Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Secretaries of State tell of their run-ins, and respect, for republican

By Sean O'Driscoll

Peter Hain was once backed into a cupboard by an enraged Martin McGuinness, while Peter Mandelson was on the receiving end of McGuinness's "furious temper", the two former Secretaries of State have recalled.

Both paid tribute to Mr McGuinness's brave stand for peace, while also remembering his enmity at key times during negotiations.

Lord Mandelson disputed David Trimble's claim that Mr McGuinness was "even-tempered", and said the top republican verbally lashed out at him many times.

He said that he couldn't agree with Mr Trimble's final letter to Mr McGuinness, in which he praised his "even-tempered" nature at their first meeting of the Executive and throughout his time in the Northern Ireland Executive.

He said that the former Ulster Unionist's letter "brought a smile to my face", because he remembered a very different Mr McGuinness.

"Martin was a great guy but he was also capable of a furious temper," the Labour peer said.

"I know, because I was on the receiving end of many of his tongue-lashings."

Lord Mandelson said that he came into office after Mo Mowlam, and Mr McGuinness and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams assessed correctly that he was "a different kettle of fish".

They also assessed that he might be in a better position to persuade unionists about a political deal.

"They saw that I could bring unionists into implementing (the Good Friday Agreement) if the IRA decommissioned. It led to very, very bumpy ride," he said.

Speaking to RTE radio, Lord Mandelson said the decommissioning row forced him to suspend the Assembly. The Sinn Fein pair "were absolutely furious with me", but would probably have recognised later that it was the right thing to do, he added.

Mr Hain told RTE that Mr McGuinness and Mr Adams once got so angry with him that they threatened they would get him fired as Secretary of State.

"At one point it got so heated that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness cornered me in a cupboard in Hillsborough Castle and really tried to threaten me. Threaten me that I would get sacked by Tony Blair the Prime Minister from my job," he explained.

"I knew it was nonsense," he added.

He said that Mr McGuinness took major risks for peace and was indispensable in winning over the republican movement to decommissioning and restarting the Executive.

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