Tony Blair has urged Northern Ireland politicians to keep working at the peace process, hailing it as an inspiration “right round the world”
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the former Prime Minister spoke of his pride in the political settlement here and said it was giving hope in the current search for peace in the Middle East.
He defended comments in his newly-published memoirs, where he praised Sinn Fein leaders and admitted “stretching the truth” during Northern Ireland negotiations.
And he paid tribute to ex-DUP leader Ian Paisley as a “deeply religious man”, saying he had been a hero to Mr Blair’s “ferocious” unionist grandmother.
The ex-Prime Minister spoke to this newspaper in Dublin last night, on a promotional tour for his autobiography, A Journey.
Recalling the “huge amount of time” he spent on the peace process here, he said: “It’s one of the things I’m very proud of and one of the things that is most satisfying.”
He also had this message for the province’s political leaders: “Don’t lose faith and keep working on it all the time, because it’s worth it.
“And just remember that right round the world there are people who have taken heart from it.”
Mr Blair also said: “I know this from the Middle East peace process now, that I’m engaged in intimately, that one of the things that gives them hope is the success of the Northern Ireland process.
“It’s a big symbol of change and possibility right round the world.”
The memoirs have attracted controversy over references to “creative ambiguity” in negotiations here, and to his having stretched the truth “on occasions past breaking point” in the run-up the 2007 power-sharing deal.
Mr Blair said the process would not have succeeded without “a certain amount of creative ambiguity”.
He also said that he had stated in a keynote 2002 speech that the time for this ambiguity had ended.
And he added: “In the end, the IRA gave up violence and the DUP shared power and that was what it was all about.”
He defended his praise of Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and rejected accusations of naivety.
“Of course, I understand that there were things done in the past that were completely wrong.
“I think that one thing about the peace process is that you do and can move on.”
Mr Blair acknowledged the “concerns and anxieties” of the UUP and SDLP over being increasingly marginalised as the process focused on the DUP and Sinn Fein.
He said that on the nationalist side a lot of time was spent with Sinn Fein.
“And David Trimble, I think perfectly understandably, felt I was never doing enough for him.
“But I think that it is in the nature of these processes that they’re a bit like that.”
Mr Blair added: “I’m not sure we could have done it any differently.
“But I’ve always said that I fully understand their anxiety that I leant too much the other way.”