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Early Blair-Ahern meeting gave rise to potential for peace in Northern Ireland

Records released from the National Archives give details of an early meeting involving the UK and Irish Prime Ministers.

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, with outgoing Irish premier Bertie Ahern, right, during a meeting at Dublin Castle which forms part of a series of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, with outgoing Irish premier Bertie Ahern, right, during a meeting at Dublin Castle which forms part of a series of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, with outgoing Irish premier Bertie Ahern, right, during a meeting at Dublin Castle which forms part of a series of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The genesis of prime minister Tony Blair’s role in the Good Friday Agreement has been laid bare, after a Cabinet briefing note weeks into his premiership hinted at a historic accord with his Republic of Ireland counterpart.

Mr Blair and taoiseach Bertie Ahern were among those lauded for their roles in bringing about the peace accord in 1998 after years of The Troubles – bitter conflict between Republicans and Loyalists in Northern Ireland.

Documents on Anglo-Irish relations from Mr Blair’s first few weeks in office, following New Labour’s surge to victory in May 1997, show a meeting between the two men signalled an intent to bring peace.

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Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern sign the peace agreement in 1998 (Dan Chung/PA)

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern sign the peace agreement in 1998 (Dan Chung/PA)

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Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern sign the peace agreement in 1998 (Dan Chung/PA)

A briefing note from Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, to Mr Blair said: “Your meeting with the Taoiseach on July 3 was inevitably dominated by discussion of Northern Ireland.

“But there was agreement in principle to developing the wider relationship.”

Mr Cook acknowledged that a nationalist government would likely be “less instinctively committed to improving” the relationship between Ireland and the UK.

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Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were lauded for their roles in the Northern Ireland peace process (Lewis Whyld/PA)

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were lauded for their roles in the Northern Ireland peace process (Lewis Whyld/PA)

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Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were lauded for their roles in the Northern Ireland peace process (Lewis Whyld/PA)

But he said having Mr Ahern as the Fianna Fail party’s leader gave genuine cause for optimism.

“Ahern is a pragmatist,” Mr Cook wrote.

“He has spoken privately to our Ambassador and in public of the possibility of developing a new era in UK/Irish relations.

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Robin Cook was foreign secretary under Tony Blair (Ian West/PA)

Robin Cook was foreign secretary under Tony Blair (Ian West/PA)

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Robin Cook was foreign secretary under Tony Blair (Ian West/PA)

“Better so-called ‘East/West’ relations have intrinsic value and will improve the climate for our exchanges with the Irish over Northern Ireland.”

The Good Friday Agreement, also referred to as the Belfast Agreement, set the way for peaceful powersharing in Northern Ireland.

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