at the moment — equally the fact that the paramilitaries on both sides were going nowhere with their armed campaigns, wholesale infiltration by British agents, the electoral prospects of Sinn Fein in a non-violent environment , and, as a clincher, 9/11, were all valid reasons for wrapping up this stage of ‘the conflict.’
    The prisoners are out — some on both sides have continued with criminal activities of a different nature — but the victims and their families still suffer, and they don’t feel any better for being told that their injuries and the deaths of their loved ones weren’t actually a ‘crime.’

  • “Everyone here has at least some sympathy for someone who murdered someone else.”

    I think that this needs a bit of an explaination.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Bertie

    Republicans, loyalists, RUC, B Specials, UDR, British army. All murdered people. I doubt there is a single person on this island who never mitigated, condoned or outright supported murders committed by some of these agents.

    For republicans it might be the craic about how their atrocities were not criminal acts. For loyalists it might be the lie that their actions were retaliatory. For your average nine-tenths solid unionist citizen, it’s in responding to murders like Bloody Sunday or shoot to kill or all the innocents murdered and posthumously defamed in places like south Armagh or west Belfast or east Tyrone, by supporting the actions of the state. It’s in sentiments like “well, they must have been doing something”. That’s the direct moral equivalent of the “not criminal” arguments of republicans. It’s standing with the killers against the dead. We’re all guilty of it to one extent or another and it would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

    Do you think that’s fair comment Bertie?

  • Billy

    no I don’t.

    I do not see the difference in murders committed for politics and murder committed for finaincial gain or any other reason, which correct me if I am wrong is what you are trying to say, not just in the nature of the act but in our responses to them.

    Taking all the murders without political motive and I am capable of finding mitigating factors in some, wonder what the victim may have done to provoke an attack (wonder not presume). I do not accept that having similar responses in relation to murders in NI means that I have given up the right to have “normal” standards apply. The fact that a murderer was say abused as a child would give rise to sympathy from me, but not for the murder. If you are saying that we all take a different view of murders linked to politics in NI depending on whether the murderer or the victims are “our own” or not I don’t accept that I do (even at the risk of being called a liar). Nor do I believe that most people do. Although I can only really judge my own analytical processes. Leaving aside the morality implications. It is just illogical to judge a murder based on how your tribe was involved. (Except of course the judgement of how it may impact on your own potential safety.)

    Not sure if this makes sence. I know what I mean, but it’s late and my brain has been overused today.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    “I do not see the difference in murders committed for politics and murder committed for financial gain or any other reason, which correct me if I am wrong is what you are trying to say, not just in the nature of the act but in our responses to them.”

    Fair enough Bertie, I’m inclined to agree with you. My point though, is that we have to accept the fact that hardly anyone else does. Virtually everyone is willing to mitigate one murder or another. That’s where we’re at. Right or wrong, it’s a fact of our post-conflict life. What I’m saying is that we are past the point where we can usefully guided by moral considerations. It’s too late for that. It’s too late for us. As a society we are without moral credibility. That’s the truth of our existence. Even people who hate murder in all its guises and flags of convenience are in the same boat, if for no other reason than you can’t wish away the failures of the 99 per cent majority.

    “Taking all the murders without political motive and I am capable of finding mitigating factors in some, wonder what the victim may have done to provoke an attack (wonder not presume). I do not accept that having similar responses in relation to murders in NI means that I have given up the right to have “normal” standards apply.”

    Maybe you don’t Bertie, but if you’re honest with yourself, you’d have to admit that presumption of guilt is the most widespread reaction. “They must have been doing something.”

    “If you are saying that we all take a different view of murders linked to politics in NI depending on whether the murderer or the victims are “our own” or not I don’t accept that I do (even at the risk of being called a liar). Nor do I believe that most people do.”

    Fair enough Bertie. I’ll respectfully disagree though. I think most people’s reaction to news of a murder is massively distorted by the question of who the murderer and who the murdered was. We can agree to disagree.

    “Leaving aside the morality implications. It is just illogical to judge a murder based on how your tribe was involved. (Except of course the judgement of how it may impact on your own potential safety.)”

    Absolutely right, it IS illogical. Furthermore, it’s stupid and irresponsible and morally repugnant. It’s also standard form in Northern Ireland.

  • “What I’m saying is that we are past the point where we can usefully guided by moral considerations.”

    The crux of where we disagree!

    It is always imperative that we are guided by moral considerations. With all due respect terrorim’s main unspoken aim is to foster the belief in the contrary. It becomes even more important to hold to it in the face of terrorism and in response to terrorism…and even more important again when fewer people appear to be holding on as well. Although I am not convinced that the moral ambivalence is as widespread amongst us ordinary Joes as I think that you do.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    My point was simply that taking a moral stance is counter-productive when you’re corrupt. No-one will listen to the moralising of someone they consider to be a hypocrite. That’s the point we’re at. Spirit-Level is spot on when he says that Kane’s fundamental weakness is that he insists on seeing NI as a normal society when in fact we are a deeply traumatised one. At some point our morality was replaced by sectarian hypocrisy (though we still insist on calling it morality.) Some think it happened in 1998, some in 1974, some in ’69, some in ’21. Whenever it was, it happened though. It’s too late for us to dwell on. What we need to concentrate on now is what will work.

