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Saturday 16 December 2017

We should never have said sorry to Irish over Famine -- Paxman

BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman has found himself in a spot of bother after accusing Tony Blair of "moral vacuousness" for apologising for the Irish Famine.

The outspoken TV frontman lashed out at the former prime minister for comments in a speech dating back to 1997.

"You should apologise for things that you have done, that you recognise that perhaps you shouldn't have done or regret," Paxman said.

"But apologising for things that your great, great, great, great-grandfather or grandmother did, seems to me a complete exercise in moral vacuousness."

However, reports in the UK have outlined that although Tony Blair acknowledged the devastating effect of Britain's strategy on Ireland, he stopped short of apologising.

The former prime minister did express his "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade in an article for the New Nation in 2006, on the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery

But Blair's words in relation to Ireland were carefully thought out, at a time of enormous sensitivity.

Tragedy

The IRA ceasefire was at a tentative stage and eventually was brought about while he was prime minister.

At a concert marking the 150th anniversary of the famine, actor Gabriel Byrne read out Tony Blair's speech: "The Famine was a defining event in the history of Ireland and of Britain. It has left deep scars.

"That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today.

"Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event."

Former Taoiseach John Bruton acknowledged how the words had been carefully selected at the time.

"While the statement confronts the past honestly, it does so in a way that heals for the future," he said. "The prime minister is to be complimented for the thought and care shown in this statement."

clairemurphy@herald.ie

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