Tony Blair: An inborn admiration for Ian Paisley
Tony Blair has spoken of his admiration for Ian Paisley — and how his hardline Protestant granny “loved” the future First Minister at the peak of his firebrand days.
Mr Blair’s grandmother, a Donegal Protestant, is described in his memoirs as being “very much of her time and tribe” when “bigotry was unfortunately accepted as the norm”.
He also recalls in the book her warning him from her sickbed to “never marry a Catholic”. She was unaware that by then he had started dating his future wife Cherie, a devout Catholic.
Mr Blair told the Belfast Telegraph that his maternal grandmother was a “ferocious unionist”.
“The first time I heard Ian Paisley’s name was in the 1960s round our tea table,” he continued.
“My granny was singing his praises when in those days he was regarded as pretty extreme.”
The Blair memoirs confirm that he held one-to-one discussions in Downing Street with Mr Paisley on spiritual matters, in the period leading up the 2007 power-sharing agreement.
Those chats have raised eyebrows, given that the Labour Prime Minister was by then well on his way to converting to Catholicism – a religion Mr Paisley has regularly and strongly denounced.
Praising the ex-DUP leader, Mr Blair last night told this newspaper: “He is a deeply religious man. I mean, we’re from different branches of the Christian faith.
“I know this shocks people when I tell them but I actually did find him a genuinely religious man.”
Referring to Mr Paisley’s 2007 decision to share power with Sinn Fein, Mr Blair said: “I think for him it was a huge decision he was taking and with a history going back many, many years.”
The former Prime Minister also paid tribute to all the main Northern Ireland political players in the peace process.
“People often find it hard to be generous to each other in these circumstances but I am generous to them because I think all of them in their own ways were remarkable people.”
While the Blair memoirs contain particularly warm praise for Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, there are only two mentions in the book of current DUP First Minister Peter Robinson.