Tributes to peacemaker Reynolds
Published 21/08/2014 | 07:51
Former Irish taoiseach Albert Reynolds has been remembered as a courageous peacemaker after he died following a long illness.
Tributes have been paid to the 81-year-old for the risks he took to make the seemingly impossible happen in Northern Ireland and secure the legacy of the peace process.
Sir John Major, who signed the 1993 Downing Street Delcaration with Mr Reynolds that paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement and lasting peace, remembered him as the leader who made things happen.
In a heartfelt message, the former prime minister described him as a friend and a politician deserving of his place in history.
"Albert Reynolds was at the heart of the success of the Irish peace process. Without Albert, it may never have started - or might have stalled at an early stage - and Ireland, North and South, might still be enduring the violence that scarred daily lives for so long," Mr Major said.
"Albert cared about achieving peace and took risks to deliver a future for Ireland that many thought was impossible. He deserves an honoured place in the history of his country.
"To me, he became a friend I cherish and will miss."
Mr Reynolds's elder son Philip told Ireland's state broadcaster RTE this morning that he died overnight.
The family confirmed last year that he had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Mr Reynolds is survived by his wife Kathleen, two sons and five daughters.
Born in November 1932 in Rooskey, Co Roscommon, he was elected to the Irish parliament in 1977 and went on to become taoiseach in February 1992 in a coalition government.
Mr Reynolds's party was Fianna Fail. He led the centre-right republican group in two coalition governments and challenged others, including Sir John, to back his talks with Sinn Fein.
He served less than three years as leader in Ireland and, after surviving a series of political scandals, it was the mishandling of the extradition of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth that brought his time at the top to an end.
Mr Reynolds was a businessman, showband promoter, politician and deal-maker.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed his sympathies with the family.
"Albert Reynolds brought an energy and drive to the development of business and economic growth during his tenure in office as minister for industry and as minister for finance," Mr Kenny said.
"As taoiseach, he played an important part in bringing together differing strands of political opinion in Northern Ireland and as a consequence made an important contribution to the development of the peace process which eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement."
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins said Mr Reynolds was a dynamic minister and a courageous leader.
"Former Taoiseach Reynolds was committed to serving the people of Ireland with all of his energy. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to his significant contribution to our contemporary society," the president said.
Stuart Dwyer, charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Dublin, said: "As leader during some of the most difficult moments of conflict in Northern Ireland he found a way towards a solution.
"The investment that he and others made in the process set the stage for the critical breakthroughs of 20 years ago this month. We remember him as one of the architects of the peace we see today, even if work is still ongoing."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: "Albert acted on the North (of Ireland) when it mattered."
Bertie Ahern, who succeeded Mr Reynolds as Fianna Fail leader and taoiseach in 1994, said Mr Reynolds's role in the Downing Street Declaration was a critical point in the road to peace.
"If there hadn't have been a Downing Street Declaration, I don't think there would have been a (IRA) ceasefire in the first place," Mr Ahern said.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told BBC Radio Ulster: "I think Albert Reynolds showed tremendous courage, Albert was a peacemaker.
"He was someone who understood the North and the nationalist republican community but, just as importantly, he understood the loyalist unionist community and had contacts in both."
He added: "Albert Reynolds played a really important role in paving the way for what is arguably the most important development in 20 years, maybe even 100 years, and that was a decision by the IRA leadership to call a ceasefire in 1994 which so dramatically changed the security and political situation here on this island and particularly in the North."
Former taoiseach and ex-Fine Gael leader John Bruton - once dubbed "John Unionist" by Mr Reynolds - laughed off the jibe and paid tribute to his predecessor.
"His particular contribution, I think, is the negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration, it was absolutely crucial," Mr Bruton said.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I'm sad to hear of the death of Albert Reynolds. His partnership with Sir John Major led to the crucial Downing Street Declaration in 1993."
One of the most symbolic gestures in Mr Reynolds's short time as taoiseach was a public handshake he instigated between Mr Adams and former SDLP leader John Hume following talks in Government Buildings in Dublin in 1994.
Mr Reynolds attempted to take the role of taoiseach in 1991 in a failed motion of no confidence in his then-party leader Charlie Haughey.
Subsequently, his time at the head of government was dogged by controversies.
Mr Reynolds had to contend with the X Case, which strained political relations and caused deep division in Irish society after a rape victim was initially refused the right to travel for an abortion.
Other crises included the Beef Tribunal, which examined malpractice in the industry, including Mr Reynolds's connections to food magnate Larry Goodman.
Mr Reynolds's first coalition, a deal with the Progressive Democrats, collapsed late in 1992.
Following elections, a new government was agreed between Fianna Fail and Labour but despite Mr Reynolds's internationally recognised peace process efforts, issues closer to home shattered any long-term ambitions.
The mishandling of the Smyth extradition brought down his second government in November 1994. The delay in acting on the request from authorities in Northern Ireland seeking to prosecute the abuser sparked the ultimate crisis.
On his departure, Mr Reynolds famously remarked: "It's amazing. You cross the big hurdles and when you get to the small ones, you get tripped up."
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin praised Mr Reynolds's enduring legacy as a peacemaker.
"I think the key was the development of a very strong relationship, a personal relationship, with (then British prime minister) John Major," Mr Martin said.
"The trust that developed between the two of them, I think, was instrumental in bringing the British-Irish governmental approach to the issue.
"It was key also in terms of reaching out to the republican movement and the loyalist movement."
Before politics, Mr Reynolds made his name in business and Ireland's showband scene.
He was elected to the Irish parliament for the Longford Westmeath constituency in 1977, aged 45.
Robert Troy, TD for Fianna Fail in the area and who was asked to run for the Irish parliament by Philip Reynolds in 2011, said: "He was an exceptional politician from a constituency perspective and to me he was an exceptional taoiseach and he's the man that laid the work that brokered the Good Friday Agreement."
Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist MP, said Mr Reynolds helped unionism sell the peace process to its electorate by accepting the principle of consent.
"He was the first Irish prime minister that really accepted the concept or principle of consent... instead of territorial claims and so on, that it was for the people to decide our destiny," he said.
"He embodied that principle of consent into the Downing Street Declaration and without that I don't believe unionists could have taken forward the other elements of the peace process."
Mr Donaldson said he did not always see eye to eye with the former taoiseach but was struck by his understanding of people in Northern Ireland, which he credited to his days as a showband impresario throughout the island.
"I was struck by the clarity of what he had to say, and the understanding of the problems we faced in Northern Ireland," he said.
"Maybe that was partly because in his early years he had met with people and engaged with them at a social level."
Mr Donaldson, formerly a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, said ex-UUP leader Jim Molyneaux had a quiet admiration for Mr Reynolds.
Lord Eames, former Church of Ireland leader, praised Mr Reynolds for his courage and understanding of the unionist community.
"He made strenuous efforts to understand and articulate the feelings of Protestant and unionist people at a time of immense pressure, suffering and uncertainty for this community," he said.
"Above all he recognised the importance of the principle of consent in any future constitutional change in Northern Ireland and the (Downing Street) Declaration was to pave the way for much that followed."
Former US president Bill Clinton said he was saddened by the death of Mr Reynolds, who he said worked hard and risked much to advance the peace process.
"His leadership alongside British prime minister John Major was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Good Friday Agreement, and our world owes him a profound debt of gratitude," he said.
"I will always be grateful for his encouragement, advice, and support in the peace process."