Saturday 21 April 2018

Truth was often 'distorted' for peace talks

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

FORMER British Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted that he sometimes "distorted" the truth during the Northern Ireland peace process in order to keep the talks on track.

In his autobiography 'A Journey', Mr Blair writes: "Politicians are obliged from time to time to conceal the full truth, to bend it and even distort it where the interests of the biggest strategic goal demand it be done.

"Without operating with some subtlety at this level, the job would be well-nigh impossible."

He said that he took "horrendous" chances and stretched the truth "past breaking point" as he sought to break the endless deadlocks between unionists and nationalists.

Mr Blair heaped praise on Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, hailing them as "an extraordinary couple". He writes: "Over time, I came to like both greatly, probably more than I should have, if truth be told."

He described the pair as having "real political courage. Whether you like them or not, and no matter how strongly you disapprove of their past actions, they had courage in abundance."

Mr Blair recounts how his first historic handshake with Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness near the start of the peace talks in October 1997 sparked outrage among unionists.

On the same day while on a visit to a shopping centre in Belfast with the then DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, Mr Blair was confronted by a mob of "very angry protesting grannies, shouting, swearing and waving rubber gloves in my face".

Afterwards when he asked his political adviser Jonathan Powell on the significance of the rubber gloves, "he roared with laughter and said, 'it's because you should have worn rubber gloves when shaking hands with Gerry Adams'." And he is also warm in his praise of Bertie Ahern, who he first met in the run-up to the 1997 election when Mr Ahern was still leader of the opposition. "We got on immediately like the proverbial house on fire," Mr Blair said. He was "one of my favourite political leaders. Over time he became a true friend."

Mr Blair will be a guest on tomorrow night's 'Late Late Show' and will be signing copies of 'A Journey' in Eason on O'Connell Street on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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