“and worry about the detail later..”

Jonathan Powell isn’t the only one with a book out to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1998 agreement. The Irish Times today notes [subs req] the publication of a revised edition of The Far Side of Revenge by Deaglán de Bréadún, the paper’s political correspondent – the title is another quote from The Cure at Troy. The report highlights the evolution of the back-channel of communication to “a semi-permanent team of negotiators from the different sides: London, Dublin and Sinn Féin.” And that, “This provided an underlying structure for the negotiations, although it meant that sometimes senior civil servants would be brought into meetings ahead of ministers, who would be left waiting outside.” Of course there were other interested parties. But the most interesting extract, on The Process™, is this

“These officials even became adept at making the usual gestures towards republican core values while at the same time ‘trying to get in a couple of things we wanted’. Some might see this as a corruption of the democratic process, but underlying the whole endeavour was a simple desire, simply expressed: stop the killing.”

The author quotes a senior Irish negotiator as saying that Tony Blair and his top adviser Jonathan Powell brought a new note of pragmatism to the British government’s approach: “Their attitude was, ‘Let’s stop the killing and worry about the detail later’.”

Meanwhile there’s another extract of interest from Powell’s book in the Guardian

Powell even found himself holding talks with Gerry Adams in the No 10 gents in March 2000 as they tried to break the impasse over decommissioning:

Adams first indicated to me that quiet meetings might prove productive when he came into No 10 on March 21 to talk about the IRA tradition of dumping weapons. His suggestion was that dumping could serve as a confidence-building measure. After the meeting he insisted I follow him into the ground-floor toilet, so we could speak away from his people, and possibly our bugs, to ask me to come up with some ideas on how this could be done, and then come over to see him.

, , , , ,

  • jadedobserver

    It’s obvious that initially the overriding priority was to lull republicans (and, probably to a lesser extent, Loyalists) away from violence and treat any ideological/cultural landmines strewn upon the path to peace pretty sensitively. This could be facilitated by a lot of ambiguity in the peace process.

    I can see therefore why the details would’ve ultimately been hammered out later. By a later stage many of the relevant parties would’ve been firmly ensconced in the better future, happy-happy la-la dynamic, and anyone who seceded would’ve lost ground by appearing like they preferred continued violence over peace.

    Although I think the two governments got suckered by giving a bit too much credence to Adams when he exaggerated the fragility of his position in the republican movement (a lot of commentators seem to say that now), you do have to admire their evil genius. Certianly a lot of republicans probably didn’t know, or didn’t want to acknowledge, how much the SF leadership were cooperating with the British, in many cases unelected British officials (surely not securocrats though, LOL!), to make certain things happen and compromise no longer tenable tenets that had heretofore been sacrosanct.

    We all know that despite the lofty ends of the peace process, the means have been a wee bit dubious. Affirmations of democracy, while a lot of the process is conducted top-down from over people’s heads, human rights, when the basic right to legal redress gets a bit shafted by letting the guys who blew your legs off out of jail, etc. It goes on. Political expediency is, and has been, the order of the day.

    I’m glad much of the crappy ideological baggage you Northerners had have been sold up the river, but you can’t really watch something like the peace proess happen and NOT become cynical.

  • Pete Baker


    I try to keep on the sceptical side of the line..

    ..as difficult as that sometimes is.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The BBC is reporting other choice details, such as the fact that Blair himself drafted Sinn Fein’s statements (and presumably senior British figures drafted some of the IRA statements were issued) and that a senior IRA figure is named as one of the persuaders towards disarmament. Does anyone know what that name is ?

    I think that time will be required before we can assess whether the Blair approach to the political process here was right or not. I have serious problems with some aspects of how things were done, particularly the deliberate decision to ignore the IRA’s status as an armed organization, without a mandate, operating in defiance of both the British and Irish governments/people. But if setting the rulebook aside temporarily to achieve a dramatic leap forward in terms of political progress is deemed to have worked, I think it becomes easier to justify. It’s a real shame that this tactic, which has worked so well here, has not worked in other areas such as the NHS IT project or, most seriously, in Iraq.

  • Pete Baker


    I doubt that “drafted” would be appropriate.

    But ‘had an influence in the drafting of’ would be a sensible approach since the Britsih government would be responding to any such statement and would have to sell that response elsewhere.

    Brian Keenan has been indicated in, at least, one report as a key persuader – or, rather, a key figure who needed to be kept on-board.

    Gotta watch the spin out there.

    The problem, as I see it, is the apparent lack of awareness of the potential those pesky, ignored, details had to influence the eventual result.

  • Garibaldy

    Agreed statements. Is this really news that this was happening?

  • Pete Baker


    But did you really expect Jonathan to tell tales out of school?

  • Garibaldy

    Absolutely. There is so much money to be made. On top of which, how else to demonstrate how important you are, rehabilitate Blair as prepared to go way beyond the extra mile (perhaps significant in the context of his middle east role), and secure numerous jobs as non-executive director etc. Perhaps a media career too?

  • hercules


    The War is over

    P O’ Neill / T Blair