Every time I hear the sanctimonious voice of Peter Hain — that one-time rebel and enthusiast for Irish unity who in 2015 swapped his Commons seat for a peerage — I struggle to understand why the media think him an expert on legacy issues.
Published: 18 May 2021
There he was again last week in an interview on UTV, explaining patronisingly: “They are the one broadly-based cross-community support group that I think command sufficient credibility and support to be listened to,” and demonstrating, yet again, his tin ear for Northern Ireland victims.
He was speaking about WAVE, a worthy organisation that apparently agreed with him that the way forward on legacy issues was a Truth and Reconciliation process. (I keep listening for a commentator to ask him how this could work since the IRA and Sinn Fein tell lies as a matter of principle.)
It was typical of Lord Hain that as he loftily told viewers that the only way forward was the Hain way, he demonstrated how out of touch he is by ignoring SEFF (the South East Fermanagh Foundation a.k.a. Innocent Victims United).
As its director, Kenny Donaldson, pointed out testily, they have the largest constituency of victims/survivors with 24 member groups and a combined membership in excess of over 12,500 individuals based across Northern Ireland, the Republic and Great Britain.
“Never has Mr Hain picked up a phone or typed an email to make contact with our group and constituency. He has shown zero interest.”
I checked on my website what I’d said about him in the past: it’s an occupational hazard for commentators that sometimes you change your mind rather embarrassingly about those you write about.
I changed my mind fundamentally, for instance, about Mo Mowlam (who dashed my hopes by preferring paramilitaries to police) and Peter Mandelson (who confounded my prejudices by being such a friend to victims that he played a crucial role in making possible the successful civil case against the bombers of Omagh).
I was on the money with Hain, though.
I see that in 2005, when he had been Secretary of State for three months, I described him as the epitome of the “‘clever-silly’ politicians who often get things disastrously wrong” and “don’t value humility or wisdom”.
A “classic New Labour apparatchik’, I went on, “… he will have no qualms about implementing any shabby deals that Tony Blair — frantic to get Northern Ireland out of his hair — has made behind the scenes.”
A month later, I tried to find some excuse for him, quoting that fine journalist Lindy McDowell who had described him as “a Troubles virgin”, who, ‘like so many of his predecessors”, has “been landed in a place he doesn’t care for, whose complexities he does not understand the full horror of whose recent past he doesn’t appreciate.” (I’m sure Brandon Lewis would know what she was talking about).
This was at a time when the British government was trying to get the executive restarted and perhaps he really believed the nonsense that had been written for him, I suggested, when he burbled about making Northern Ireland “a world-class society with a world-competing economy”, and told loyalist paramilitaries “you will no longer be allowed to terrorise your own communities”
And perhaps, I added, his failing to mention in his major speech that the abandonment of IRA criminality was a prerequisite for the restoration of the executive, was sheer absentmindedness. However I thought the charitable interpretation was that “he is even more stupid and ignorant than he appears”.
In September the following year,I was describing him as “a seething perma-tanned mass of ambition” who “apart from a vague antipathy to unionists … has not the faintest interest in place,” and rated him “the most crass, insensitive and cynical Secretary of State ever endured by Northern Ireland”, untroubled by “principles or scruples.” (You will understand why I laugh when accused by Shinnerbots of sucking up to the British establishment.)
I took stock of Hain again in 2014 — long after he had helped put together the dodgy St Andrews deal to restore the executive the ramifications of which still haunt us — when he had put in a dismal performance under questioning at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee over his discreditable role in the on-the-run (OTR) letters.
“The word Hain most frequently applies to make a fuss about the means used to achieve any end of which he approves is ‘naïve’”, I said. “The word I think of when I reflect on him is ‘solipsistic’ — egotistically self-absorbed”.
I’ve tried to check on his tweets to see if I was being unfair, but I note that — like Mary Lou McDonald — he blocks me from seeing them.
“We don’t define by the old and tired language that you bleat on about,” said a furious Kenny Donaldson, “neither religion nor politics plays a part in our ethos, rather we are united by a value system, the foundation stone being the sanctity of human life. The two communities in Northern Ireland are not Protestant and Roman Catholic, unionist and nationalist but rather those who have used or justify the use of criminal violence and those who do not”.
And that’s why I’m an ally of SEFF.