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BBC presenter Paxman hits out at Tony Blair over potato famine 'apology'

The Newsnight presenter has criticised the former British Prime Minister for his supposed apology for the Irish potato famine.

Jeremy Paxman in 2009
Jeremy Paxman in 2009
Image: Wikimedia Commons

BBC NEWSNIGHT PRESENTER Jeremy Paxman has hit out at former British prime minister Tony Blair over his supposed apology for the potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century.

In a wide ranging interview with the Radio Times, the television star who is famed for his grilling of politicians, has plenty to say about the organisation he works for likening the BBC to “the last echoes of empire” according to a report in The Telegraph.

But he also takes aim at Blair – Britain’s prime minister from 1997 to 2007 – and says that the man who played a key role in the brokering of the Good Friday Agreement was guilty of “moral vacuousness” in apparently apologising for Britain’s role in the famine:

You should apologise for things that you have done, that you recognise that perhaps you shouldn’t have done or regret. But apologising for things that your great, great, great, great-grandfather or grandmother did, seems to me a complete exercise in moral vacuousness.

But the Guardian’s Nicholas Watt has done some digging and reckons that Paxman may have got it wrong.

He reports that Blair’s statement, that was read out at a concert in Cork marking the 150th anniversary of the famine in 1997, did not explicitly apologise for the famine.

Rather the current Middle East envoy said that the fact Ireland had gone through a famine which killed one million people was something “that still causes pain as we reflect on it today” and added: “We must not forget such a dreadful event.” There was no explicit apology.

Watt goes on to say that rather than “moral vacuousness” as Paxman claims, the move was “highly calculated” in that the “gesture on the famine was a small, but important, step” in helping to secure an IRA ceasefire and ultimately a peace agreement in the North.

Paxman is a former BBC correspondent on Belfast during the Troubles. He has presented Newsnight since 1989 and gained widespread notoriety for his tough and uncompromising interview style.

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Hugh O'Connell

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