Bertie Ahern told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he believed there were surveillance bugs all over China when he visited there in September 1998.
In a phone call with Blair the following month, Ahern shared his suspicions that his room was bugged. Blair had just returned from a visit.
“How was China? Did you like this accommodation, this beautiful country house they had? He asked Blair, before continuing, “I can tell you, I would say there are bugs everywhere.” We have a really fun experience because I couldn’t get the TV to work, you see, so we were talking about trying to get this TV to work.
“So we went out and didn’t tell anyone. We came back and this guy was helping us get the TV working,” he said.
It is unclear how Blair responded as Ahern spoke on a cell phone to the British Prime Minister as he traveled in his car, and only his side of the conversation was recorded.
During his visit to China, Ahern met with President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji.
The transcript of the conversation between the two leaders is contained in confidential files from 1991 to 1998 held by a Taoiseach’s Department which have now been transferred to the National Archives for public viewing.
The relationship between Ahern and Blair was warm and they had frequent phone and in-person conversations in 1998, a pivotal year for the peace process. Frequent conversations reflect a closeness between leaders that was not evident in any of their predecessors. It was perhaps the strongest political relationship between a British Prime Minister and an Irish taoiseach since the founding of the state.
In a conversation with a senior Downing Street official in late 1998, SDLP Deputy Leader Séamus Mallon learned that Blair’s relationship with Ahern was his greatest asset when it came to Northern Irish politics. .
Conversations between the two leaders also revolved around vacations, the weather, and their views on other politicians in 1998.
In a phone call in late July, Blair said, “I’m desperate for my vacation. And we haven’t spent a summer here at all.
Ahern replied, “It’s absolutely disastrous this week. It’s just torrential rain here and it’s pouring rain now and the weather for the next four or five days is rainy.
Blair then said: “We haven’t had a summer at all. It’s terrible, I think they are blaming the government.
Ahern fired back, “Well, it’s only natural that we’re blamed anyway.”
He told Blair he had a Plan B for the holidays to “beat the rain” if the weather didn’t improve. The taoiseach said he plans to travel to the west of Ireland on vacation.
“I could always come down and see you,” Blair suggested.
“That would be perfect. We could meet somewhere in the west, at a hotel in the west,” Ahern replied.
” Not a problem “
Bad weather also allowed the opening of another telephone conversation in January.
Ahern said he was “in great shape, not a problem other than the depressing weather, but I’m not worried about that.”
In another conversation, Ahern compared the negotiating styles of Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams. “You can see the difference between Adams and McGuinness,” he told Blair. “McGuinness speaks a lot more candidly where Adams goes around the houses and back, you know.”
Speaking about the northern parties and the endless delays in advancing the executive, assembly and North-South institutions, Ahern also said, “You and I would have done a hundred things while they still wonder about the words of the first thing.
(Archive ref .: 2021/100/1, 2021/100/15)