To those still buying into the Major/Powell idea that the British government is always a neutral player in negotiations, try this account from Peter Robinson on how Blair set Sinn Fein up with a promise for an Irish Language Act he had no intention of asking the DUP to deliver:
“It was Ian’s assessment – and in my view an accurate one – that if the government was prepared to con Sinn Féin in the way it did, they would be prepared to do the same to us.”
He revealed how “in later life Martin McGuinness and I often spoke about the different, inexact and misleading messages we were given during earlier negotiations when the Blair government was acting as intermediary”.
In his recollection of events during the 2006 St Andrews’ talks, Mr Robinson said that while Sinn Féin genuinely believed an agreement to implement an Irish Language Act had been reached, there had been only “a tongue in cheek” promise by the government.
Mr Robinson said the issue was “never raised” with his party during the negotiations. He believes a reference was inserted into the agreement at the very end of the talks.
“We were not informed of any change to the document,” he said. When the DUP noticed the “added section”, it informed the government that it was “unacceptable” to the party.
“We were told the section had been carefully and deliberately worded. It was not an issue that should cause us any concern,” Mr Robinson said.
“They informed us that as devolution would be up and running the government would not make good its commitment as the power would be devolved.
“At no stage did Ian commit the party to accepting an Irish Language Act and indeed we made sure there was no commitment to it in the legislation.”
Mr Robinson said Dr Paisley had been “intensely displeased” by the Blair administration’s trickery.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty