Northern Ireland news

Tory peer admits book's claim about comparing NIO to 'Sinn Féin Appeasement Party' is 'not totally inaccurate'

Peter Cardwell with former Secretary of State James Brokenshire at Newry's Pairc Esler

A CONSERVATIVE peer has conceded that he may have referred to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) as the "Sinn Féin Appeasement Department" when working as a senior adviser to secretaries of state in Belfast.

The claim relating to Lord Jonathan Caine, who worked alongside seven secretaries of state until Boris Johnson became prime minister last year, is made in a new book by former special adviser Peter Cardwell.

The Secret Life of Spads is an account of the Co Armagh-born ex-journalist's three-year stint as an aide to three Tory ministers, including James Brokenshire and Karen Bradley.

It documents Mr Cardwell's appointment as a spad to the man he refers to as 'Brokey' and the 18 months working alongside the MP as they shuttled between Whitehall and Belfast, before Mr Brokenshire was forced to take a break from politics due to illness.

The book does not discuss two of arguably the most controversial episodes in the former secretary of state's tenure at the NIO – the occasion at the McKenna Cup final in 2017 when he waited in a control room at Newry's Pairc Esler until after the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann, and an explosive opinion piece in the Sunday Telegraph in which the secretary of state claimed that investigations into Troubles killings were "disproportionately" focusing on British state forces.

It seeks to redress much of the negative press Mr Brokenshire received, describing as "particularly poisonous" this reporter's characterisation of the Old Bexley and Sidcup MP as having the "personality of a motorway service station car park".

Read More: Brian Feeney: Brokenshire is useless (Premium)

The gaffe-prone Ms Bradley, meanwhile, is referred to as a "very nice person who worked hard at a relentless job".

By the author's own admission the book is short on jaw-dropping revelations, focussing instead on low level gossip, meetings with statespeople and personal recollections of major political episodes, such as the Windrush scandal and the Tory party heave against Theresa May.

The book also includes the claim that Lord Caine felt civil servants at the NIO were not committed unionists: "Most mornings Caine would grumpily come into our shared office, switch on his computer and open his emails with the line 'What has the Sinn Féin Appeasement Party got for us today?'"

In response to the passage, the Tory peer said Mr Cardwell had "exercised a bit of licence in his description" but he was "not going to claim it is a totally inaccurate representation".

"I’d be of the opinion that there were – and are – people within the NIO who would avoid any kind of confrontation or conflict with Sinn Féin at all costs but I’m certainly not the first person to say that," he told The Irish News.

"I'm not going to claim I didn't say it from time to time."

The Secret Life of Special Advisers by Peter Cardwell is available now, published by Biteback Publishing

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