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Terry Prone: Blair can brush off his pelting outside Eason's -- but the image of Ireland Inc may not do so well

ON Saturday morning, Tony Blair must have been delighted with himself. He had publicised his book on the Late Late Show and become only mildly ratty when its presenter got pushy about the Iraq war.

He had given dozens of brief interviews to broadcasters and print journalists, each of whom had queued to get their fifteen minutes of his fame. And while most of them mentioned the war, he must have figured that the coverage would be generally positive.

Credit

Ireland had fallen in love with Tony Blair long, long ago. Maybe not to quite the extent that we fell for Bill Clinton but, just as Ireland overlooked the former president's sex life because he had been so helpful to the achievement of peace on this island, Ireland would surely give Blair credit where credit was due in relation to Northern Ireland -- while not forgetting his part in the Iraq tragedy.

That's not how it worked out.

As he arrived at Eason's for his book-signing, protesters with remarkably poor aim lobbed shoes and eggs at him.

None connected. But that didn't matter. What mattered was the fact that they were thrown. What mattered was the reason they were thrown. What mattered was that the mass media, which had brought him to power and sustained him there, delivered worldwide the headline news that the former British Prime Minister had received the worst possible welcome in Ireland.

One young woman getting through the barriers to make an attempt at a citizen's arrest gave the story the soundbite to put it on radio and TV bulletins everywhere. The pictures of the grim-faced former Prime Minister, surrounded by what seemed to be security heavies, put the tin hat on the whole thing.

Children

As far as the outside world is concerned, Ireland thinks Tony Blair is a mass murderer responsible for the deaths of children.

If Bertie Ahern was watching, it must have put chills up his spine. Because it hammered home one of the most painful realities of politics: the public is never grateful for hard work or delivery on difficult challenges.

The British, for instance, turfed Winston Churchill out of office in the first election at which they had the chance after the war.

It's very easy to get used to peace. It's not easy to get used to personal privation and poverty, and that well of anger runs deep in this country. Fury about the destruction of the Irish economy is a freely available fuel for any dissent.

Available

Protests are easier to organise, thanks to social networking, and more people are available thanks to unemployment.

The impact of the coverage on the image of Ireland Inc can't yet be assessed. Global commentators who praised us for not taking to the streets, like Greece, and for being good quiet citizens over our economic woes will be mystified over us taking to the streets to throw projectiles at a man who has no power in protest about a war that has nothing to do with us.

PR cynics would say no publicity is bad publicity and that sales of the Blair book will go up as a result.

It's extremely doubtful that Blair himself takes that view.

To have been so treated in a country to which he feels so connected will have wounded him deeply.


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