Blair guilty of capitulating to Sinn Féin

Peter Mandelson has accused the prime minister of "unreasonable and irresponsible" behaviour in the way he granted concessions to Sinn Féin during Downing Street's attempts to broker a peace deal in Northern Ireland. As Mr Blair tries once again to revive power sharing, he is criticised by one of his closest political allies of "conceding and capitulating" to republican demands, which alienated unionists.
In a Guardian interview for a series examining the prime minister's handling of the peace process, the former Northern Ireland secretary praised Mr Blair for his commitment to the process, dating back to when he became Labour leader in 1994. But he added: "In order to keep the process in motion [Tony] would be sort of dangling carrots and possibilities in front of the republicans which I thought could never be delivered, that it was unreasonable and irresponsible to intimate that you could when you knew that you couldn't."

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Mr Mandelson's revelation that he disagreed with the prime minister - at one point he refused an order to write a secret letter to Sinn Féin - sheds new light on his second resignation from the cabinet in 2001. At the time of his departure Alastair Campbell, then the prime minister's official spokesman, openly questioned Mr Mandelson's judgment over Northern Ireland on the grounds that he became overly sympathetic to the unionists and too hostile to Sinn Féin.
Downing Street officials interviewed by the Guardian say that Mr Blair has wrestled with the dilemma highlighted by Mr Mandelson over the past decade: how to bring Sinn Féin in from the cold without destroying unionist support. Lord Butler , the former cabinet secretary, says: "There was a lot to be said for paying a price to keep the bicycle moving. The issue is whether Tony Blair paid too big a price."

Lord Butler and Mr Mandelson are among a series of senior officials and politicians - including all four surviving Northern Ireland secretaries to have served under Mr Blair - whose interviews appear in this week's three-day Guardian series on the peace process. Political leaders from across the spectrum, including the former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Trimble and Sinn Féin's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, praise Mr Blair for his commitment to Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness hails the prime minister for ending the "Thatcher mentality" on the issue. His favourable views are not shared by Seamus Mallon, the SDLP's former deputy first minister, who tells the Guardian that Mr Blair treated the late Mo Mowlam "like shit", employing an approach in which the prime minister would "buy anybody [and] sell anybody".

The Guardian series sheds new light on the peace process by revealing:

· Downing Street believed that the IRA leadership ordered the United Kingdom's biggest bank robbery in 2004 from the Northern Bank after the political process hit the rocks;

· Peter Mandelson says ministers had to maintain a "fiction" that they were not talking to the IRA when they met Sinn Féin;

· John Reid, the home secretary, believes the IRA were targeting individuals for attack as recently as 2002;

· George Mitchell, the former US senator who chaired the Good Friday agreement talks in 1998, warns of continuing crises even if a power-sharing deal is reached by the end of this month;

· The prime minister used his Protestant Ulster roots - his maternal grandfather was a member of the Orange Order - to woo unionists but said nothing of his background to nationalists.

The revelations come as the prime minister tries to broker a power-sharing deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP after the two parties dominated last week's election to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Mr Mandelson reveals that Sinn Féin lay at the heart of his row with the prime minister just a month after he succeeded Mo Mowlam as Northern Ireland secretary in October 1999. The prime minister demanded that Mr Mandelson write a secret letter to Sinn Féin offering a form of amnesty to IRA fugitives, known as "on-the-runs", among other "sweeties".

"I was at a performance of the Royal Ballet visiting Belfast and I was taken out three times during the performance to talk to No 10 about this," Mr Mandelson said. "I said ... I am not prepared to do it because I have my own standing to think of and a secret side letter is not how I want to do business. They came back and said that the prime minister takes a different view, that you do need to make these offers to the republicans and he wants you to write this letter. I said if the prime minister wants to make these offers I am afraid he will have to write his own letter."

The letter was sent and the concessions were formally offered to Sinn Féin at the Weston Park talks in July 2001 six months after Mr Mandelson left office. "Weston Park was basically about conceding and capitulating in a whole number of different ways to republican demands - their shopping list. It was a disaster because it was too much for them ... That was a casualty of my departure, I would say." Mr Mandelson added: "When Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness entered the room you were expected to stand up. They were senior military, they were top brass. Apart from being leaders of Sinn Féin they were leaders of the military council."

