Tracey Magee: Blair's criticism of the current generation of politicians 'pointed and subtle'

Tony Blair with John Hume with David Trimble in 1998. Credit: Pacemaker

Nearly 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement much has changed in Northern Ireland, but Tony Bair remains the same – he is still a polished politician and an accomplished media performer.

Hindsight is a 20/20 science and so it is sometimes hard to remember how difficult it was to reach the Good Friday Agreement.

For years Northern Ireland’s politics had been a quagmire steeped in blood which Mr Blair admits was regarded by the UK’s politicians as “huge and unresolved sore.”

His interest in politics here was forged during childhood holidays in Donegal with his maternal grandmother, a Presbyterian who, he freely admits, was a bigot.

Whatever his view of her politics, she gave him an early understanding of how deep feelings ran on the island of Ireland.

Labour’s landslide majority and a hope, bordering on naiveté, which accompanies new government led him to believe “the impossible could be possible” and so he threw himself into finding an answer to the tragic riddle which is Northern Ireland.

Undoubtedly he was successful, not only because his personal commitment, but also because political leaders here, in Dublin and Washington did their share of the heavy lifting.

How many lives were saved by his intervention and the political bravery of those leaders who took the risk to back the Agreement can never be calculated.

Asked if the gains from the Good Friday Agreement have been squandered Mr Blair says he believes the peace “will hold because people won’t go back to the past,” but his frustration at what he sees as the political damage caused by Brexit is obvious.

He admits to being very frustrated by the current political deadlock because it is all “so unnecessary.” ‘I told you so’ appears to be his position and, to be fair, he did.

In the run up to the Brexit referendum in a symbolic joint visit with former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major he stressed what he saw as the risks of voting leave.

Interestingly, he believes the DUP’s arguments against the NI Protocol are valid, but he points it is a direct consequence of Brexit. Furthermore he warns the Protocol is undermining the Union and so he views unionist support for it as ‘bizarre’.

With the optimism that saw him through the negotiations 25 years ago, he believes there is a solution to the challenges thrown up by the NI Protocol but he adds the approach must be practical, flexible and without ideology.

He believes the GFA was possible a quarter of a century ago because the politicians of the day took difficult decisions unpopular within their own ranks, showing a type of leadership he says is not common now.

Mr Blair’s criticism of the current generation of politicians is at once pointed and subtle.

Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with Tony Blair is available to watch again on ITVX.

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