Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland nowhere near reconciliation, says Hain

Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain has said Northern Ireland is nowhere near reconciliation.

Without a comprehensive and inclusive way of dealing with the toxic legacy of past violence a resolution of differences will remain a long way off, the ex-Labour MP added.

He accused local politicians of lacking the will to move forward on dealing with the past. Around 3,000 murders spanning three decades remain unresolved and there is political division over truth commissions and other mechanisms to address grievances.

The Stormont House Agreement was signed between the British and Irish governments and the five main Northern Ireland parties and envisaged a series of bodies to investigate historical matters, but it has been stalled by a dispute between Sinn Fein and the DUP over implementing Tory welfare cuts.

Mr Hain said: "We are nowhere near reconciliation."

He was secretary of state for Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2007 and stood down from Parliament at this year's general election.

Mr Hain addressed an "Uncomfortable Conversations" event organised by Sinn Fein in Portcullis House in the House of Commons.

"Very few of the conversations that I had with local political parties during my time as secretary of state could be described as 'comfortable' whether in Stormont or Hillsborough Castle or St Andrews.

"But we did get a deal that brought power back to where it should be, in the hands of locally elected and locally accountable politicians. That was over eight years ago.

"From the outside what looks like a dysfunctional administration in Northern Ireland is both a symptom and a cause of the failure to deal with the past and move towards genuine reconciliation after decades of bitter division."

The power-sharing administration in Belfast has been gripped by a row over welfare reform this year which threatens to collapse the administration because a proper budget cannot be agreed.

The DUP argues it has secured the best deal possible from the Conservatives on welfare reform cuts while SInn Fein claims there should be new negotiations with Downing Street with the local parties presenting a united face.

Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney said a coalition for reconciliation was essential but a minority still opposed that vision.

"In Ireland, north and south, and here in Britain, some believe that dealing with the past is the new battlefield.

"They prefer endless recrimination to reconciliation, and refuse to accept that reconciliation should be set above political agendas or allegiances in the greater good."

He said no political process can flourish without a sustainable economic framework or the expenditure to meet society's needs.

"The worsening austerity crisis in the north is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. The ideologically driven approach of this majority Tory Government is now putting it on a direct collision with the very basis of the Agreement.

"The current British Government's economic and political policy is pushing the regional economy and political process into a negative downward trajectory.

"That can only have extreme and long-term adverse consequences, including potentially fatal repercussions for the Good Friday Agreement itself and the north's relationship with Europe.

"The question which all of that poses is whether such an outcome has become a calculation of this British Government's policy towards the north.

"Deeper political instability and increased polarisation will surely undermine the prospects for reconciliation and healing."


From Belfast Telegraph