The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Blair's Irish Decade

Tony Blair celebrated 10 years at Number 10 this week. Radical Unionist commentator and journalist Dr John Coulter assesses the Labour Premier’s legacy to the Irish peace process.

Dr John Coulter • 2 May 2007

In 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.

On 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 at Stormont.

Combining 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.

The 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.

Ironically, as Britain goes to the polls on Thursday for council and Assembly elections, Blair’s success in Ireland will go almost unrewarded as Labour expects to suffer heavy political losses because of the Iraq war.

In the North of Ireland, at least, Blair will be able to accurately quote the words of another famous British Premier of the late 1930s – Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlain returned from his notorious meeting with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, brandishing his Munich Agreement and declaring – peace in our time.

Within weeks, Chamberlain was toppled as his Munich Agreement became a stage for global war.

Likewise, in a matter of weeks, Blair, too, will retire as both Prime Minister and Labour leader.

But 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 October’s St Andrews Agreement, otherwise known as the Scottish deal.

Ever 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.

When 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 Dialogue.

At 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.

Blair 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.

But 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 compromise.

Blair’s 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.

His 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 was signed.

The 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.

In 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, Blair’s ultimate aim of lasting peace on the island between Unionism and Nationalism still faced two major barriers.

The first was IRA decommissioning without which the loyalist death squads would not even think about giving up their arms.

The second was the growing scepticism in the Unionist community about the Belfast Agreement.

But Blair’s peace in our time strategy almost hit the rocks over two key events in 2002 and 2003.

In 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 Paisley’s DUP toppled the UUP as the lead party for Unionism.

The North seem doomed to generations of Direct Rule, but for Blair’s bargaining skills.

This 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 goals.

He 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.

And he persuaded the Dr No of Unionism, Ian Paisley Senior, to power-share with republicans on the basis that Westminster’s Plan B would mean joint authority of the North with Dublin and effectively the end of the Union.

Only 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.









Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

6 May 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

Colluding in Silence
Mick Hall

Censorship Complementing Cover Up
Anthony McIntyre

John Kennedy

Antaine Uas O'Labhradha

Protestantism and the Republic
Roy Johnston

UVF Statement: Unionists Welcome in Nine-County Ulster Parliament
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

Hidden Hand
John Kennedy

Selection at Eleven
Michael Gillespie

Stormont Christian Coalition?
Dr John Coulter

Ken Bruen's 'The Priest': Galway's Heart of Moral Darkness
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Scottish Left Must Reunite in New Socialist Party!
Mick Hall

Return of the Wild Geese
Dr John Coulter

Calling All de Gaulles!
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Blair's Irish Decade
Dr John Coulter

24 April 2007

Tús Nua - Céim chun tosaigh
A new beginning - a step forward

W. Harbinson

Which Way We Are Facing
Mick Hall

Whither Traditional Republicanism?
Michael Gillespie

The Drumcree Conspiracy
John Kennedy

We Must Deal Openly With The Past
David Adams

What Was It All For?
Antaine Uas O'Labhradha

The New Wolfe Tone?
Dr John Coulter

Felon Setting
Martin Galvin

UVF Threats Further Proof of Political Policing
Press Release: 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Widgery II
John Kennedy

Easter Statement
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

Commemoration Report
Cathleen O'Brien

The Road Ahead for the UUP
Dr John Coulter

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander!
Patrick Hurley

David Ervine
Anthony McIntyre



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices