Tony Blair declines to appear before inquiry into Libya-backed IRA terrorism

Tony Blair

Tony Blair has declined to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into IRA terrorism sponsored by Libya.

The former prime minister has written to the chairman of the Northern Ireland affairs committee to refuse his invitation to give oral evidence, saying he has already supplied written material that presents all the information he can offer.

The inquiry is examining the role of the UK government in seeking compensation for victims of IRA attacks that were made possible by the provision of Semtex and other weapons by the former Gaddafi regime.

Laurence Robertson, chair of the committee, wrote to Blair in December following the submission of his written evidence, saying there were further questions he wanted to explore in person.

But a spokeswoman for Blair’s office said he did not believe that appearing before the committee simply to repeat what he had already said would do anything to further the cause of the victims and their families.

In his written evidence, Blair denied he at any time tried to halt compensation for IRA victims at a time when the US was negotiating on behalf of victims of the Lockerbie bombing.

He defended his need to deepen relations with the Gaddafi regime in 2004, as he claimed the country had begun to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programme and cooperate with the UK on fighting terrorism.

“From the outset, the issue of Lockerbie was treated as a separate issue by both the British and the American governments,” he wrote. “Libya had made a number of admissions regarding the extent of their links with IRA terrorism from 1992 to 1995. The issue of compensation for the victims of IRA terrorism made possible by the provision of material by the Gaddafi regime was not an issue raised with me, as far as I am aware.

“And of course a statutory compensation scheme for victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland was already in existence, having been set up by a previous government. The needs of victims were therefore being addressed through the existing structures and mechanisms.”

He said he understood why the victims of IRA terrorism should have wanted their claims raised at the same time as the settlement of the Lockerbie compensation in 2008, but “for the Americans this was never going to be made part of this settlement since they were focused on US citizens affected by Lockerbie and the Berlin discotheque bombing.”

He added: “I believe in any event they were precluded legally from such an action. I never tried to get the Americans to exclude the claims of IRA victims. I did not raise this issue with President Bush. The email from former ambassador Vincent Fean to my office evidences no such thing, it was simply a reflection of government policy at the time. I was in favour of the USA having good relations with Libya for the same reason as I favoured the UK having such relations: it assisted in the fight against terrorism.”

He stressed he was not prime minister in 2008 and therefore was not in a position to have raised the issue of IRA victims when Lockerbie compensation was agreed by the US at that time.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for on Friday 15th January 2016 13.15 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010