a decade, Tony Blair has achieved a political
crown which no other leader in Britain can ever
boost a lasting solution to eight centuries
of sectarian conflict in Ireland.
Tuesday, 8 May, Blair will reap the historic fruits
of his New Labour vision when legislative authority
is formally devolved to the power-sharing Executive
diplomatic statesmanship, hard-nosed political
bullying, and billions of taxpayers cash,
Blair has created a unique scenario in Irish politics
bringing two parties which vehemently despise
each other into a workable coalition government.
success of his Ireland policy contrasts sharply
with his disastrous foreign policy in Iraq and
Afghanistan where the British forces body
count steadily climbs on a daily basis.
as Britain goes to the polls on Thursday for council
and Assembly elections, Blairs success in
Ireland will go almost unrewarded as Labour expects
to suffer heavy political losses because of the
the North of Ireland, at least, Blair will be
able to accurately quote the words of another
famous British Premier of the late 1930s
returned from his notorious meeting with Nazi
dictator Adolf Hitler, brandishing his Munich
Agreement and declaring peace in our time.
weeks, Chamberlain was toppled as his Munich Agreement
became a stage for global war.
in a matter of weeks, Blair, too, will retire
as both Prime Minister and Labour leader.
on this occasion, Blair can truly utter the words
about the Northern political process peace
in our time as he brandishes one of the
most successful treaties ever negotiated concerning
Ireland last Octobers St Andrews
Agreement, otherwise known as the Scottish deal.
since the start of the present Troubles in the
late Sixties, no British Premier has been able
to create a stable government for the North between
Unionists and Republicans.
Blair swept to power in the May 1997 British General
Election, he inherited a toothless talking shop
from the Tories which had been set up the previous
year the Northern Ireland Forum for Political
first sight, the Forum looked destined to join
the litany of failed political initiates in the
North, including the original Stormont parliament
in 1972, the Sunningdale Executive in 1974, the
Convention in 1976, and the Assembly of 1982-86.
also inherited the sectarian tension of the Drumcree
saga which had begun in 1995 and was proving a
major stumbling block to getting Unionists and
Nationalists to even talk to each other.
Blair did have two trump cards from 1994
the Provisional IRA and Combined Loyalist Military
Command cease fires, mixed with a personal concoction
of charm, wit and a determination to reach a workable
secret of success was the use of so-called hot
house negotiation putting party delegations
into intensive talks, either directly or by using
go-betweens for hours on end.
personal hot house strategy
along with additional pressure from the United
States brought its first major success
on 10 April, 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement
majority of people endorsed the Agreement in May,
and in June, in the first Assembly elections,
the Ulster Unionists and SDLP emerged as the largest
parties. Even Sinn Fein was on board.
spite of the launch of the first power-sharing
Executive a matter of months later with UUP boss
David Trimble as First Minister and SDLP deputy
leader Seamus Mallon as Deputy First Minister,
Blairs ultimate aim of lasting peace on
the island between Unionism and Nationalism still
faced two major barriers.
first was IRA decommissioning without which the
loyalist death squads would not even think about
giving up their arms.
second was the growing scepticism in the Unionist
community about the Belfast Agreement.
Blairs peace in our time strategy almost
hit the rocks over two key events in 2002 and
October 2002, the UUP/SDLP power-sharing Executive
was suspended amid allegations of a republican
spy ring at Stormont. Just over a year later in
November 2003, Ian Paisleys DUP toppled
the UUP as the lead party for Unionism.
North seem doomed to generations of Direct Rule,
but for Blairs bargaining skills.
was aimed at sucking the Paisley camp and Sinn
Fein towards the centre and into a power-sharing
Executive. In early 2007, he achieved his ultimate
persuaded Sinn Fein to accept policing and take
its places on the Northern Policing Board by assuring
republicans Unionists would not have a majority-rule
veto in Stormont.
he persuaded the Dr No of Unionism, Ian Paisley
Senior, to power-share with republicans on the
basis that Westminsters Plan B would mean
joint authority of the North with Dublin and effectively
the end of the Union.
two final prizes have eluded Blair loyalist
decommissioning and disbanding, and lasting peace
at Drumcree. Those will have to be the cherries
placed on the icing by his likely successor, the
Chancellor Gordon Brown.