FORMER British Prime Minister John Major has acknowledged republican leaders risked their lives in the interests of peace in Northern Ireland.
Mr Major, who was speaking at an event in Dublin to mark the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, said he was “acutely conscious” of the dangers faced by IRA commanders who supported the peace process.
Signed on December 15, 1993, by Mr Major and then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, the declaration marked a new beginning in Anglo/Irish relations.
In his address, Mr Major said: “Let me now say something that may surprise you. Throughout the process, I was acutely conscious that IRA leaders were taking a risk, too. If Albert and I upset our supporters, we might – as Albert put it – be kicked out. That was true but the IRA's supporters were more deadly than our backbench colleagues. And their leaders were taking a risk too, possibly with their own lives.”
The former Tory leader said Britain and Ireland were the “closest of neighbours”, adding: “Ireland's relationship with the UK and its future – North and South – has never looked so bright.”
Speaking at Iveagh House last night, Mr Gilmore said the relationship between Britain and Ireland had “grown steadily for the past 20 years, deepening and expanding”.
The fomer British Prime Minister had a private meeting with Mr Reynolds, who was unable to attend the function.
Mr Reynolds' wife, Kathleen, attended the event with their three daughters Emer, Andrea and Cathy, and son, Philip.
Mr Major was accompanied by his wife Norma.