Tony Blair: Believed OTR Letters were essential in getting Sinn Fein on board and left to DUP there would’ve been no peace process

Tony Blair stepped up to the On The Runs Committee today to give evidence about the now infamous letters issued partly under his administration.

Between the hard questioning led by Naomi Long and Ian Paisley Jnr, the most important pieces of information throughout the entire day came from a slightly softer approach adopted by Sylvia Hermon and Alasdair McDonnell.

Blair told MPs that there was a point in December 2006 where he believed that they almost lost the entire peace process. He at times looked in near amazement as MPs told him about their total lack of knowledge about the scheme.

Blair argued that the letters where “essential” in getting Sinn Fein on board. He admitted that a mistake had been made in the issuance of a letter to John Downey but was not prepared to apologise for attempting to find a solution.

In the latter stages of the committee Blair used the somewhat toxic line of “drawing a line” which he described as the hardest part of any peace process. Yet, he issued what would become a constant refrain that his ultimate aim was stopping any future violence from happening again in Northern Ireland.

As the committee pressed on Blair became more bullish, even going as far as challenging parts of the Secretary of State’s response to the OTR issue. Like a session of Prime Minister’s questions, he successfully steered his way around controversial topics such as contact members of his staff had with republican figures like Rita O’Hare.  But Blair just seemed to let this wash over him, by refusing any detailed comments and called O’Hare an advocate for the peace process.

As the session ended, Ian Paisley Jnr went in for a second go, but just came up against remarkable retort from Blair that had it been down to the DUP there would never have been a peace process.

Overall, it was at times a slightly uncomfortable thing to watch as you remembered many families were sitting behind Blair. Out of all the MPs, McDonnell and Hermon did the best in terms of  information, the combative approach from others just didn’t work.

For Blair, he came out of it no worse than when he went in. You can tell that he is proud of his Northern Ireland record and is prepared to defend it to the hilt.

You can find more detail on the BBC News site

 

 

 

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs