The Irish Government was presenting Mr Paisley with a sculpture carved from a tree on the site of the historic Battle of the Boyne and Mr Blair was furious that his administration was giving so inadequate a gift by comparison.
“Oh f**k!,” Mr Blair is quoted as saying. “Jesus... how come the Taoiseach can come up with these inspired ideas and all we can present is a f**king photo album?”
The revelation comes in The Far Side of Revenge, a book by award-winning journalist Deaglán de Bréadún, which documents the Northern Ireland peace process.
Originally published in 2001, an updated version of the book is being released to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement in April.
Mr de Bréadún writes in the book how the different sides in the peace negotiations became so closely involved that senior British and Irish civil servants ended up drafting statements that were subsequently issued in the name of the IRA.
This is confirmed by Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell who writes in his memoir that Mr Blair redrafted an IRA statement in the presence of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in 2003.
Mr de Bréadún also writes that the Irish Government almost certainly knew of the Colombia Three’s activities prior to their arrest in Bogota in August 2001.
The previous month, the British and Irish governments had been locked in talks with unionists and republicans at Weston Park in Shropshire in the West Midlands region of Britain.
“The British Government knew about the Colombian escapade at Weston Park,” writes Mr de Bréadún.
“An Irish source says the British always conveyed such information very rapidly to the highest political level… The Irish Government delegation almost certainly knew about Colombia as well.”
Several weeks later, the three — James Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley — were arrested by the Colombian authorities on charges of providing explosives training to left-wing guerrillas.
The men were found guilty in April 2004 of travelling on false passports but acquitted of the bomb-training charges. However, the prosecution successfully appealed the latter decision and, in December that same year, the men were sentenced to 17 years in prison. By then the trio had jumped bail and fled Colombia. They resurfaced in Ireland in late 2005.
* The Far Side of Revenge is published by Collins Press.