Interview with Tony Blair – Dublin Sept 3 ’010.
0n publication of his autobiography ‘A Journey.”
EM. Why did you write Peter Robinson out of history? He only gets two passing references in a tome of this size?
TB. “When he got two references, that’s pretty good I would say.”
EM: He’s our Prime Minister. Is that all you think of him?
TB. “It’s not what I think of him. I think he is fantastic but it’s a book about my ten years as PM.”
EM: Ian Paisley was always ‘the no man’. What changed him?
TB. “It was very simple because the IRA gave up violence and it was always his position that if they did he would share power.
I think also there was a mellowing happening that went on with Ian. He also listened to the people. I remember him very clearly saying towards the end putting together the final agreement that led to power sharing, him saying I have been listening to the people. I think they want this and I think it is my duty to make it happen.”
EM: Did he ask you if God wanted him to do the deal?
TB. “It was a conversation really – we often used to talk about religion actually but I said frankly I think he you should make up his mind about that.
” When you are in politics in Northern Ireland people have very strong views about, whether it is Gerry Adams, or Ian Paisley or David Trimble, when you’re from the outside you actually often see the best of people more easily.”
EM:’ The couple’ – a strange term for Adams and Mc Guinness – when you were speaking with them did you see them as Unionists portrayed them as killers, the leaders of a killing organisation?
TB. “I saw them as people, political leaders of an organisation. Whatever the past but you don’t have to forget or forgive indeed. They wanted a different future.”
EM: Why did you say that you got to like them probably too much?
TB. “Partly because you can’t ignore what happened in the past but on the other hand they did exercise considerable political courage in making the changes necessary to get peace and to get power sharing where we are now. Northern Ireland, the peace process, sometimes we have got to lift our eyes up a little bit. Around the world, I was in the White House the other day with President Obama in the Middle East process. Around the world the Northern Ireland Peace Process is a symbol of hope and encouragement for people trying to make peace.”
EM: In terms of politicians you have known how would you calibrate Adams and Mc Guinness as leaders?
TB. “They were strong leaders, good leaders. That isn’t to forget anything that happened in the past or necessary to forgive. In the context of Northern Ireland they showed considerable courage in leadership so did David Trimble, so did, in the end Ian Paisley.”
EM: When Robert Mc Cartney (killed in Belfast city centre bar, Jan 30 2005) how bad was that? Did you consider chucking it all in at that time, walking away from it all?
TB …”It was very bad but in a sense the thing that gave you heart was the reaction of his family and of the local community who decided in a sense said we’re not having this and that which probably wouldn’t have happened 10/15 years ago gave us heart.”
EM: Unionists are hammering you for your overt declaration that you were in the business of bending the truth at times, stretching the truth, indulging in creative ambiguity, how do you square that in terms of your morality, your catholicism? They’re hammering you for this.
TB: …” I think my response is come on guys let’s all be a little bit honest with each others. I actually talked a bout creative ambiguity at the time . When I made the ‘acts of completion’ speech in 2002 I actually said creative ambiguity had been our friend but now was the time for acts of completion. That was what we were struggling for. What are they really saying that they were never been in a political situation where they were trying to manoeuvre their way to get what they thought was right.”
EM: Paint this picture for me. Bertie Ahern and yourself and De Chastelain in Hillsborough Castle that famous day( Oct 21/ 2003) when I undid Mr De Chastelain, come on tell me the story …
TB. “We remember you Eamonn” (Blair roars with laughter).
EM: I was blamed for wrecking the Peace Process but I didn’t. What actually happened in there in that room?
TB “What happened was basically was that General De Chastelain who is someone of the highest integrity he felt he couldn’t say more than the IRA had allowed him to say which really wasn’t enough to get the thing done.”
EM: What did the herald say? Give us that lovely description …
TB ..” I think you are going to have to go and read the book”
EM: I’ve read it. You said “the herald was forbidden to say with whom the king had been abed the night before.” Was that how exactly how he felt himself?
TB.. “Put it like this we needed a lot of detail and didn’t get much.
He was being true to himself to be fair. ”
EM: Were you shocked when he talked about the IRA decommissioning tanks?
TB: “Yes because (“laugh) we hadn’t actually appreciated they may have ever had such things. Through the Peace Process the one thing you have got to do is keep a sense of humour.”
EM: What about ‘ah Jasus Bertie? What was it between the two of you that worked?
TB. “We were both modern examples of our own country’s culture in a way. Bertie was steeped in Irish history but was prepared to move beyond and I couldn’t believe as we approached the 21st century we couldn’t get peace among people in Northern Ireland.”
EM. How important was John Hume? How important in local politics in world politics?
TB: “Fantastically important. Even in America today John Hume is one of the most respected people. In many ways he was the person who first saw the prospect for peace and was prepared to act when it was really really very difficult to do so.”
EM: Did David Trimble let you down?
TB. “No. On the contrary he justifies his place in history and his Nobel Peace prize.”
EM: I always considered you a very controlled disciplined individual. I was shocked to learn that you hit the bottle. What is that all about?
TB: (Roars of laughter). ” The thing that I love about my description there is that John Reid …
EM ‘I loved it. What you were drinking he feeds to the budgie.’
TB “I think it is an interesting thing when you approach middle age you’ve got to be careful.”