    My moral compass tells me that the right thing to do is ensure that my kids don’t grow up in the middle of a sectarian war, as I did. My moral compass tells me to accept that the evils of the past should stay in the past. My moral compass tells me it would be evil for me to saddle the unborn generations with the legacy of battles long ago.

    “With all due respect terrorism’s main unspoken aim is to foster the belief in the contrary.”

    With all due respect Bertie, that’s the official line and it’s complete nonsense. There has never in all history been an armed campaign, whether by terrorists or otherwise, that didn’t have a political goal. No-one, not even Al Queda, wages war to hurt our feelings or to “foster beliefs”. People wage war because they have a political goal. They’re not trying to make anyone believe anything – war is the point when argument comes to an end. There is nothing nuanced about war.

    “It becomes even more important to hold to it in the face of terrorism and in response to terrorism…and even more important again when fewer people appear to be holding on as well.”

    I remember once when I was banging on about “terrorism”, a very wise person I once knew set me a rhetorical exercise. He asked me to make exactly the same argument, but without using the word “terrorism”. I really struggled. My argument became anodyne and nuanced, and I found that many of the things I criticised in “the terrorists” could have been applied to any number of other agencies. Over time the scales fell from my eyes. “Terrorism” is just a word. When I came to refer only to actions, without recourse to labels, my moral certainty crumbled. You should try that exercise over the coming weeks and months. I’d recommend it to anyone. So much of what we are conditioned to believe is bullshit. It really is.

    So again, my point is, let’s dispense with what we think is “moral” and let’s set ourselves to the only truly moral task – that of building a society and a body politic that can work.

    “Although I am not convinced that the moral ambivalence is as widespread amongst us ordinary Joes as I think that you do.”

    Fair enough. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

  • Shay Begorrah

    Nice thought experiment Billy. Terrorism and terrorist are two words more at home in newspeak than English but their effectiveness is shaping public opinion is undeniable.

    Witness the recatagorization in the US of FARC from marxist guerillas to narco-terrorists (which was absolute genius) and the subsequent reduction in US public opposition to military support for the profoundly suspect Colombian government.

    The label “terrorism” is often used to distract from the bigger questions about the motivations and actions of these “terrorist” groups and their opponents and which group we agree with (or find less distasteful). Not that this brings people any closer together but it at least allows for meaningful debate about conflicts, their causes and potential solutions.

  • Billy

    Shouldn’t we be having this discussion in student accomdation after being kicked out of the Union Bar? 😉

    “My point was simply that taking a moral stance is counter-productive when you’re corrupt.”

    Not everybody is corrupt and those that are could probably do with recalibrating their moral/immoral/amoral spectrum”

    “What we need to concentrate on now is what will work.”
    I haven’t lost faith in morality working. Indeed I believe that without it nothing will work. The morality is part of the definition of working.

    “My moral compass tells me that the right thing to do is ensure that my kids don’t grow up in the middle of a sectarian war, as I did. My moral compass tells me to accept that the evils of the past should stay in the past. My moral compass tells me it would be evil for me to saddle the unborn generations with the legacy of battles long ago.” I believe that the best way to ensure that the bad is minimised and the good maximised for future generations is not to lose sight of the difference between right and wrong.

    “”With all due respect terrorism’s main unspoken aim is to foster the belief in the contrary.”
    With all due respect Bertie, that’s the official line and it’s complete nonsense”

    I expressed myself very badly here. ‘I meant that is an unspoken necessity for all terrorism to win.

    “I remember once when I was banging on about “terrorism”, a very wise person I once knew set me a rhetorical exercise. He asked me to make exactly the same argument, but without using the word “terrorism”. I really struggled. My argument became anodyne and nuanced, and I found that many of the things I criticised in “the terrorists” could have been applied to any number of other agencies. Over time the scales fell from my eyes. “Terrorism” is just a word. When I came to refer only to actions, without recourse to labels, my moral certainty crumbled. You should try that exercise over the coming weeks and months. I’d recommend it to anyone. So much of what we are conditioned to believe is bullshit. It really is.”

    You’ve lost me here. Can you elaborate? When I substitute murders and maiming (actions), for “terrorism” it doesn’t alter anything. I’m clearly missing your point here as opposed to merely not agreeing.

    “So again, my point is, let’s dispense with what we think is “moral” and let’s set ourselves to the only truly moral task – that of building a society and a body politic that can work.”
    For me establishing the “moral” is an integral part of building that society.