The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

This is what I mean by tilted reporting. I think most people would agree in retrospect that if we hadn't begun the peace process in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s working with Albert Reynolds and others, and if Mr Blair hadn't carried it on after I left office, there would not have been the present peaceful situation that has existed for the past few years in Northern Ireland. It's very different from the Northern Ireland that existed in the 1970s and the 1980s.

When we began the Northern Ireland peace process, when Albert Reynolds and I began it, there was a lot of opposition to it for different reasons. Some people were opposed to it because they thought it was going to be a sell-out to a united Ireland. Other people politically were opposed to it because they thought it was a fool's game and that we would be sucked into something, we would then be let down and the government would be made to look very foolish. There were a number of very senior members of government who thought that and thought we ought not to go down the route of the peace process because it would end in tears and it would damage.

But we did go down, and we began to make real progress with the Downing Street declaration in 1993, I think, with John Bruton, then the Irish Prime Minister, and the frameworks agreement -- sorry, with Albert Reynolds, and then the frameworks agreement with John Bruton.

The framework document was leaked to the Times from a very hostile unionist source. I'm pretty sure I know who it is but not absolutely certain, but let me simply say it came from a source that was very hostile to the Northern Irish peace process, and very late in the day, the Times rang up the Downing Street press office and said, "We are about to run this story. Do you have any comments?" And they contacted me and I said, "This story is -- they've got hold of a draft of the frameworks document, but the narrative that has gone with it is entirely wrong. It gives entirely the wrong impression, and it will really feed into a problem that could break up the peace process." It was always fragile. It was always like playing with a multifaceted rubric cube, to keep all the different component parts together, and I said, "It could be very damaging if this is printed", and we said to the Times: "Look, this story, firstly, it's wrong. Secondly, it's come from a biased source, and thirdly, if you print it as you apparently propose to print it, you could do very great harm to the peace process. Please don't do it." And they went ahead and printed it, as they had planned, with a tiny little bit, because they came to us very late for comment, simply saying it wasn't accurate.

It caused, that night when the first editions came in, absolute mayhem in the House of Commons. I remember a midnight meeting in my room in the House of Commons packed with angry Conservative Members of Parliament who were instinctively pro-unionist and thought, as a result of that, that we were selling out the union, and that meeting was saved by several things: the assurances we gave to them that evening, backed, I may say, not just by me but by the assurances given to them by Patrick Mayhew, whom they liked and respected, who was the Northern Ireland secretary, and also Lord Cranborne, who was then the leader of the House of Lords, known to be a very strong unionist, who made it clear to colleagues that the story was wrong and that we were acting in good faith and we were not selling out the union; we were trying to stop people killing one another in Northern Ireland. And it helped.

Then a few days later, some of the Northern Ireland churchmen, if I remember correctly -- I think this was the occasion -- also saw me and obtained my personal assurance and then went back and said to their own communities that they should trust us on continuing with the Northern Ireland process.

Now, I think that was irresponsible and that's what I meant in my comment here. I think it was irresponsible, on an issue like this, where people's lives were at stake, to print a story when the government had flatly said to them -- and not a government, I may say, that was generally thought to be untruthful. The government had actually said to them: "Don't do it. This is wrong."

So that was the sort of thing I -- it was a very rare occurrence, this, but it actually concerned me a lot at the time.

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