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.
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.
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.
“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.