Monday, October 26, 2009
President Blair? - Not in our name!
At the moment one of the most often-mentioned candidates is ex-UK Premier Tony Blair. The Taoiseach Brian Cowen has already intimated that he would be very happy to support a Blair candidacy.
I think we need to sit back and think about things before we offer our support to any candidate.
Our nation has just concluded a national conversation on our role in Europe. As someone who spoke to thousands of citizens during both Lisbon referenda I am very conscious of the importance which people placed on the whole issue of Irish neutrality, and the potential involvement of Irish troops overseas. The presence of the triple-lock mechanism in relation to our overseas involvement (approval of the UN, the Government and the Oireachtas before we engage in any military action) was reassuring to many people. So, if one of the first acts of the new, reformed European Union is to appoint someone who went to war without a UN mandate, then this will be a real kick in the teeth to many of our citizens.
I recognise the many talents of Mr Blair. As a member of the UK Labour Party in the early ‘90s I had the opportunity to vote in the election for Leader of the Labour Party in July 1994. I cast my vote for Blair (and I voted for Brown for Deputy Leadership) and was delighted when both won their respective contests.
I applaud the work he did on Northern Ireland. But let’s not forget that he came into power less than a year before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Much hard work had already been done by that time. He was like the fourth runner in a relay race. He finished well and never dropped the baton and he is deserving of credit for this.
But I don’t think that he is owed anything by the Irish people because of this. And I would prefer if there was some sort of debate about his suitability as President of the European Council before the Taoiseach goes off anointing him on our behalf.
Already many prominent writers are engaging in a sales pitch for Blair. Frankly some of them should know better. Will Hutton is supporting him, on the basis that “It’s better to back our man, however imperfect, than refuse a prize that may not come our way again for decades”.
Jackie Ashley’s backing is less than wholesome. She says “I think the Iraq war was such a big error that, morally, nobody who led us into it should be able to return to a position of leadership. There should be some mistakes too big to recover from.” But she seems to reassure herself that all will be ok if he becomes president because “He’d have no army. He’d be able to start no wars”. Well that’s alright then.
Blair made a big mistake. A huge mistake. The Iraq War. Politically he should be consigned to the graveyard because of it.
Back in February 2003 I along with millions of others marched from Euston to Hyde Park in London on the day of the worldwide anti-war marches. I remember stopping off for a coffee break along the way in Bar Italia, in Soho, and watching live coverage from other European cities – the millions of people marching in Rome, 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin listening to Michael D Higgins and Christy Moore in Dublin.
We were furious that preparations were being made for war. “Not in our Name” was our cry. Surely, we all thought, Blair will see the strength of opposition across Europe and call a halt to this madness!
But Blair was not for turning. Blair would not listen. He was completely anti-european when he turned his back on us, as well as on the leaders of the rest of Europe. Instead he rushed off to war with his ally George Bush.
Like millions of other, from then on I lost my faith and trust in the man. Now, just six years later, some people are asking us to support him again. We shouldn’t. He is too divisive to be considered for the position.
Even in his homeland people are querying a potential Blair presidency. The Sunday Observer’s lead article this week was entitled “Europe needs a president we can all trust. Blair is not the man for the job”.
What’s more, the past is creeping up on Mr Blair. In the same way that Mahon Tribunal might put a stop to Bertie Ahern’s Presidential ambition here at home, the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War awaits Blair.
The purpose of the inquiry is to consider the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken. It has appointed Dame Rosalyn Higgins, one of the most renowned experts on international law as an adviser, in what is viewed as an indication that the Blair government's legal justification for the invasion is to come under serious scrutiny.
The Inquiry's chairman, Sir John Chilcot, says he will not carry out a "whitewash". He has insisted the committee "will not shy away from making criticism. If we find that mistakes were made... We will say so."
So, things are going to get a lot hotter for Mr Blair. Last week the father of a killed serviceman told the inquiry that "I believe this country has been badly let down and been lied to. I would like to see some accountability... The prime concern I have is over the legality of the war."
A grieving mother told the Inquiry that "Blair had to be held responsible for what he's done, to our children, and to our husbands". Another mother told the hearing that "I lost my son and he was only 18, and I blame Tony Blair.”
Blair himself will be giving evidence to the Inquiry. He will be pushed hard in relation to the evidence for weapons of Mass Destruction. A central issue is whether he took Britain to war on evidence he knew or suspected to be fake.
Blair’s appearance in front of the inquiry will coincide with the first months of the new president’s term. Not the type of attention that a new president needs. And of course, when the report comes out, this will cast further spotlight on him. There’s also the potential of criminal charges afterwards.
Do we really want to run the risk of having such a tarnished and controversial person figure as President of the European Council? I think the answer has to be no more Blair. Not in our name.