13/03/2007

Former NI Secretary denies criticising Blair

Peter Mandelson has denied claims he criticised the Prime Minister’s handling of the peace process.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary was quoted in 'The Guardian' newspaper this morning as saying he believed Tony Blair’s behaviour was “unreasonable and irresponsible” in relation to concessions he granted Sinn Fein during attempts to broker a peace deal in the province.

The paper has also reported Mr Mandelson said that while he praised Mr Blair’s commitment to the process, he thought the PM “would be sort of dangling carrots and possibilities in front of the republicans which I thought could never be delivered.”

Former Cabinet secretary Lord Butler of Brockwell also said Blair faced a dilemma trying to balance the needs of both republicans without alienating unionists.

He said: “There was a lot to be said for paying a price to keep the bicycle moving. The issue is whether Tony Blair paid too big a price.”

However, the ex-NI secretary has played down the comments, saying they were neither “credible or a true reflection of my views.”

He said: “This report amplifies something I said out of all proportion to its content and makes a generalised judgment totally unsupported by the remarks I made.

“What they present as news is very old hat to anyone with a passing familiarity with Northern Ireland’s recent history.”

(JM/KMcA)

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