Farewell Albert


The late, much missed, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds – though in power for a remarkably short time – is owed a great debt of gratitude by everyone in this country, not just Irish people.

His political ambitions – and even a wish to end his public service as President of Ireland – may have been scuppered by political enemies within his own party, Fianna Fail, and the deviousness of his successor Bertie Ahern but his legacy as a statesman lives on after him in Northern Ireland and here.

His decision to forge a good working relationship – and ultimately a genuine friendship – with his British opposite number, Prime Minister John Major – was central to his larger goal of ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland and their spillover here.

The generation that has reached adulthood and voting age since those days may find it hard to comprehend just how audacious Albert was in applying the principles of business negotiation to dealing with the IRA.

Experts said it was too intractable and too complicated but the businessman-turned-politician who famously preferred briefings not to exceed a single sheet of a4 would have none of that and pressed ahead with the unthinkable, inviting Gerry adams to Government buildings in Dublin.

He believed that the violence had to stop first then a political deal could follow – and he was rewarded with the first IRA ceasefire twenty years ago this week.

We now know, courtesy of his old friend Fr Brian D’arcy, that long before he became Taoiseach he was trying to broker peace in Northern Ireland using his political, business and show business contacts behind the scenes.

Before, during, and after his premiership he was a regular visitor to this country and despite the exalted political company he often kept, and his own wealth, he had time for, and was interested to hear from, people of all stations.

He liked comfort and luxury but was nevertheless unpretentious, charming, gracious, enthusiastic, mischievous and – for us journalists – a great pleasure to meet every time. he was a friend.

he also had a sense of fun. Drawing on his experience as a businessman he was wont to say that ‘pressure’ was getting a call from the bank on Friday evening to be told you needed to find £10,000 by first thing Monday – the rest (politics, for instance) was just your job and you got on with it.

In his way, he represented the very best of what we think makes being Irish somehow special. 



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