In the Irish Times, Frank Millar picks out some of Alastair Campbell’s diary entries relating to The Process.. including one Downing St meeting the day after a PIRA statement in July 1999 [subs req]
On hearing news of the statement Campbell writes: “For one great moment, I thought it was going to be the statement we had all been working for but in fact it was deeply gloomy, critical of the [ British] government and with a pretty clear veiled threat to return to violence.”
More from the Irish Times [subs req]
Campbell and others thought there was a case for cancelling the scheduled meeting but Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief-of-staff, disagreed. John Sawers, then Blair’s foreign policy adviser, thought Adams and McGuinness brought Martin Ferris to the meeting “to show they weren’t patsies and could be really tough with TB [ Tony Blair]”. According to Campbell’s account: “TB was pretty tough back and there was a fair amount of mutual fed-upness. TB said, re the IRA statement, ‘Well, I get the message, and it’s a pretty heavy message too.’ McGuinness said ‘Nothing to do with me. Not guilty.’ In a different context, it would have raised a smile but on both sides there wasn’t much humour.”
Blair rejected Sinn Féin’s complaint that Trimble had no interest in sharing power: “He [ Blair] believed the unionists did want to make it work, but they had people capable of talking themselves into despondency greater than any people he had ever met.”
However, while Blair could put pressure on them he told the republican leaders: “I also know that if you go back to violence then I see none of you again. I’m a pragmatist but I feel things deeply. I felt Kosovo. I feel this peace process and if I get an IRA statement like that on the day Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are coming in, I do not like that. I do not like the threat. I do not operate like that. And just understand if you go back to violence, I see none of you again.”
Just weeks before this, the prime minister had berated Trimble and his colleagues for their rejection of a proffered IRA statement making a commitment to decommission weapons, albeit without a timetable either for its commencement or conclusion.
Campbell recalls: “‘With all due respect,’ TB said – which he tended to say when he meant to indicate a lack of respect on a particular point – ‘I think you have a tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and you are in danger of doing that now’.”
Campbell says Adams first conceded there would have to be decommissioning of IRA weapons on March 29th, 1999.
“It was the first time he, rather than we, had been that blunt,” he says, quoting the Sinn Féin president saying, ‘Look, we know the score, there has got to be decommissioning’.”
Campbell’s entry for the day continues: “It had also been announced where nine of the ‘disappeared’ were. The downside of that was it reminded people the IRA were killers. As TB said, are we really expected to be grateful that years after they did it they told us where they killed and disposed of a few people?”