Blair Walks into Mire of Controversy over Famine; Pauley on Politics

Article excerpt

Tony Blair's implicit apology for the Irish potato famine of 150 years ago earned him kudos from nationalists and brickbats from unionists. Good move, Prime Minister. Any more surprises up your sleeve?

The reaction was predictable, reflecting the divided nature of our mangled society and highlighting contrasting approaches to the 'blame culture' business.

Among those who were decidedly cool towards Mr Blair's gesture, and dismissive of its bridge-building potential in terms of British-Irish relations, were Ulster Unionist deputy leader John Taylor and DUP justice spokesman Ian Paisley Jr.

A hard-to-please duo at the best of times and on this occasion, positively bristling with suspicion that the new occupant of No 10 might be poised to produce another rabbit or two out of the hat. An apology for Bloody Sunday, perhaps.

"I suppose it was a nice gesture but he will find it will not satisfy and there will be yet more demands," soothsayer John reckoned, adding ungraciously that the Irish mentality was one of victimhood.

The use of the word "demands" was at odds with the reported intentions of the organisers of the Cork famine festival who had simply asked Mr Blair for a message of support.

Perhaps what Mr Taylor had in mind was the fact that, two years ago, Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern had called for a British apology for the catastrophic crop failure.

Did Mr Blair's expression of regret on behalf of the British government constitute a (presumably unwitting) fillip for the "Soldiers of Destiny" rather than for Mr Bruton's Fine Gael camp, in the Eire general election?

"Nice one, Tony," you could almost hear Bertie trill.

Bearing in mind that Mr Blair's statement came on the heels of Mo Mowlam's controversial if unintentional boost for Sinn Fein on the day of the council elections, the New Labour administration will need to watch it doesn't go too far with its generous gestures.

Clearly, Ian Paisley Jr believes it is only a matter of time before the premier, bewitched by Irish blarney, does just that.

"We will now witness a rash of British acts of political contrition to Irish nationalism, scraping apologies and sickening concessions," he forecast.

"An apology for Bloody Sunday is next. …