Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Thank you, Tony

I enjoyed BBC NI's Spotlight programme which covered a theme that has been talked about quite a bit over the last few weeks, namely the legacy of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair has been in power in Britain since 1997 and stands as the Labour Party's longest-serving PM, the only person to have led the party to three consecutive general election victories, and the only Labour PM to serve more than one full consecutive term.

In a matter of weeks Gordon Brown is set to succeed him as the new Prime Minister of the country.

The Spotlight programme touched upon Blair's legacy in relation to Irish politics and featured interviews with figures from across the political spectrum ranging from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, to the DUP's Ian Paisley to Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness. The general consensus from those interviewed was that Blair has done an admirable job when it comes to the North.

McGuinness said Irish Republicans would generally not give credit to British Prime Ministers but that he would give Blair credit for his role in the peace process .

Paisley was not quite as kind but conceded Blair had done more for NI than his predecessors had (although John Major in my view deserves credit for his role also).

The Taoiseach meanwhile made a good point when he said that no British PM has taken such an interest in Irish politics and had the influence on matters here in Ireland as much as Tony Blair has done.

That is correct. Not since William Ewart Gladstone have we in Ireland had a British Prime Minister take such an active interest in making this island a better place. Gladstone's efforts to bring about Home Rule in Ireland would ultimately prove to be in vain but Blair's effort to bring about agreement across the island has proven to be largely successful.

People unwilling to give the man his due with respect to events here need to open their eyes and take a look at the Ireland pre-1997 and the Ireland of 2007. Prior to Blair taking office, the Provisional IRA were still around, still arming and still posing a grave threat to peace and stability. Unionists were hostile to Sinn Féin, nationalist demands and the southern half of the island which still set out a constitutional claim on the North. Now fast-forward to the Ireland we have ten years later. The Provisional IRA have declared their war is over, their arms are decommissioned and they are no longer arming. Sinn Féin are on the policing board and are about to share power with Ian Paisley's party. Unionists enjoy a much better relationship with Dublin and there are currently plans for Paisley to visit the Battle of the Boyne site with the Taoiseach. The DUP have made frequent political visits down south too.

If you had told somebody prior to Blair's tenure in office that these things would happen they simply would not have believed you. Why? Because it sounded impossible. But in a lot of ways that is what Tony Blair, admittedly with help from Bertie Ahern, has done - made the impossible possible.

In office, Blair has had to endure an appalling amount of criticism. The British public aren't the sort of people to heap praise on those in authority, unless you wear a crown on your head that is, and Blair has been the target of mocking being called names like "Bush's poodle" and "Teflon Tony". I've always found it rather disappointing. In fact, I think the British public might be in for a rude awakening when Gordon Brown steps into power. I get the feeling Blair will look a damn sight more appealing when Brown finally steps into 10 Downing Street and I reckon the grass won't seem quite as green to the Labour ministers when that time comes. We shall see.

I suspect that here in Ireland Blair will be remembered pretty fondly but I get the impression that outside of these shores, the 'I' which Blair is associated with most will not be 'Ireland', it will be 'Iraq'. Regardless of what one thinks of Blair's policy on Iraq I think with hindsight we can see that Blair placed too much trust in America's George W. Bush and that this trust was not respected the way it should have been. The "special relationship" between America and Britain, from this outsider's perspective anyway, was not handled well by the Americans and I think a lot of British people are justifiably angry about that.

Personally speaking, I have nothing but respect for Tony Blair and all the diligent work he has put in to making my country a better place to live in. People are happier and more optimistic and the "dark days of The Troubles" seem consigned to the past forever thank God. Blair has played a big role in making that a reality.

Arguably the most famous quote to ever come from the lips of Tony Blair came prior to the Good Friday Agreement when a deal was close to falling through. Blair commented, "I feel the hand of history on our shoulder". So often in Ireland the "hand of history" is a heavy one and weighs people down but Blair was not brought down by it, instead he used it to lift everyone else up to a new plateau. A better place.

That's not the stuff of any old politician. That the stuff of a master statesman and, in my opinion, a fine man to boot.

Thank you for your contribution Tony. I for one will not forget it.


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