What has The Third Man got to say about Northern Ireland?

cover of Peter Mandelson's book - The Third ManShort answer: very little, other than he enjoyed the environs of Hillsborough Castle, enjoyed working with the local politicians, and has Gerry Adams to thank for Bobby his dog.

Peter Mandelson’s book The Third Man has captured media headlines in recent weeks as the Times serialised the most juicy bits. But what did he have to say about his time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?

In the book, Mandelson seems much softer than his normal Prince of Darkness image, No doubt, the fact that he was writing this particular history had something to do with that! He comes across as easy to get on with, less defensive of his own position that perhaps he should have been (eg, he could have done more to save himself from being fired the second time), picking up strong friendships in each of the different roles he has tackled over the years.

It was Gerry [Adams], in one of our very first meetings, who had prompted me to get a pet. He had told me how much easier he found it to think difficult issues through when he was on a long walk with his own dog.

He even offered to get one for me. That was vetoed by my security officials, no doubt because they feared a listening device would be embedded into one of the dog’s paws. But it prompted me to find Bobby, whom Gerry seemed to dote on almost as much as I did.

About thirty pages out of the 560 are devoted to his time over in Northern Ireland.

It was not easy to maintain the proper balance all the time, and both sides were eagle-eyed for anything they could interpret as bias. I had to learn to rely on a skill which, to my detriment and perhaps New labour’s, I had deployed all to infrequently in my political career: quiet diplomacy. In Belfast I had to listen as much as talk, understand the goals and motivations of all sides, identify areas where they, and I, could give ground.

Compared to other books I’ve read recently – my bedside table has been going through a political phase with David Gordon’s The Fall of the House of Paisley and Martina Purdy’s Room 21 – Mandelson’s memoir was a lot less forensic (unless he was personally in trouble) and tended to give more colour than detail.

The Alliance Party don’t get a look in. But then, the DUP and SDLP play second fiddle to the UUP and Sinn Fein in his abbreviated narrative.

When the peace process – or should that be, the devolution process – went off the rails, Mandelson seemed to get a lot less personally frustrated than Mo Mowlam had. He seemed to take David Trimble and the UUP wobbles in his stride.

The Hinduja passport affair interrupted Mandelson’s stay in Hillsborough Castle. If his detailed recollection is to be believed, his misfortune to be fired was as much caused by Alastair Campbell’s mis-briefing of the lobby (twice) as by any wrong-doing on Mandelson’s part.

When [Alastair] left the room, I could see there was no persuading Tony. ‘This is absurd,’ I said. ‘How can you dispatch me because of a purported phone call and a bunch of inaccurate briefings and a stream of Chinese whispers?’ … In a final, feeble, appeal, I said, ‘You’re not going to end my entire ministerial career for this, without even knowing the full picture?’

[Tony Blair] replied, ‘I’m story. There’s no other way. It’s decided.’

Anji [Hunter] embraced me, crying, as Tony wrote out my resignation statement …

So unless you want to following the ins and outs of New Labour, no need to buy or borrow Mandelson’s book!

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  • fitzjameshorse1745

    In fairness to Mandy, Norn Iron is probably a bit too raw to tell all there is to tell….the Cabinet Office may not have passed a lot of stuff.
    But the “dog” thing is interesting.
    While walking on a beach, I saw a figure walk towards me. He had TWO dogs. One was a King Charles Spaniel and the other was a big ugly brute of a thing.a Rottweiler or Doberman (cant remember).
    Periodically the figure would lift a stone with his hurling stick (practising for the Carson Cup perhaps) and fire the stone down the deserted beach.
    And one or other dog would run after it.
    The spaniel did a poop in the sand……and the kindly hurler covered the poop with sand.
    “Id make the DOG to that” I said.
    The hurler looked up from the sand….and underneath his NY baseball cap, I saw a familiar beard.
    “Hes making me do the work” he said

    “That was Gerry Adams” I said to Mrs FJH
    “Nah” she said “Gerry wouldnt own that wee runt of a dog”

    But perhaps a Rottweiler on one leash (so to speak) and a King Charles Spaniel (on the other leash) sums Mr Adams up.

  • Garza

    The end of the party by Rawnsley dedicates a chapter to Northern Ireland and the peace process. Very interesting.

    Apparantly Sinn Fein were as sick as dogs after the Great Belfast Bank robbery.

  • I think Mandelson was being (unusually) discreet. I wonder how long it will be before he decides on a sequel.

    Dogs are only as vicious as their owners. No doubt, considering the ‘dogs’ he held on a tight leash, GA is fully aware of that. As it happens he gave Peter Mandelson some good advice.

    The difference between a Doberman and a Rottweiler is pronounced. The only thing they have in common is a similarity of colour!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh Im sure youre right about Dobermans and Rottweilers being different.
    I only know about horses.
    The incident was about seven years ago and the intriguing thing was the King Charles Spaniel…..I might have expected a Kerry Blue, Irish Setter, Irish Wolfhound, Irish terrier……but a King Charles Spaniel was just weird.
    Maybe Gerry has some latent Stuart dynasty/Jacobite tendencies.

    But if Sinn Féin-IRA can buy into the “UK City of Culture” thing then a King Charles Spaniel was perhaps an early clue. 🙂

  • FJH

    Oh why, surely a King Charles spaniel is the ultimate lap dog for a shinner, and come to think of it, for a Mandelson.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    No the ultimate lap dogs are the Alliance Party. Yappy wee articles.

  • joeCanuck

    Here’s how that dog got its name. It used to be called simply a spaniel. King Charles had one. He took it along to his execution. When asked if he had a last request he said “Yes, I’d like to take my dog for a walk around the block.”

  • If I remember my history correctly a Spaniel was on the Mayflower. A classy breed and GA needs all the ‘class’ he can get.

  • Charminator

    Harsh fitzjames, harsh. Government might prove a very conditioning environment though. Look how well it’s worked in calming the aggressive tendencies of others….

  • Cynic

    Was it the fumes from the ink on all that money?