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'Warm' response in Irish circles for Blair's Famine apology

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Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with UK prime minister Tony Blair

Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with UK prime minister Tony Blair

Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with UK prime minister Tony Blair

Tony Blair's symbolic apology for the Famine received a "warm" reaction in Irish official circles, British archives show.

The former British prime minister said the people had been failed by the government in London in their hour of need during a disaster which reached its nadir in 1847.

British government archives from 1997 were released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

A restricted letter from Donald Lamont, an official in the British government's Republic of Ireland affairs section, dated June 2 1997, discussed Mr Blair's statement that month on the Famine.

It said: "I do not think I could have wished for a better response to the Prime Minister's statement than that of the Taoiseach (John Bruton) reported in your telegram number 178.

"The Irish Embassy have also been warm in their reaction.

"And if (Ulster Unionist) John Taylor is no more than 'dismissive' then no harm may have been done in that quarter."

The 1845-50 disaster was prompted by a potato blight that made Ireland's staple crop inedible.

Pain

It caused an estimated one million deaths and forced two million starving and destitute Irish to emigrate.

Mr Blair had acknowledged the fact that "one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest, most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain".

His statement was read out during a Famine commemoration in Millstreet, Co Cork.

Mr Lamont wrote afterwards: "The most obvious downside would be attempts by the Irish to exaggerate the potential parallel with Bloody Sunday.

"The situations seem to me so different that that ought not to be too difficult to handle."


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