The Sketch: Paisley makes light work of the 'insane Sinn Hain'

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The more local the politics the more local knowledge you need to understand it. Scottish questions are always beyond the grasp of the English. And I confess, Northern Ireland has always been a struggle for cynics and pessimists such as myself. But local government questions are about central government so it's easy to see when they're talking bilge.

Michael Gove stood up to revive his radio spat with Yvette Cooper. He asked why a £1.4bn building project had led to 44 new homes in Allerton. She replied by telling him to come and see for himself. A pointless draw, if ever I saw one. A Labour backbencher quoted figures to show that councillors were getting older. Alastair Burt claimed it was because central government was issuing 50 circulars, directives and targets every working week and younger people couldn't be bothered with it.

Ruth Kelly told us that inter-faith forums were the collective voice for mainstream religions and someone else praised the "full-time faith co-ordinator" who had been "capacity building" but that, because of unsustainable funding, "the work may be going to waste". (I'd bet on that, if I were you.) Ms Kelly said that giving young people the defences against being radicalised was vital to our future. There is some truth in that but so little as to be beyond useless. If these inter-faith forums, "provide communities with resilience" and if the "inter-faith co-ordinator" prevents one unhappy young wretch being radicalised then I will eat my own liver.

In Northern Ireland, questions of this sort have added urgency. The region still suffers from the mass immigration of religious fundamentalists hundreds of years ago. No one in the 17th century had the foresight to provide the interfaith co-ordinators to nip the problem in the bud. Peter Hain launched the second reading of the St Andrews agreement in his own special way. It was a triumph of politics, he said. And a triumph of local politics. And a triumph for ministers and officials, for the Prime Minister, for John Major, for trades unions, for Jonathan Powell and "my own staff".

Ian Paisley intervened to remind him of the people whose shops were bombed out but who never shut them down. Yes, yes, them too. Mr Hain was not without his own recollections. "In Republican neighbourhoods, there was graffiti saying 'Hain is insane' and in Loyalist parts there was 'Sinn Hain'." The message I got was, "Not without a sense of humour! Labour's natural deputy!"

Mr Paisley's as old as God now and his speech bubbles in his throat, but he made short work of Mr Hain. "I told the Secretary of State that you can be belligerent with us in Ulster; you can be stern with us; but when you blame us you get nowhere. He didn't believe me then. He believes me now."

There was much laughter; maybe it wasn't as funny as it sounded at the time. Mr Paisley said he no longer represented merely the Unionists but that his thoughts were for the whole of Northern Ireland. What Gerry Adams MP thought wasn't available to us; he still declines to take up his Westminster seat.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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