Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bertie's latest digout from friends

Has Blair‘s “Cash for Honours” now morphed into “Political Endorsement for Legacy”?

Last night, a week before Ireland’s general election, Fianna Fail, the largest party in the state and leader of the current two-party coalition government, aired its latest party political broadcast featuring warm endorsements of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and George Mitchell. While the tributes centred on Ahern’s role in the northern Ireland peace process, both Blair and Clinton also praised Ireland’s economic performance. Clinton just stopped short of adding “it’s the economy, stupid!”

The screening of this party political broadcast on Wednesday night raises inevitably questions about the timing of the Taoiseach’s Westminster address the previous day and the very warm and glowing personalised introduction he received from Tony Blair on that occasion, which was televised live in Ireland.

Is this Tony Blair's "thank you" for Bertie Ahern's help in securing agreement in Northern Ireland, by far the most prominent positive achievement for the Blair legacy?

The following extract from today’s Irish Times makes it clear that the participants in last night’s party political broadcast were well aware of the exercise in which they were engaged. It inevitably raises the question: is it appropriate for a serving British Prime Minister to involve himself so directly in a foreign election campaign?
Irish Times Thursday 17th May 2007
Opposition parties were last night playing down the significance of contributions from former US president Bill Clinton, British prime minister Tony Blair and former US senator George Mitchell, all of whom pay warm tribute to the Taoiseach in the latest party political broadcast from Fianna Fáil. Deaglán de Bréadún , Political Correspondent, reports.
In the four-minute election broadcast, Mr Blair says: "We would never have had the peace process in Northern Ireland without Bertie Ahern."
A similar point is made by former president Clinton who says: "If it hadn't been for Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair we would never have had the Good Friday agreement."
Mr Mitchell, who chaired the talks at Stormont which led to the Belfast Agreement, says the Taoiseach's role was "crucial" to the success of the negotiations.
Mr Blair also praises Mr Ahern for his "immeasurable" contribution to Ireland's economic success, both as Taoiseach and minister for finance.
A Fianna Fáil spokeswoman told The Irish Times: "They were all asked to participate. They knew they were participating in a party political broadcast."
All three recordings were made last month: "They were shown the finished version and they cleared it before it went ahead. All three approved them, and they saw the final version. They were all cleared personally."


Footnote: I’ve emailed the above item to BBC radio’s flagship radio news programme Today, to BBC2’s Newsnight & Daily Politics, to Sky News and to Channel 4 News. I’ll be very disappointed if this doesn’t generate some media heat for Mr Blair and his friend.

An edited version of this published as a letter in the Irish Times.

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