“if there is any justice..”

Spotted by the excellent Newshound. In the current issue of The Spectator magazine, Ruth Dudley Edwards picks up on the continuing troubles of the Secretary of State for Wales etc, Peter Hain, and in particular the inquiry requested by Mr Justice Girvan, “who — if there is any justice — will be Peter Hain’s nemesis”, following his initial ruling. From the Spectator article[free reg req]

Republicans rightly call their secretaries of state ‘proconsuls’, for they are powerful, yet electorally unaccountable. Still, they are under more day-to-day scrutiny than most Cabinet members: the NIW[Northern Ireland Watchers] microscopes can quickly reveal virtues and vices which are missed on the mainland. Lack of principle is a frequent characteristic of the quick-fixers who try to make deals in Northern Ireland, but what has staggered many is that Hain has shown an arrogance and contempt for the law that would have horrified any unionist prime minister of an unreformed Northern Ireland.

Of the five New Labour secretaries of state, pin-up populist Mo Mowlam did a terrible job, not just because she had no sense of history and ignored the details of her brief, but because she was at heart a hippy who was antipathetic towards uniforms, stuffiness, the God-fearing and the law-abiding. Yet her party and the country thought she was a triumph who was axed by a jealous Blair.

The spinners’ spinner, Peter Mandelson, confounded preconceptions with his genuine empathy with victims of terrorism. Long after his resignation he continued to give money, time and effort to those pursuing a civil case against the Omagh bombers. (Hain, by contrast, distinguished himself by falling asleep during a meeting with a bereaved father.) No surprises with the others: John Reid was a capable and articulate bully and Paul Murphy a safe pair of hands. But Hain — and what one journalist calls his ‘brazen self-serving’ — is a revelation.

Given his South African background and his troops-out history, it was assumed he would be instinctively pro-nationalist, yet it was quickly clear that what drove him were the orders of his present and future masters and personal ambition: flouting honour, sense, morality — and now, it emerges, the law — he has been on a three-pronged crusade. In a miasma of zealotry, he is in search of a legacy for Tony Blair, substantial cost-cutting for Gordon Brown and the Labour deputy leadership for himself.[added emphasis]

RDE does identify one consistency however

Mark Durkan, the SDLP leader, emulated a couple of Welsh MPs who have tried vainly to bring the Girvin judgment to wider attention, when at Northern Ireland Questions on 22 November he asked, ‘In the Secretary of State’s opinion, would it be a breach of the commitment in the new pledge of office to uphold the rule of law, including support for the courts, if a minister were deemed to have misled a court, if a senior civil servant were deemed to have misled a court in an affidavit seen and approved by a minister, or if a minister misrepresented a court when it clearly found against him on a key matter?’

‘I have no idea what the honourable gentleman is referring to,’ said Hain, consistent to the last in failing in his duty of candour.

That would be the high standard expected…

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  • heck

    For once I agree with RDE, but the contempt for the “law” infects the whole labour government not just the NIO. Just look at the recent action on Saudi bribery.

    To use a cliché a fish rots from the head and this is honest Tony’s party and honest Tony’s secretary of state.

    And with the risk of being accused of whataboutery, these are the b*****ds who lecture the paddies about “support for the rule of law”

  • joeCanuck

    His hubris will bring him down in the not so distant future methinks.

  • dpef

    [let’s keep to the ball on the current pitch! – mod]

    Not a comment on RDE, just reminding the moderators what they have allowed to stand elsewhere as they wield their red pen on Ruth’s behalf.

  • Mick Fealty

    Elsewhere? Where? Specifically?

  • joeCanuck

    c’mon Mick. We are playing ball here. Have you forgotten one of the basic rules of watching soccer? When things don’t go your team’s way, it’s always the ref’s fault.

  • Rory

    “..Hain has shown an arrogance and contempt for the law that would have horrified any unionist prime minister of an unreformed Northern Ireland.” says Ruth Dudley Edwards and since she says so we must trust that she believes it is so. God bless her innocence, it explains a lot.

    I must correct her on one point though, Hain was never a member nor a supporter of the Troops Out Movement. I met him at a small party at the house of a South African woman who had to flee South Africa herself and who was a supporter and who was a friend of his family. I was a founding member of TOM and am a former national secretary and made some attempt to persuade him of our arguments. I can only blame my own poor powers of exposition of our case for the failure to persuade him to lend his support. He was as I recall nevertheless extremely eloquent in rejecting my case, “Mmm, mmm. Yes, yes. Nice people the Irish. I see.”

    In moments of bitter regret at my own failure I sometime console myself by arguing that the young Hain had at that time a career agenda that did not include getting mixed up in some unpopular Paddy miasma.

