Tony Blair’s former spin doctor last night unveiled some fresh insights into the Westminster government’s role in the peace process.
Alastair Campbell’s book gathers together entries about Northern Ireland from his previously-published diaries, but also contains fresh comments alongside some of the dates, offering new perspective on what was going on at the time.
The volume also contains forewords from both Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, in which they offer their own views on the process.
Edited by Kathy Gilfillan and published by The Lilliput Press, ‘Irish Diaries (1994-2003)’, was launched at Belfast’s MAC theatre last night. Among the new segments added to diary entries by Mr Campbell is a suggestion that some unionists were fazed by the fact that the Northern Ireland secretary was a woman.
In a portion dealing with the year 1999, he wrote: “Mo (Mowlam) had, as was often pointed out, brought a breath of fresh air to politics in Northern Ireland. But though her personality and vivacity went down well with large sections of the public, her relations with unionists in particular had become dysfunctional.
“Perhaps some of them were not ready for a woman, and certainly not a woman like Mo, fond as she was of dirty jokes, belching and slapping her wig down on the table at the start of meetings.”
In earlier entries he had written about the Labour MP’s apparent lack of embarrassment about bathing nude in front of him. He also writes about the mood after the Omagh bomb; and claims the condemnation of it represented something of a sea-change in Sinn Fein’s attitude.
In the portion dealing with 1998, he wrote: “Think back to the comments of Adams and McGuinness in reaction to bombings of the past, the weasel words and semi-justifications, all whilst claiming no link with the organisation that carried them out...
“This time, for all that their opponents were looking for weasel words, Sinn Fein leaders were clear that this was the way of the past.”
In his own foreword, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern credited unelected PR supremo Mr Campbell with having “played a huge role in stopping the murder and mayhem that had defined Northern Ireland”.
Likening peace processes to “a curious symbiotic dance between leaders and led”, former prime minister Tony Blair’s foreword hails the contributions of all sides involved in the peace negotiations –though he misspells Martin McGuinness’ name in the process.