Tony Blair on the people of the Good Friday Agreement and their role in the deal
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken candidly about the people behind the Good Friday Agreement, his relationship with them and how they worked together in the build-up to the historic deal.In a wide-ranging interview on ‘Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with…’ the ex-Labour leader talks of his early years and what he learned from his parents, to holidaying in Ireland and the key moments working on the Good Friday Agreement and beyond.
The programme can be watched again on ITVX.
Here he discusses some of the key players and the impact they had.
Sir Tony Blair on...
The moment David Trimble confirmed to the Downing Street team he would back the deal came with a “lot of joy and relief,” Sir Tony said.
“I always say to people in politics, there were very few moments of unalloyed joy and that was one of them.
“Other than winning the Olympic bid for Britain for the 2012 Olympics, those very specific moments they don't, they don't happen very often in politics.
“I was delighted and I also remember saying to Jonathan Powell, my chief of staff, we need to get George to get out there and make the announcement straight away.”
The former Prime Minister described ex-Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams as having the capacity to “think strategically, that he was very shrewd and very tough”.
“Those were necessary qualities in bringing this about. Both he and Martin McGuinness that had you know that they had the requisite degree of subtlety.
“In politics, when you're in a difficult situation and you know, you're taking your own people on a tough journey. You've got to have a bit of subtlety.
“You've got to know how you're going to explain to them that what those who oppose you will describe as a sellout, is actually progress.
“And that requires a capacity as I say, both to think strategically and to do and to be able to persuade your own people with a degree of subtlety.”MARTIN McGUINNESS
On the former Sinn Fein MLA who went on to become deputy First Minister, Sir Tony said: "Martin was a very straightforward guy.
"I know all the history and often people from the unionist community really object when I speak in respectful terms about him and his impact, but he spoke to me a lot about the history of the Troubles, about his own role in them, and about his desire that the next generation of people should know something different.”
Sir Tony said it took him some time to form a relationship with the late DUP leader, who went on to become First Minister, given his vehement rejection of the Good Friday Agreement, describing it as a “betrayal to unionism” at the time.
“Mellowed is the wrong word to use in respect of Ian,” Sir Tony said, “I think he came to a view that his own community was willing to give this thing a try.
“And it was for him, I think, again, as it had been for David, it was also about understanding whether I understood the thing had to be real, in order for it to happen that in other words, you know, there had to be a genuine desire on the part of the republican community to make peace and to agree with the principle of consent.”
He said it was the community behind Mr Paisley and their desire to make an agreement work,
that drove the veteran politician to get onboard.
Asked if he “played smartly” on getting Mr Paisley back to Belfast from St Andrews to celebrate his wedding anniversary, he said to get a “successful peace process” you had to get an atmosphere where people felt comfortable and to take them to nice places for talks.BERTIE AHERN
On the former Taoiseach, Sir Tony talked of how he didn't allow the sudden death of his mother on the Sunday evening affect him, or the negotiations, although he was absent for the first day.
"Once he got there he was completely on top of it so in the end it did not disrupt the negotiations."
On the former US President, Sir Tony said: “The big benefit of President Clinton was that he's just, you know, he remains one of the most acute political thinkers there is and he just grasped intuitively the politics of the situation and was able to talk both to David [Trimble] and the Sinn Fein side in in the right way.
“The great thing about having a strong partnership with the American president - he and I were friends and political associates as well as leaders together - was that I was able to be completely blunt with him as to what I needed him to do.
“And he was always smart enough to get it immediately and irrespective of the time of day and night it was.”SENATOR GEORGE MITCHELL
When asked about how significant US Senator George Mitchell was in the negotiations, Sir Tony said he had laid some of the groundwork by setting up the different strands.
He added: “I mean, he didn't really play a part in the negotiation.
“And I think, frankly, his first words to me when I came to Northern Ireland for the negotiation were ‘I think this is going to be difficult, if not impossible’, but he was very critical in keeping us in touch with the American administration with President Clinton the whole time and President Clinton played an important part in getting this over the line."
Of his predecessor, he said the former prime minister, Sir Tony paid tribute to the work he had done in preparation for the peace accord.
“To be fair as well John Major had laid a lot of the groundwork for some of this, even though the ceasefire had collapsed and there was still a lot of violence," he said.
‘Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with Tony Blair’ airs Wednesday, January 25 at 9pm and is now available on ITVX here.
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