    His future career demonstrates that that could not be true. Doesn’t it?

  • dpef

    Hain was vice-chair of ‘Time to Go’.

  • Ulick

    On an aside Rory, Donald Woods took up my invitation to speak in north Armagh in the mid ‘90’s and he really was a revelation in terms of encouraging people to see the ‘bigger picture’ (as opposed to the tribalism that comes with civil conflict). At the time I just wished he could have had a bigger audience.

  • lib2016

    This is a scandal which will bring down a government minister? Gawdhelpusall!

    Successive British governments are up to their armpits in covering up collusion in the murder of officers of the court, charges of massive international bribery by one of Britain’s leading companies, refusing to help with the investigations of ‘friendly’ governments if not active subversion of same, and whatever you’re having yourself.

    Durkan really will have to lift his game, then again he did say this at Westminster where nobody pays a blind bit of notice to the Paddies – Orange or Green. The only puzzle is why did he bother – perhaps it got him a story in the local paper in Derry which will be useful when the real players call an election.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin


    I might agree with you on the likely outcome, but I think the likely answer to the question “why did he bother” is not as world worn as the one you’re offering. The devil, as always, lurks in the detail.

  • Pete Baker

    In addition, lib, rather than cast around for other, supposedly better, accusations to throw at a government it would be wise to pay attention to the actual detail in this case.

    While we wait for the, restricted, inquiry into why Hain sanctioned misleading affidavits, and whether those affidavits were deliberately misleading, the original ruling still stands – that Hain breached his Ministerial Code of Practice – that’s the important detail here.

    And Hain’s apparent, and continuing, attempt to ignore the implications of that ruling will likely have further implications that an independent judiciary can not afford to ignore.

  • Rory

    ….an independent judiciary can not afford to ignore.

    An independent judiciary ought not to ignore perhaps, Pete.

    The recent opinion of the leading member of the independent judiciary vetoing any investigation with a view to prosecution, if the evidence showed, in the matter of BAE and the supply of catapults and peashooters (and training in the the advanced technology of their function) to the benign happy kingdom of Saudi Arabia might cause some to have thoughts on this pious hope.

  • heck

    Pete/Slug, I’m more inclined to agree with lib2010 on this one. This is a government and party that lied us into a war which has resulted in the deaths of 650000 innocent Iraqis.

    I don’t think that telling a few porkies to a paddy judge is going to bother them. You can see that the cabinet has already rallied around Hain.

    Lib2010 is correct. They launched and illegal war, are selling seats in the lords, supporting the bribery of foreign governments, and in Nor Iron covering up state collusion with loyalist death squads. Do you really think they are upset with their proconsul lying?

    Give me a break.

    What really pisses me off is the number of people who take them seriously when they lecture the micks on “the rule of law” and “support for policing”!!

  • Pete Baker

    Let’s try to keep focussed on the actual issue at hand, Rory.

    You don’t seem to be getting the important detail here which differentiates it from the other examples being thrown around –

    We have an actual ruling by the High Court. Not a truncated investigation, nor accusations not yet tested.

  • parcifal

    therefore the best thing to do is to get SF into policing and into an Assembley, so as you’ll be rid of Hain and his ilk forever; methinks you’d prefer to just permanently whinge though.

  • Cahal

    “get SF into policing and into an Assembley, so as you’ll be rid of Hain and his ilk forever”

    Can you explain this one to me? The assembly is effectivly powerless. The student council at my old school had more sway over policy.

    Stormont or not, as long as the north remains a quasi-colony, it’ll have to submit to people like “Hain and his ilk”.

  • parcifal

    You’ll be making your own decisions; and I don’t think you quite grasp the extent to which HMG wants shot of the place. Having no assembly means continual British interference for a long long time, even the DUP understand that one !

    ” the assembly is effectively powerless ”
    I’d say that needs a whole new thread entirely

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, let me try to address why this intervention of Durkan’s might have some significance, beyond the usual backbiting and point-scoring between nationalists.

    We used to have a commenter who used to push proper independence for Northern Ireland, with a free standing written constitution. Any agreement that remained subsidiary to the UK legislature, he argued, was always bound to remain a chattel of the Westminster legislature.

    His reasoning was sound, but the solution locally unpopular.

    Durkan’s question should be seen partly in this context, and partly as an invitation to those of outside the local political game to scrutinise just what quality of accountability we can expect from our devolved ministers.

    It goes to the heart of the principle of the ‘Rule of Law’. One of the most influential interpretations of that term is from AV Dicey, first published in 1885. He argued that the term has several meanings.

    (1) It means, in the first place, the absolute supremacy or predominance of regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power, and excludes the existence of arbitrariness, of prerogative, or even of wide discretionary power on the part of the Government.

    (2) It means again, equality before the law, or the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law, or the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts.

    Now, I guess Hain might argue that in dealing with a Commission with a highly political brief, his decision was necessarily political and not wide ranging: though falsifying affidavits is quite another order of problem.

    In this context, surely Durkan’s question is a reasonable (and possibly an important) one for him to seek an answer to in the senior legislative house at Westminster rather than the powerless subsidiary at Stormont?

    Though, before I get accused again of ‘spin’, I’d welcome differing views on this line of thinking.

  • parcifal

    of course its an important point, but no one gives a monkeys in the Brit Gov’t; its therefore only worth discussing as there’s nothing else to talk about. How sad is that?

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s probably worth repeating the third of Dicey’s principal meanings. I didn’t see its direct relevance at first:

    The rule of law, lastly, may be used as a formula for expressing the fact that with us the law of the Constitution, the rules which in foreign countries naturally form part of the constitutional codes, are not the sources but the consequences of the rights of individuals, as defined and enforced by the courts.

    In other words, judicial intervention can be an important instrument by which the ordinary citizen can enforce limits to the political powers of government.

  • Rory

    It might be helpful, Pete, to have a locus of debate upon which to concentrate. If, for example, we choose to debate Mo Mowlam’s pin up charms we might well compare those to Jordan’s, or Samantha Fox’s (a local Tottenham girl) or Betty Grable’s, whoever. Or, if Peter Mandelson’s skills at spinning, it would be valid to compare them to other politicians’ capabilities in that regard. And you did after all introduce to us Edward’s thinking on these heavy matters and as always, like the good Pontius Pilate, leave us all free to judge without the direction of your own opinion.

    But, of all that, are you seriously suggesting that somewhat informed people might somehow not make comparisons and might not draw conclusions from their experience of government’s selective adherence to this “rule of law”. Because they will you know. And do.

    Mick’s helpful reference from A C Dicey I think is illustrative, in its very first condition. It is a common public perception that, if not the “influence of arbitrary power” then, most surely, wide discretionary power on the part of the Government” holds an over riding power over any that might be accessible to any citizen seeking redress.

    Indeed you seem to hint at such yourself in this matter of Hain and some appointment irregularity that is so obscure to the government’s main constituency of awarness or concern as to be risible for serious consideration.

    But of course, Pete, that is only my tuppence worth. Would you care to share yours?

  • heck


    Yours is the point I have been pushing on Slugger for months, (although, off course, you express it better that I ever could) that if “the rule of law” is to mean anything it must demonstrate that it can protect the citizen from the arbitrary use of state power.

    The system of “law enforcement” in Norn Iron does not even begin to do this, and this includes the judiciary and the prosecution service and well as the PSNI/UVF. It is, in the words of Frank Kitson, a propaganda cover for the state to dispose of unwanted members of the public.

    Unionist bloggers, British politicians and Belfast Bellylaugh commentators confuse support for policing and support for the PSNI (deliberately in my view). The vast majority of nationalists would support the former (we all agree on the need to stop child molesters for example) but baulk at the latter.

    This is why the issue of collusion is so important to this debate. To demonstrate that the “law” will protect the citizens of Norn Iron it has to demonstrate that it will hold the agents of the state to the same standards as the general public. It is also why the legality of the decision to go to war, the Saudi arms scandal and Hain’s little lies are a part of the same issue. It is about the meaning of the term “rule of law”.

    I disagree with the SF (leadership?) view that seems to be that devolving justice powers will allow an SF justice minister to change things. (Pat Mclarnon/Chris Gaskin is that correct?) and that is what they are holding out for. I think a real systen of “law” would be a step too far for the British establishment.

    Pete seems to obsess on Hain’s malfeasance but this is small (but real) compared to the actions of the government of which he is a member. Pete should remember that the arbiter of Hain’s actions would be Honest Tony’s consigliore Lord Goldsmith, the same person who gave Honest Tony the advice that the Iraq was legal and who interfered with the BAE bribery investigation.

  • Pete Baker


    “Pete seems to obsess” = Pete remains focussed on the issue despite the repeated attempts by Hain et al to change the subject.


    My tuppenceworth is already in evidence on the actual locus of debate – I’m not the one seeking to refer people instead to other events.

    Here’s the thing, for me, if we collectively cannot concentrate on an issue as apparently as clear cut as this, then there is little hope for any more subjective, and/or contested, issue to be addressed.