Northern Ireland

Paxman in row over Irish famine remarks

Jeremy Paxman

BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman is at the centre of a row for saying that former prime minister Tony Blair should never have apologised for Britain's role in the Irish potato famine.

The BBC 2 Newsnight host said he believed Mr Blair was guilty of "moral vacuousness".

Speaking in an interview with the Radio Times magazine, he said: "You should apologise for things that you have done, that you recognise that perhaps you shouldn't have done or regret," he said.

"Apologising for things that your great, great, great, great-grandfather or grandmother did, seems to me a complete exercise in moral vacuousness," he said.

However, Michael Blanch, chairman of the Committee for the Commemoration of the Irish Famine Victims, said Mr Paxman was in "denial" if he thought an apology was not appropriate.

He said he should apologise for his remarks.

"If Mr Paxman was making similar comments in certain European countries denying what happened during World War II, he would be incarcerated," he said.

"This is not about individuals. As a state and as a government at the time of the famine, there was wrong and there was neglect. An apology was long overdue."

Mr Blanch said healing and reconciliation was going on in Northern Ireland and it was wrong to "annexe" one part of history, like the famine, and suggest it did not matter.

In 1997, Mr Blair made a statement on the 150th anniversary of the famine.

He described it as "a defining event in the history of Ireland and of Britain".

"It has left deep scars. That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today," he said.

"Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event."