FORMER UK prime minister Tony Blair’s apology for the Famine, read at a commemoration in Cork in 1997, received a “warm” reaction in Irish official circles, British archives show.
Mr Blair said the people were failed by the government in London during a disaster that reached its nadir in 1847.
British government archives from 1997 have been released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).
A restricted letter from Donald Lamont, an official in the British government’s Republic of Ireland affairs section, dated June 2, 1997, discussed Mr Blair’s statement that month. It said: “I do not think I could have wished for a better response to the prime minister’s statement than that of the taoiseach reported in your telegram number 178.
“The Irish embassy have also been warm in their reaction.
“And if (Ulster unionist) John Taylor is no more than ‘dismissive’, then no harm may have been done in that quarter.”
The 1845-50 humanitarian disaster was prompted by a potato blight that turned Ireland’s staple crop into a mass of rotting and inedible material.
It caused an estimated one million deaths and forced two million starving and destitute Irish to emigrate to other countries, including the U.S and Canada.
Mr Blair lamented that “one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest, most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain”.
His statement was read out at a Famine commemoration in Co Cork. Mr Lamont wrote afterwards: “The most obvious downside would be attempts by the Irish to exaggerate the potential parallel with Bloody Sunday. The situations seem to me so different that that ought not to be too difficult to handle.”