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Last updated: 15 February, 2007 - Published 19:14 GMT
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British minister's slavery apology
Peter Hain told the BBC that the historical legacy from slavery must be recognised.
A British government minister is caught in a political storm after issuing an apology for the slave trade.

Peter Hain, who's the Northern Ireland and Welsh Secretary on Wednesday apologised for the roles Wales and Northern Ireland played in the slave trade.

He made the apology in New York ahead of the bicentenary of the adoption of laws that abolished slavery in Britain.

Mr Hain said in an interview with the BBC that the historical legacy from slavery must be recognised.


"I am here on behalf of both Northern Ireland and Wales to say that we've had our part to play in the slave trade," Mr Hain said.

"We acknowledge that, we take responsibility for it, and we now are going to try and at least say that historical legacy must be recognised.

"We say sorry for it."

Welshmen profited from slave plantations, and others built and worked on ships carrying slaves.

Peter Hain is a candidate for the governing Labour Party's deputy leadership.

 We say sorry for it (slavery).
Peter Hain, British cabinet minister

By apologising, he went further than Prime minister Tony Blair who expressed "deep sorrow" for slavery late last year.

But Mr Hain was accused of being ignorant about the anti-slavery efforts of the people of Belfast.

Apology questioned

Christian agencies Tearfund and the Evangelical Alliance held a conference in the city to celebrate the anti-slavery vision of local Christians 200 years ago.

Northern Ireland historian Philip Orr, who spoke at the event on Thursday said: "Everyone has some kind of guilt but Peter Hain was absolutely ignorant of the significant roll played by many Belfast Christians in trying to prevent a slave trading company being founded in Belfast - in fact they were successful."

One Northern Island Democratic Unionist MP, Sammy Wilson, also criticised Minister Hain, countering that many people would like him to apologise for the things he has done while he has been in charge of the Northern Ireland office.

Mr Wilson said that was preferable to him delving into the past and apologising for things he said the people of Belfast had no responsibility or sympathy for.

The Northern Ireland Office insisted however, that Mr Hain had praised Belfast's stance against slavery in the speech he made in New York.

British merchants are believed to have transported nearly three million Black Africans during the slave trade.

London's Mayor Ken Livingstone has said he will apologise on behalf of the capital.

The trade

British merchants are believed to have transported nearly three million black Africans across the North Atlantic Ocean between 1700 and the early 19th century.

Overall, there were some 21 million black Africans transported by Europeans in the Atlantic slave trave from 1450 until 1850, according to historians.

British merchants were the biggest participants, followed by French and Dutch.

Events are being planned in the UK to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

It was passed on March 25, 1807, imposing a 100-pound fine for every slave found aboard a British ship.

27 years later in 1833 The Slavery Abolition Act outlawed slavery itself throughout the British Empire.

However, slaves did not gain their final freedom until 1838.

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