The Sinn Féin MPs have always denied being IRA leaders.

John Reid, Mr Mandelson's successor in Northern Ireland, is more supportive of Downing Street's efforts, saying: "If Tony Blair's Labour government never did anything else but bring to an end the longest-running political dispute in European history and the longest running war probably in world history, on and off, it would be worth having the Labour government just for that."

Can the end sometimes justify the means? I never served in NI but did get my home town bombed, like so many others.
I can't decide if its good that he went to almost any length to end to violence, or bad that he caved in quicker than a Chinese coal mine.

Bareing in mind that this is what Peter Mandelson has been saying, and he's hardly lilly white.
Mandelson is a snake. He put the boot in and then said he didn't, that he was "misrepresented". The snake would not have drawn breath without asking the Dear Leader first, let alone have uttered an original - let alone - contradictory opinion.

Having said all that, if no-one is dying today then that is a good thing and Northern Ireland is a far nicer place than 10 years ago. I would have thought something along the lines of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee would be appropriate, in order to look at (and even attempt to address) the core issues of the Troubles in an atmosphere of reconciliation rather than to ignore most misdeeds on all sides and selectively investigate occasional ones.

The bottom line is that people are better off with more money and a better standard of living, the MLAs have a nice Assembly building and are even more better off and hardly anyone wants to give all that up.
True, the province is probably a much nicer place than it was when I was there in the 80s. People are safer, the economy is better and tourism is back on the list of employers in the country.

It may be a way ahead to initiate the sort of reconciliation process that was used in S Africa. Wrong was done on both sides. But if it continues to be a case of bending over backwards to accommodate the demands of the republicans it may very well end up with another violent backlash, from the other side.

The terrorists have been released and are walking free (even if only on license) but the republicans are still calling for soldiers to be tried for their actions. Even handedness is the way ahead and hopefully the way can be found to rid the country of its religious bigotry on both sides.
Mandelson was interviewed on R4 Today and was accusing the Grauniad of taking things out of context, selectively quoting, the usual deal. Basically, everything is A-OK between Mandy and Tone, and the nasty journo misrepresented him. You could hear the pedals!


Politics is the art of the possible. An effective politician will only do what he can do. Instead of getting a settlement that pleases everyone, that rewards the law abiding yet nationalist SDLP or Alliance party, the loyal DUP, and yet includes the murderers and criminals of PIRA and UVF, which everyone knows is impossible. Instead, he will cause the polarisation of positions by only negotiating with PIRA as only they have influence, the Unionists as they have the numbers. No one else matters. Low and behold there are only effectively two party’s to bother voting for. No in-betweens because peaceful politics is for saps. You’ll see Blair doing this with the Muslims on the mainland. Only negotiate and engage with the radicals as only they have anything to offer. Thus they get political support. So SDLP and AP have dropped in support whilst SF has increased its share or the vote.
Yes Northern Ireland is now peaceful. (Although just because it isn’t in the news here don’t make it so) The principles of Law and Order, the Criminal Justice System were compromised to make it thus. And as things rarely change I bet they still are. There is always a price to pay for that. Principles can’t be bought off, just ignored and what goes around comes around. The up shot has to be disaster for Ireland as a whole, not just the north.

As for Mandelsons comments about Blair’s negotiating skills. It is not hard to conduct a negotiation when you tell people what they want to hear. It always seems to come back to Tony Blair telling people things which seem extraordinary yet sincere and ultimately you are swayed, not because it is Tony Blair but because of the office he holds. How many people can find themselves today saying, its not what he said so much as that fact a British Prime Minister said it is so. Surely not even Blair would compromise the integrity of the office just for one short term point. That is Blair’s true legacy, any future Prime Minister can say “Trust me on this” and they will be laughed out of court.
'Even-handedness' is what we were expected to show from the beginning. In general, we did. Once in a blue moon, however, some fool got out of control and left an archaeological record which PSF is now happy to pick over. They're also very happy to try equating those few episodes with their own enormous catalogue of atrocities, and must never be allowed to get away with that. A 'Truth and Conciliation' court couldn't work in NI as the overwhelming mass of crime was committed by people who wouldn't tell the truth about it, and I won't be conciliated.

Tony would, though. He's thinking of History, and statues.