Head to Head: Blair’s Visit

“Like him or loathe him, you ought to respect him – but don’t waste food”

By Ciara Finlay

According to the Melian Principle, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. This may be as true in life as it is often seen to be in politics. It is on this basis that two factions, of sorts, took to the streets in the heart of the city centre for former British Prime Minster Tony Blair’s visit to Ireland.

Blair was in Ireland to promote the release of his memoir, The Journey, which is selling out in bookstores faster than the American troops went into Iraq. And it is on this basis that protestors outside Eason’s, where the booksigning took place, became, as it were, caught in a mosh.

These protestors, many of whom looked as though they had gotten lost on their way to hang-out outside the Central Bank, chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal!” as they pelted the renowned politician with eggs and shoes. Furthermore, one of the protestors, Kate O’Sullivan, 24, from Cork, went to the extreme of attempting a citizen’s arrest, accusing Blair of “war crimes”. Perhaps one of the stranger aspects of this event was the verbal abuse with which those in the queue for the booksigning were bombarded. These included accusations that they were “West Brits”, an “insult” usually reserved for the special case of Trinity students.

In this manner Blair’s previous relationship with Ireland was blanked like an embarrassing ex. After all this is the political champion of the Labour Party who along with his opposite number, Bertie Ahern, helped foster the Northern Ireland peace process in the form of the Good Friday agreement.

That is not to say that he was “right” per se to commit troops to Iraq, however the legality of the war itself is not a clear cut case. The Iraq war can at once be deemed to be legal based on the “revival” theory surrounding the Security Council Resolutions which originated in the First Gulf War. Conversely, this war can also be portrayed as an illegal act wherein Permanent Members of the United Nations chose to misrepresent the law in order to advance their own prerogative. In this manner the weak may have been called upon to suffer what they must at the hands of the strong.

Nevertheless, freedom of speech is one of the core foundations of any democratic society and on this basis Blair is entitled to write his book, those keen readers who queued for hours are entitled to get the aforementioned book signed, and the protestors are entitled to protest.

All that I suggest is that the latter group refrain from wasting food in this manner, and think twice about throwing away their shoes, it will make the walk of shame home much easier. After all, if they wished to share their views with Blair engaging him in debate is more suitable to creating the desired response. Like him or loathe him, you ought to respect him.

“It was pure cowardice to launch his autobiography in Ireland

By Roisin Costello

Much has been made of Tony Blair’s recent visit to Ireland. But before any other argument is ventured one question must be asked – why did Blair choose to launch his biography here? He is the first Labour Prime Minister to be reelected for a third consecutive term. Surely one would suppose him a figure of admiration, or at the least of respect in Britain?

In fact quite the opposite is the case. He launched his biography here because he wanted to test the waters. The peace process in Northern Ireland was one of Blair’s greatest successes; surely it would stand to reason to begin here where he would be welcomed, where public opinion would still be in his favour.

And here is where Blair, master of the media during his term in office, went wrong. To begin in Ireland – to use it as a political vehicle – a means of gauging public opinion served only to highlight Blair’s weaknesses. During his time in No. 10 Blair was a PR dream – he was part of the new brand of politics that made superstars out of political analysts and spin doctors. He was the epitome of the new, people-friendly politician that knew the mood of the public and managed to manipulate it to his advantage.

Blair as envoy to the Middle East and existing in a kind of self-imposed foreign relations bubble no longer has the same insight he once did into mood of media or public, no longer seems to realise how to manipulate them to his advantage. And yet we might not have noticed if he had not come to Ireland.

By beginning in Ireland, Blair highlighted the dislike which still simmers in England for him; and, worse, he showed that he was scared of it. If he had begun his tour in England there would not have been flip-flops and citizen’s arrests. There would have been heavy, sensible shoes and possibly some kind of assault. It would have been bad. It would probably been so bad that a large portion of the public would have been outraged that a former PM would be thus treated. There may have been a growing feeling that the negative reaction was so strong as to be unreasonable and there would perhaps have been a great deal of rushing to the aid of Blair – now the beleaguered underdog.

Blair’s visit to Ireland showed he failed to appreciate such a possibility and gave a focus to the negativity abroad thus re-enforcing the amount of negativity that must be present at home. Blair’s mistake was, ironically, a political one – in acting cautiously and starting in Ireland, he missed an opportunity to change the public’s perception of him.

There are many arguments of why he should not have come, many I do not agree with. But the fact remains that Blair ran scared to Ireland at the start and everything after that just served to cement him in the role of a man whose greatest achievements have been forgotten and whose errors have not been forgiven.