Magazine article The Spectator

At Last, It Looks like Hain Will Be Found Out

Magazine article The Spectator

At Last, It Looks like Hain Will Be Found Out

Article excerpt

There are signs of life among us Northern Ireland Watchers (NIWs). Greyed and wrinkled after years of service, over the past 18 months we have either slumped into near-catatonia or have transferred our attention to wondering what's to be done about our little Islamist chums.

Mr Justice Girvin, who -- if there is any justice -- will be Peter Hain's nemesis, has woken us up. Ruling on a legal challenge to Hain's appointment last year of an estimable Royal Ulster Constabulary widow as Victims' Commissioner (at the behest, as many people suspected, of the Democratic Unionist Party), he accused the minister of 'improper political motive' in flouting the structures painfully designed over years by successive ministers and civil servants to ensure fairness in public appointments. Infuriated by Northern Ireland Office attempts to cover up, the judge said Mr Hain had 'failed in his duty of candour to the court' and -- with the help of two senior civil servants -- had sought 'to divert attention from the true course of events'.

Girvin requested the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to inquire into whether the three had sought to pervert the course of justice. Hoping this would pass Westminster by, Hain tried the line that he had acted disinterestedly for the sake of victims, and then, to distract attention, strengthened his campaign for the deputy leadership by launching an attack on President Putin and the 'murky murders' with which he was associated. (It was not lost on the NIWs that although everyone knew that the IRA was responsible for the murder of the informer Denis Donaldson last April, it suited Hain for political reasons to declare its leadership clean. ) The appointment of the Whitehall-savvy Peter Scott QC to conduct a restricted inquiry has caused little excitement in Westminster.

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 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. …

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