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In June 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement expressing remorse for the British government’s inaction to assist the Irish during the potato famine of the late 1840s. Blair’s contrition was met with praise and criticism, but it proved to be part of the larger narrative in the peace negotiations within Northern Ireland. Although Blair’s apology is often cited as an exemplar of political leaders apologizing for historical injustices, little actual scholarly work on this subject has been conducted. To that end, this paper examines Blair’s potato famine apology through the theory of collective apology. We argue that collective apologies serve to build, repair, renew, and strengthen bonds between communities harmed by historical wrongdoing. Moreover, collective apologies are meditations in collective memory about the past, present, and future relationship between communities. We assess Blair’s apology through this theoretical lens, discussing the potential impact that it had on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Original Citation

Edwards, J.A. & Luckie, A. (2014). British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Irish Potato Famine Apology. Journal of Conflictology, 5(1), 43-51.

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