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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 11:56 GMT
Institute hosts Blair and VIPs
By James Campbell
BBC News Online

Tony Blair and Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan greets Tony Blair at the Museum of Welsh Life
In its 87-year history the Oakdale Workmen's Institute has never had so distinguished a gathering.

Under its roof were British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Scottish Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace and Wales First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

It would have bemused Harry Blunt, one of the workmen of the Oakdale Navigation Colliery, who laid the foundation stone of the building in 1916.

Harry, if he was around today, would have also wondered why his Institute was no longer in Oakdale in the south Wales valleys, but had been transported brick by brick to the Museum of Welsh Life, at St Fagans, Cardiff.

The building was the venue on Friday for the British-Irish Council summit meeting, hosted by Rhodri Morgan. The council was established in 1998 to promote the "harmonious and mutually beneficial development" between Britain and Ireland.

It members consist of the UK and Irish governments, the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the governments of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

A tight security ring was clamped around the St Fagans site as Mr Blair arrived, looking a bit pale after his reported stomach problems on Thursday.

But the paleness might have been a culture shock at the thought of opening a major summit meeting in a workman's hall in the middle of an open-air museum.

There were certainly no workmen around to greet him...in fact there was no-one at all apart from the press corps, police and various Welsh assembly functionaries.

After a brief handshake with Rhodri Morgan, and an even briefer smile for the cameras, the prime minister disappeared through the door of the institute to address the delegates at the summit meeting.

On the agenda was a discussion on promoting minority languages across the British-Irish Council area.

Since no press were allowed into the meeting it is unclear whether Mr Blair greeted the delegates with a few words of Welsh, Irish or Scots Gaelic...or even Cornish...just to make everyone feel at home.

With Mr Blair safely ensconced within the institute, Rhodri Morgan popped out to greet the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

As they shook hands at the door of the institute the irony of the situation may have escaped Mr Ahern.

For just to his left was the foundation stone laid by Harry Blunt

Eamon De Valera
Eamon De Valera - escaped the British firing squad in 1916
The date was 1916, the year of the bloody Easter Rebellion in Dublin which eventually led to the forming of the Irish Free State and eventually a fully independent Ireland.

And Mr Ahern's predecessor as Taoiseach Eamon De Valera only escaped the British Army firing squad because of his American citizenship.

Happily, today's Taoiseach was in no risk of that fate at the British-Irish summit meeting.


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