Mandelson denies split with Blair over NI

The Northern Ireland peace process could be Tony Blair’s legacy, former Northern Ireland secretary and ally Peter Mandelson hinted today.

Mr Mandelson was moved to play down reports of a rift between himself and the prime minister during his time as Ulster secretary after telling a Guardian reporter that Mr Blair had acted in an “unreasonable and irresponsible” way at times.

He said: “In order to keep the process in motion [Tony] would be sort of dangling carrots and possibilities in front of the republicans which I thought could never be delivered, that it was unreasonable and irresponsible to intimate that you could when you knew that you couldn’t,” he said.

Mr Blair pushed for too many concessions to Sinn Fein at times, Mr Mandelson told the paper, describing the 2001 West Park Summit as: “Basically about conceding and capitulating in a whole number of different ways to republican demands – their shopping list.”

Ministers also struggled to maintain the “fiction” they were not talking to the IRA when they met with Sinn Fein.

“When Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness entered the room you were expected to stand up,” he said.

“They were senior military, they were top brass. Apart from being leaders of Sinn Fein they were leaders of the military council.”

However, Mr Mandelson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the Guardian had taken his comments out of content.

The interview was “not a fair representation” of his comments, Mr Mandelson said, denying any rift between himself and Mr Blair.

In contrast, the prime minister’s record on Ireland was “among his greatest achievements in office,” he said.

Mr Mandelson added: “But making peace in Northern Ireland is one of the hardest things to do in government, because you’re constantly navigating between different pitfalls and elephant traps on one side of that divided community or another.

However, the former Northern Ireland minister did confirm he resisted government pressure to write a secret letter to Sinn Fein to offering amnesty to IRA fugitives.

In response to Mr Mandelson’s comments, Downing Street said the peace process in Northern Ireland was about balancing risks.

“It is about trying to bring both sides along and the ultimate test is whether you succeed in that,” said the prime minister’s official spokesman.

“Where we are now is that we have had an election where the very clear message on the doorstep was that the public want their politicians to get on with it, and they want them to deal with domestic Northern Ireland matters – that is considerable progress.”