‘I’m desperate for my holiday’: Documents reveal Blair and Ahern’s close ties

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Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, right, and his British counterpart Tony Blair (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, right, and his British counterpart Tony Blair (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

Confidential records of meetings and phone conversations between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair reveal the close relationship the pair had before and after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The records from the Irish state archives show how the taoiseach and the British prime minister talked regularly, speaking candidly about everything from frustrations with political parties in Northern Ireland to inclement summer weather.

One conversation in July between the pair sees Mr Blair tell the Irish premier: “I’m fine but I’m desperate for my holiday.”

“And we haven’t had a Summer here at all.”

Tony Blair with Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern after having talks at Ashford Castle, Co Mayo, in 1998 (Chris Bacon/PA) (PA Archive)
Tony Blair with Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern after having talks at Ashford Castle, Co Mayo, in 1998 (Chris Bacon/PA) (PA Archive)

Mr Ahern responds: “It is absolutely disastrous, this week it’s just been torrential rain here and it’s lashing rain now and the weather for the next four or five days is rain.”

Mr Blair tells him he thinks people are “blaming” the government for the bad weather.

Mr Ahern tells him: “Well it’s natural we get blamed anyway.”

That conversation, one among dozens recorded as the Irish and British governments worked to deliver a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, reveals the level of co-operation and closeness between the two leaders.

During one call, Mr Ahern told Mr Blair: “I am doing a European lunch of journalists today Tony, it’s a speech and then it’s a questions and answers so needless to say the whole bloody thing is going to be on the North, because it’s European journalists all your guys are there.

British prime minister Tony Blair, centre, and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern talk to the media at Chequers, near Aylesbury (PA Archive) (PA Archive)
British prime minister Tony Blair, centre, and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern talk to the media at Chequers, near Aylesbury (PA Archive) (PA Archive)

“In terms of you know not saying anything wrong or being helpful, if I say I have been, you know we have been in touch again this morning at this stage, you would rather me not say that you are trying in any initiative.”

On a call between the two leaders in 1998, Mr Ahern asks about a recent trip to China.

“Yes, well I can tell you, I’d say there’s bugs everywhere. We had a very funny experience because I couldn’t work the TV you see, so we were talking about trying to work this TV. So we went out said nothing to nobody, we came back and this guy was in there helping us to operate the TV.”

In the days leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern communicated constantly even as the Fianna Fail leader rushed between Dublin and Hillsborough following the death of his mother.

In one exchange that week, Mr Blair says: “I know obviously you have got your mothers funeral tomorrow, haven’t you.”

Mr Ahern says: “Yes, well it actually goes to the Church tonight, this is our problem. But anyway when are you thinking, have you made up your mind what time you are going Tony, or have you made up your mind yet?”

British prime minister Tony Blair and Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the golf course at the Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews, Scotland (Lewis Whyld/PA) (PA Archive)
British prime minister Tony Blair and Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the golf course at the Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews, Scotland (Lewis Whyld/PA) (PA Archive)

The prime minister responds: “I wanted to talk to you frankly before I did it.”

Later, Mr Ahern tells the Labour leader: “Well let’s have a crack Tony. It was always going to come down to this.”

“It was I’m afraid and I’m so sorry for you. You don’t wan [sic] to be thinking about it tonight and tomorrow morning,” Mr Blair replies.

Mr Ahern tells him: “It’s okay she, no better woman, she would want to see me trying to solve the problem.”

In other exchanges, the leaders compared notes on how conversations were going with key figures in negotiations.

On July 2 1998, Mr Ahern confessed to Mr Blair that he had had a “frosty conversation” with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams earlier that day.

Mr Blair responds: “Yes he told me he had spoken to you.”

He says: “I mean I don’t know if he’s being disingenuous with me when he says he doesn’t have a great deal of control of the situation.”

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