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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 June, 2005, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Hain 'can remain honest broker'
Peter Hain
Peter Hain said things have completely changed in NI
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has defended his ability to act as an honest broker in the peace process.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr Hain was involved in the Time to Go movement which advocated Britain's phased withdrawal leading to a united Ireland.

At the time, Mr Hain said partition was at the heart of its problems.

He told the BBC's Politics Show that the Good Friday Agreement had "changed everything" and there was a "completely different life" now in the province.

"Some of those quotes are going back 20 to 30 years," he said.

"Nelson Mandela was in prison in South Africa, the Berlin Wall was still up.

"There was no prospect at all of the completely different life that I now see around me just today in Belfast."

Peter Hain is probably the most partisan secretary of state for Northern Ireland ever
Dr Paul Dixon
University of Ulster

Ulster Unionist leadership candidate Sir Reg Empey said the onus was now on the secretary of state to reassure unionists.

"There was ambiguity there, there's no doubt," he said.

"I think it would put a line under this if he was to prepared to make it clear that he doesn't believe in taking troops out of Northern Ireland, that he does support the principle of consent."

Dr Paul Dixon, a lecturer at the University of Ulster specialising in Labour's Irish policy during the Troubles, said he had uncovered evidence of Mr Hain's support for Irish republicanism up until the time that Labour got into government.

Every single member of this Labour government, if you go back 20 years, has made the most extraordinary 180 degree turn
Brian Feeney
Political commentator
"Peter Hain is probably the most partisan secretary of state for Northern Ireland ever. Since 1972, he has been a critic of British policy towards Northern Ireland," he said.

"During the 1980s he consistently supported a withdrawal policy, which was against the Labour official policy of Irish unity by consent.

"During the 1990s, Peter Hain's position continued to echo that of Irish republicanism."

Political commentator Brian Feeney said Mr Hain's past might come as a shock to many unionists but his change in views mirrored that of other cabinet colleagues.

Peter Hain, pictured in the 1970s
Peter Hain came to prominence in the 1970s as a radical
"Every single member of this Labour government, if you go back 20 years, has made the most extraordinary 180 degree turn," he said.

"They've all just flip-flopped because they knew by the mid-1990s that it wasn't going to get them into government."

Mr Hain is one of a clutch of cabinet ministers who in younger days had the security services monitoring their activities.

He first came to national prominence as a radical Young Liberal in the forefront of the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, where he lived until he was 16 and his activist family fled to Britain.

He led the 1969/70 Stop the Seventy campaign to disrupt the South African cricket tour of the UK, and helped found the Anti-Nazi League in 1977 - the same year he moved over to Labour.

He spent 15 years working as a political researcher for a trade union, entering the Commons at the 1991 Neath by-election.

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