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'Courageous' leadership that secured the Good Friday Agreement still needed in Northern Ireland today, says Tony Blair

9 April 2023, 11:09 | Updated: 9 April 2023, 11:18

Tony Blair said the current situation in Northern Ireland needed 'courageous' leadership similar to the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago
Tony Blair said the current situation in Northern Ireland needed 'courageous' leadership similar to the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago. Picture: LBC/Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

The same "courageous" leadership that secured the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago is still needed to help resolve Northern Ireland's problems today, Tony Blair has told LBC.

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Speaking to David Lammy on Sunday, former Prime Minister Mr Blair, who helped broker the Northern Ireland peace talks that brought an end to the Troubles in 1998, paid tribute to the nation's success since the agreement.

"The economy of Northern Ireland has doubled over the past 25 years, it’s been a remarkable achievement," he said. "I can’t believe the people of Northern Ireland would want to throw that away."

Northern Ireland still faces problems today, with sectarian violence flaring up between republicans and unionists. Police officer John Caldwell was seriously wounded in a shooting in February, with the self-styled New IRA claiming responsibility. Officers have said they have good intelligence of terror attacks planned against police on Easter Monday.

Meanwhile the Northern Ireland assembly in Stormont is not sitting because the Democratic Unionist Party has refused to sit amid concerns over how Brexit affects Belfast's relationship with London. The government's Windsor Protocol, currently passing through Parliament, aims to resolve this tension.

'What an agreement can't do is heal all that distrust'

Mr Blair added: "What will be the constitutional future - United Kingdom vs United Ireland - that’s for people to decide, but I think if we can return to stability and if you start to make the political process work - because there are lots of problems in NI, economic and social, not just political and constitutional - if you can return to that stability then I think the future will be bright for Northern Ireland and inside the United Kingdom.

"But in the end it will take the same type of political leadership and courageous political leadership that brought about the Good Friday Belfast agreement, it will take that leadership to do it."

Mr Blair told David that the Good Friday Agreement was "the most exhausting and difficult negotiation I’d ever been part of or had to lead".

He added: "What an agreement does is it resolves issues in a political or legal or technical way. But what it can't do is it can't heal all that distrust.

File photo dated 10/04/98 of then prime minister Tony Blair (left) and then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern signing the Good Friday peace agreement
File photo dated 10/04/98 of then prime minister Tony Blair (left) and then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern signing the Good Friday peace agreement. Picture: Alamy

'I mean, some of the toughest conversations I ever had with people who were from the families of victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland when I was releasing people from prison who'd committed these offences. And you can understand why they were angry and upset.

"And so the distrust between the, the communities - that doesn't just go away overnight and that will take a generation, maybe several generations to heal.

"The interesting thing about Northern Ireland today though is that if you look at the younger generation who have grown up with this peace in Northern Ireland, it's clear when you start to look beneath the surface of some of the political support in Northern Ireland, that generation, they want a non-sectarian future.

"They want to put differences between Catholics, Protestants, unionists, nationalists behind them."

File photo dated 10/04/98 of then prime minister Tony Blair (left) and then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern signing the Good Friday peace agreement,
File photo dated 10/04/98 of then prime minister Tony Blair (left) and then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern signing the Good Friday peace agreement,. Picture: Alamy

It comes as Joe Biden is set to meet Rishi Sunak in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Sunak said of the agreement: "It was a powerfully rare example of people doing the previously unthinkable to create a better future for Northern Ireland.

"It is that promise of a better future that we offered to everyone in Northern Ireland that I will be thinking of first and foremost over the coming days.

"It is my responsibility as the prime minister of the United Kingdom to ensure we are making good on that promise."

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