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No peace without process

Tony Blair’s ex-chief of staff, argues that the lessons of Northern Ireland can be applied to Palest

Last month, dissident republican ter­rorists murdered two soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland. The deaths were a tragic waste of human life. British newspaper headlines warned hysterically of a return to the Troubles, the three decades of death and destruction that blighted Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The news had an impact around the world. Over recent years Northern Ireland has become a place of pilgrimage for people from other conflict zones as far away as the Philippines and the Middle East, just as Northern Ireland politicians used to visit South Africa in the 1990s to see what they could learn from the successful peace deal there. In recent times I have found myself being asked in Pakistan and in the Middle East whether it was indeed true that the Northern Ireland peace process had failed. I replied that it was not dead and could still provide inspiration for the solution of other conflicts, including Palestine. And there is in fact no reason why these pointless murders should lead to a return to the Troubles. Northern Ireland will not fall back into conflict unless we propel it there ourselves by doing something stupid.

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Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s chief of staff from 1997 to 2007. His account of the Northern Ireland peace process, “Great Hatred, Little Room”, is just out in paperback (Vintage, £9.99)

This article first appeared in the 13 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Easter 2009