THE Secretary of State who succeeded in persuading the DUP and Sinn Fein to share power has revealed the mix of flattery and strong-arm tactics he used to bring Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams together.
In his memoirs, which are published today, Peter Hain says that he used threats of withdrawing DUP Assembly members’ hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of salaries and allowances to build pressure for a deal with Sinn Fein.
In the book, Outside In, Mr Hain says that he believed the republican leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were weary and felt that if they did not get a deal at the point when they did then their entire project — decades of violence and then political success — would have been in vain.
Mr Hain also reveals how he secretly met Ian Paisley Jnr, who he describes as a “gatekeeper” to Dr Paisley, now Lord Bannside, in an attempt to win over his father — despite Peter Robinson warning him against such a route.
“Tony (Blair) had indicated that none of my predecessors had got close enough to Ian Paisley, the fiery, veteran leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. So I resolved to do so,” he says.
“As I read and listened my way into the job it became evident to me that at least two things had to change.
“First, the government had to start treating Paisley and the DUP with proper respect: they were outsiders and had always said ‘no’. I needed to get them to become ‘insiders’, able to say ‘yes’, by assuming the responsibilities that always come with leadership. So I resolved at the outset to treat Ian Paisley as the first minister-in-waiting.
“‘You will have to deal with the problem when you are in charge, Ian’, I would say if he lobbied me on a local issue. He would deny a willingness to accept the post, while chortling knowingly.”
Mr Hain says that Dr Paisley told him privately after the Northern Bank robbery that it was “just as well” that a near-agreement with Sinn Fein weeks earlier at Leeds had not come off: “‘Just as well we did not get an agreement or I would have been skinned alive.’ I understood his point exactly.”
He says that Dr Paisley was “a real gentleman with old-fashioned manners of the kind with which I had been brought up; perhaps why we got on so well”.
Mr Hain also lays bare what he believed were some of the tensions within the DUP at the time, where he says Dr Paisley’s son Ian, now the MP for North Antrim, was not popular with his colleagues.
Mr Hain said: “Paisley’s son, Ian Junior, was, I increasingly realised, very important to the settlement I wanted to achieve, though publicity-addicted and a target of huge jealousy among his colleagues.
“But I could not help liking him and acknowledging that it was very difficult making his own way as a politician living in his father’s very considerable shadow.
“Moreover I realised that Ian Junior — like me a motorsport fan — was an influential gatekeeper to the ‘Big Man’ as Paisley was colloquially known, someone who was on top of the detail his dad floated over and intensely loyal.
“About a year into the job, and initially against the advice of my officials and that of the DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, and his close associate Jeffrey Donaldson, I began seeing Ian Junior privately, often at Hillsborough, which was near his own family home.”
He goes on: “Robinson and Donaldson were both supporters of my football team, Chelsea, and I was able to get them invited to a few matches.
“Although with a somewhat abrasive public image and reputation as a hardliner in previous years, Robinson was the brains behind the DUP, and extremely astute tactician with a tight grip on the party machine.
“He was often frustrated both at the endemic reluctance of his party to progress negotiations and Paisley’s penchant for the big picture and indifference to textual nuance for which Robinson had a specialism.
“We would have regular and very frank meetings, often in my Westminster parliamentary office, which he could come to without anybody else noticing. These were invaluable conduits for both of us to test out ideas and strategies.”
Mr Hain says that he had tried to get close to the now DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds but without much success: “He was always cautious and, I sensed, someone happier to lead from behind than the front.”
The current shadow Welsh secretary of state said that the key politicians for him were “the two Paisleys, Robinson, Adams and McGuinness”.
Mr Hain put private pressure on the DUP MLAs, he says, as they came to face re-election in 2007, having already been elected to an Assembly which had been suspended “and I couldn’t see the public acceptance of the charade of voting a second time for something which did not exist ... I would cancel the 2007 election if there was no settlement by then”.
He adds: “The DUP hated the gauntlet being thrown down in this way. Soon they were to hate it even more when I determined upon another stratagem popular with the voters, in fact almost wildly popular.
“I would not be prepared to keep paying for long the salaries and generous allowances Assembly members received if there was no progress towards a settlement.
“‘You are bullying us, Peter,’ Ian Paisley thundered at me. ‘The Ulster people will never stand for that.’ The problem, he knew full well, was that in this instance the people would stand for it, especially when I started saying in speeches and interviews that Assembly members were the only citizens who did not have to turn up at work to get paid ... the members hated this and hated me for doing it to them, grimacing as they conceded I was right.
“Peter Robinson quietly told me approvingly it was causing real consternation in the large DUP Assembly group, and also to party officials and leaders, since another element of the public funding involved was paid directly to the parties to enable them to organise their Stormont activities with support staff, in the DUP’s case amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
“Robinson could not say so publicly of course, but he felt it helped ‘reformist’ elements like him who wanted a settlement against the large body of refuseniks in his party.
“Inside information also indicated that my threat had caused deep concern among the families of DUP Assembly members, understandably worried about how they would pay their mortgages.
“Effectively they were being pressured from a tangent never before tried and which might well not have worked years earlier, before Assembly members had become a semi-permanent political class with all the trappings and lifestyles of modern democratic politics — save for a functioning legislature.”
He says that headline-grabbing and unpopular policies such as plans to bring in water charges, reform of the rates system and the end of academic selection, all helped to force the DUP and Sinn Fein into power.
“I practically incited them to make me redundant, and my radical domestic policies became important levers in the political process — in the end to some extent decisive.”