A leaked cable reveals that a senior Irish official expressed concern that Tony Blair
was "too soft" with Sinn Fein to a senior U.S. diplomat, according to the Belfast Telegraph
The cable is dated June 1, 2005 -- only weeks after Blair secured his third election victory -- and states that Michael Collins, secretary general in the Taoiseach's office, said that Sinn Fein
was aware that it was the British prime minister's "last lap" and that the party may seek to take advantage.
Collins also remarked that Blair was eager to make peace in Northern Ireland the defining theme of his legacy.
"He said the GOI (Government of Ireland) was pleased at PM Blair's re-election, and that Sinn Fein is aware that this is Blair's 'last lap,'" states the cable.
"That, he said, plays both ways - that no successor is likely to be as engaged in the process as Blair, and that he represents their best hope of a deal.
"On the other hand, Sinn Fein also believes they could take advantage of Blair's interest in getting a deal before leaving office."
The comments were reportedly made during a visit by U.S. Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss
to Ireland between May 19 and 22, 2005.
The cable, which was written by then US ambassador to Ireland James Kenny
, notes that it represents a switch in policy.
"GOI concerns about UK 'softness' represent a role reversal,"Kenny writes. "Usually, it is the UK that is concerned Ireland will be too accommodating to Sinn Fein."
Kenny also states that the Irish government's eventual position will depend on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
who had been "generally considered softer" on the Provisional republican movement than either of his two key cabinet ministers.
Ahern is also reported to have expressed concern about any compromise by the British Government.
"[Foreign Minister] Ahern was adamant that the Irish government was interested in a comprehensive deal only, and was concerned that the UK might be open to Sinn Fein's desire to cut a side deal with London," the cable states.
Then Justice Minister McDowell - who is described by Kenny as "always the hardest hitting of the Irish cabinet" - offered his experience on how best to deal with the Provisionals.
"McDowell said some lessons had been learned about how to deal with them - you only get concessions from the Provisionals when you put your hand on their throat," the cable states.
"When you play their propaganda game, they press for concessions."
The dispatch says that McDowell warned that the Irish government was not in appeasement mode, and should offer a cold shoulder to the Provisionals.
"Sinn Fein, he said, is 'asking for warm words' but [the] governments should not offer them," the cable continues.
The cable also stated that McDowell had warned Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain
against any "side deals" with the Provisionals.