Paul Murphy, the former MP for Torfaen, was instrumental in events leading up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

He talks to Tomos Povey of his role and how peace was achieved.

This week marked 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to many years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

A central figure in securing the agreement was Paul Murphy the former MP for Torfaen – and now a lord.

The conflict in Northern Ireland was filled with deep divisions on all sides and fuelled by many factors, including sectarian and political.

The conflict claimed the lives of thousands of people.

Lord Murphy was first sent to Northern Ireland as an opposition spokesman in 1994 and was later appointed by Tony Blair as minister of state in the Northern Ireland Office in 1997.

“I had a lot of experience of the situation because I had been sent there in the early 1990s,” said Lord Murphy.

“I looked forward to being sent. I was there for two years.”

The conciliator was handed the arduous task of trying to set up the Northern Ireland Assembly as well as other responsibilities.

During the talks to secure peace, which the 69-year-old described as “very tense” at times, he met key political leaders, including Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams.

“I remember during the early stage of the talks Gerry Adams speaking in Irish,” said the peer, who lives in Cwmbran.

“Of course, that caused problems for the unionists. I am no Welsh speaker but used Welsh words to defuse the situation.”

The peer said remaining “100 per cent neutral” was key to achieving progress.

He said: “There were enormous tensions at times.

“After all, this place had been subject to violence for 30 years. There had been a lot of bloodshed.

“But I had to be impartial, other wise people could have walked out of meetings.

“The talks took place in a mixture of ways. Some were bilateral talks and others were multi-party with a variety of people.”

For the former minister for Northern Ireland, building trust was one of the most difficult achievements to reach in the role.

“It took an awful long time to build those relationships,” said Lord Murphy.

“At the beginning they would only talk to me.

“The big thing was establishing and then building on personal relationships between all sides. Whether that was over a pint of beer or in other ways.

“The main thing is that we had to do it. And in the end we did it.”

Lord Murphy’s role in securing peace is unquestionable, but also important was the Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam.

“She was a great friend of mine,” he said. “She was also my boss.

“Mo was a legendary figure and appealed to all sides.

“Sadly she was struck down with a brain tumour and died some years ago. Her legacy will never be forgotten, though.”

And after years of intense negotiations, history was finally made on April 10, 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The agreement resulted in considerable changes including the establishment of the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly and the release of prisoners.

“Right up until the last minute we remained doubtful it would be signed,” said Lord Murphy.

“We were all in tears when it was finally signed. I was elated.

“The people also voted in favour of it.

“It was the highlight of my career.”

Lord Murphy was then promoted to secretary of state for Wales and later secretary of state for Northern Ireland in 2002.

But the power-sharing agreement collapsed more than a year ago, plunging Northern Ireland into a new crisis not seen since the 1990s.

Lord Murphy said: “There is a stand-off and we do not want to see a return to direct rule from Westminster.

“All the sides must come together and enter dialogue.”

He added: “Another crisis facing Northern Ireland is Brexit. Theresa May must ensure that there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the north.

“Other wise it could cause serious problems.”