Spin Doctor’s offer for Old Firm to swap shirts as a sign of peace was a failure

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Newly released state documents revealed a bizarre proposal to promote the Good Friday deal by forcing Rangers and Celtic players to swap shirts.

Weeks before the 1998 referendum on the peace deal, Labor spin doctor Alastair Campbell suggested a match in Belfast where Old Firm rivals would carry out the gesture.

Reported by RTE, UK Cabinet state papers said Mr Campbell’s idea fell on deaf ears when he suggested it in a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar.

Mr Campbell admitted ‘one or two of the Rangers players I know would struggle with this’.

With Scottish parents, Mr Campbell said he had had “direct entry” with Celtic and believed he could bring Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to approach the Ibrox club.

“Both in terms of publicizing the campaign and sending a message, that would be very powerful,” he said.

The letter was headlined ‘Rangers v Celtic Idea’ on April 12, 1998, with Mr Campbell asking if it was worth pursuing ahead of the vote on the peace deal on May 22.

It was reported that there was no record of anyone returning to him.

Perhaps illustrating a mood of optimism in the closing stages, Mr Campbell’s suggestion came just months after the talks appeared to have reached an impasse.

Notes recorded by British civil servant Jackie Johnston said that when negotiations broke out before Christmas 1997 there was a “potentially dangerous sense of discouragement and failure”.

There appears to have been no progress on the three strands of the talks, which focused on Northern Ireland, North-South and East-West relations. The restricted and confidential documents said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams feared the IRA ceasefire could be broken by January or February.

One issue concerned Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who said there had been a “misunderstanding” that his party had agreed to talks on Tier 2 in London and Dublin.

Mr Trimble apparently claimed the moment would ‘excite the media’ as a lack of progress had been made, with the notes also suggesting he had developed ‘intense mistrust’ around the process.

SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon also claimed he had never experienced such a toxic atmosphere during the negotiations.

It was eventually agreed that North-South bodies would be created, along with the Stormont Assembly, recognizing that one could not exist without the other.

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