Blair refuses to appear at IRA-Libya inquiry

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at his desert base in 2007

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at his desert base in 2007

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Tony Blair has declined to appear before a Commons select committee investigating links between the IRA and Libya.

The former prime minister has strongly denied trying to stop victims of IRA attacks carried out with Libyan weapons from receiving compensation.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi gave arms to the republican group during the Troubles and Semtex from Libya became the IRA’s most devastating threat during that time, causing the loss of many lives.

Mr Blair turned down an invitation to give oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, claiming that his written submission to the MPs had included “all the information at my disposal”.

In his letter to committee chairman Laurence Robertson, he said: “These continued attempts to implicate me in deliberately trying to stop IRA victims receiving compensation are, as I have made very clear, without foundation.

“I am therefore respectfully declining your invitation to appear before the committee as I have already given you the facts of the matter in my written submission and I do not believe simply repeating what I have already said in person will do anything to advance the cause of the victims and their families.”

Links between the IRA and Libya date back to 1972 when Gaddafi praised the group.

He later provided the IRA with the weaponry to wage an armed conflict which lasted 30 years and claimed many lives.

The dictator was ousted from power in 2011 and later killed during an assault on Sirte, his birthplace .

During his time in Number 10, Mr Blair was instrumental in a process of diplomatic detente with the Libyan dictator.

Mr Blair met Gaddafi in his desert tent in 2004, as the north African country began its return to the international community after years of isolation for supporting terrorism.

As part of the process, Gaddafi renounced weapons of mass destruction, bringing to a halt programmes to develop nuclear and chemical arms.

In his written submission in December, Mr Blair told Mr Robertson that Libya had made a number of admissions regarding the extent of its links with IRA terrorism between 1992 and 1995 - before he entered Number 10.

Mr Blair said: “The issue of compensation for the victims of IRA terrorism made possible by the provision of material by the Gaddafi regime was not an issue raised with me, as far as I am aware.

“And of course a statutory compensation scheme for victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland was already in existence, having been set up by a previous government.

“The needs of victims were therefore being addressed through the existing structures and mechanisms.”

He said he understood why victims of IRA terrorism would have wanted their claims raised at the same time as the 2008 compensation settlement of the Lockerbie passenger jet bombing.

Mr Blair said for the Americans this was never going to be made part of the settlement since they were focused on their own citizens affected by Lockerbie and a Berlin discotheque bombing and were precluded legally from such an action.

He also pointed out that “I was not even in government at the time” of the 2008 settlement.

Mr Blair could be formally summoned to give evidence if the committee decides that his written submission is insufficient.

A spokesman for the committee said the issue would be considered when the MPs meet on Thursday.

“They are going to consider it at their next meeting, when they will make a decision on the next step,” the spokesman said.