How Northern Ireland’s Mr NO became Mr YES


My friend Ian Paisley was like chalk and cheese from the militant, divisive figure I and millions of others had only too vividly recalled from the past.

Until 2005-7, when I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he had always thundered ‘NO’ to any agreement with Northern Irish Nationalists.

As for Republicans – especially Sinn Fein and its paramilitary wing the IRA – they were the devil incarnate.

He roused his followers – sometimes into a frenzy.

Attacks on civil rights marches in 1968-9, and violence around Orange Order Parades striding into sensitive Catholic areas often followed.

Yet forty years later in private I discovered a warm, hospitable, courteous, venerable gentleman with old fashioned manners, utterly devoted to his large family, and an infectious humour.

We made an odd couple: he deeply religious, I agnostic. He a right wing fundamentalist, I a socialist. He fiercely anti-Catholic, I committed to equal rights for all.

Yet we got on famously. And in our private chats it soon became apparent that he might well do something nobody ever thought possible and agree to a peace with his most bitter enemies Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Provided they signed up to support policing, justice and the rule of law in a way they had always refused in the past. The IRA having renounced its war in July 2005, finally they did do so in February 2007.

By then he saw himself as a man of destiny, in every sense the ‘Big Man’ of Northern Ireland politics.

“I feel I have to do this,” he told me. “It’s my duty, and I know God is willing me on.”

Many of his followers, whom he had long led in an uncompromising stance, remained very suspicious, some openly hostile.

A few of his senior MPs tried to prevent us meeting alone together. They wanted to hold him back.

But, by then at least, he had become a real leader.

He understood only too well that a window of opportunity had opened and that, if he didn’t seize the moment, it might close, never to open again. Mr NO had become Mr YES.

There wasn’t any other Protestant leader who could have done that. Some had tried and failed – defeated often by Paisley himself.

His legacy will be the indispensable figure to deliver Northern Ireland from horror and evil, to a new era of peace and stability – and we should all salute him for that.

Ian Paisley was the Big-Man of Northern Ireland Politics

Ian Paisley was the Big Man of Northern Ireland politics. The historic 2007 peace settlement bringing bitter lifetime enemies to govern jointly could never have happened without him. I worked very closely with him and came to like and respect him, his wife Eileen, his MP son Ian and his family wider close-knit family to whom I extend my sympathies.

Peter Hain defends controversial letters sent to ‘on-the-runs’ as an essential part of the Northern Ireland peace process

Western Mail,

Controversial letters sent to Irish republicans who were “on the run” were an essential part of the peace process, former Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland Peter Hain has told MPs.

The Neath MP said the scheme – intended to let individuals know whether they were wanted for questioning by the police – helped “drag Northern Ireland away from the horror and the evil and terror of the past”.

Mr Hain cautioned against an outright rescinding of the letters and insisted these were not “get out of jail free cards”.

He said: “I realise this gives deep offence to victims and to my unionist friends but they were essential building blocks to get the peace settlement, to drag Northern Ireland away from the horror and the evil and terror of the past.

“And it would be very, very dangerous and toxic to somehow retrospectively rescind those letters and I know the Secretary of State is not doing that – she is confirming their legal status, or lack of – but I just caution people on that because that was part of getting us from the horror of the past to the peace and stability which we now enjoy.”

Read the full article here and Peter’s question in the house here

Hallett Report

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that in a way her statement confirms what was the case all along: that the letters were not get out of jail free cards, but confirmed what the police and law officers assessed at the time, which was that these people were not wanted—wrongly in the case of Downey, and absolutely and rightly an apology is due for that—but that that did not preclude prosecutions in future should evidence come to light? I realise that that gives deep offence to victims and to my Unionist friends, but the letters were essential building blocks to get the peace settlement to drag Northern Ireland away from the horror, evil and terror of the past. It would be very dangerous and toxic somehow retrospectively to rescind those letters. I know the Secretary of State is not doing that; she is simply confirming their legal status, or lack of it, but I caution people because the scheme was part of getting us from the horror of the past to the peace and stability that we now enjoy.

Mrs Villiers: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that my statement is consistent with how the scheme was always intended to operate. It was intended to be a scheme to establish whether an individual was wanted, not to provide an amnesty or assurance to those who were wanted that they were not wanted. It was also clear from the Hallett report that John Downey should never have received a letter. If the scheme had been properly administered, no such letter would have been issued. It was that serious error that led to the result in the Downey case.

On the legal effect of today’s announcement, as I have said, I do not believe that the words “rescind” or “revoke” are appropriate. It is much better to stick to the fact that these letters should no longer be relied on, and owing to the systemic flaws in the scheme, it might well be that further errors were made. Decisions on the prosecution of recipients of letters will be taken in exactly the same way as they are in relation to every other member of the public: if there is evidence or intelligence to justify arrest, that is what will happen.

Israel & Gaza

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the terrible carnage in Gaza means that the prospects for the two-state solution we all want are vanishing? It was still very possible back in 2000; I recall that when I was middle east Minister I had discussions with Prime Minister Barak and Yasser Arafat in Palestine, but that all collapsed and Hamas was elected. Now, Israel’s refusal to negotiate seriously with Hamas, coupled with its merciless assault on Gaza, risks inviting in something even worse and more extreme—ISIS. Surely we should learn from Northern Ireland that to end wars people have to negotiate with their enemies or the terror simply gets worse.

Mr Ellwood: I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his interest and experience in this area. He is right to point out that we face very difficult challenges. On a positive note, we welcome the announcement of the formation of a new interim technocratic Government for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, reuniting Gaza and the west bank under a Government committed to peace, which is a necessary condition for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.