Tony Blair: “I took horrendous chances in what I was telling each the other had agreed to…”

From Mick’s linked chapter on Northern Ireland in Tony Blair’s memoirs [pdf file]

Such tactical manoeuvres were the warp and woof of the Northern Ireland peace process. Again at the last minute, after the negotiation over the St Andrews declaration of October 2006, up popped the issue of what oath would be sworn by those taking office in the reconstructed Assembly and Executive. All manner of permutations were gone through to find a mutually acceptable formula. Naturally the DUP wanted a very clear commitment to the police in the oath itself. Sinn Fein didn’t like the wording and wouldn’t commit until it was clear the Executive was in being, so there was a synchronising issue as well as a language problem.

In the end they agreed a timing and, roughly, a wording, but over the following weeks it started to fall apart.  Gerry Adams had agreed to call an Ard Fheis (a council meeting of Sinn Fein) to endorse it, but only if Ian Paisley had clearly stated in advance that such an endorsement would allow the institutions to be revived.  For once, roles were reversed, with Gerry Adams demanding clarity and Ian Paisley producing waffle. I then had the idea that I would reinterpret the waffle and so deliver Gerry his reassurance.

I had a Christmas holiday in Miami. The sun shone, but that was about it as far as holidaying went. Because of the time difference I had to start my calls at 5 a.m. Frequently the Paisleys would be out visiting friends so calls were missed. I took horrendous chances in what I was telling each the other had agreed to – stretching the truth, I fear, on occasions past breaking point – but I could see the whole thing collapsing because of the wording of an oath of office. Somehow, with creativity pouring out of every orifice, we got through it. [added emphasis]

Which, with their credibility at risk, might help to explain the kerfuffle caused by Sinn Féin back around May 2008…

Adds  But then, as the BBC notes

In the book he also wrote of strong relationships with Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

“They were an extraordinary couple,” he said.

“Over time I came to like both greatly, probably more than I should have, if truth be told… they were supreme masters of the distinction between tactics and strategy.

“They knew the destination and they were determined to bring their followers with them, or at least the vast bulk of them.” [added emphasis]

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