Albert Reynolds (critical bridge builder of the early peace process) dies

So another old beast of the Peace Process era leaves the stage. Albert Reynolds is too easily forgotten in the sense that he was only taoiseach for less than three years. Yet in that time between Haughey and Bruton its widely acknowledged that he played a crucial role in bringing Sinn Fein and the IRA into mainstream negotiations.

As the BBC’s obit piece notes

… with a mixture of carrot and stick, [Reynolds] was instrumental in persuading republicans to end their commitment to violent struggle and to agree to peace negotiations with other Northern Ireland political groupings.

He said at the time: “The IRA have nowhere to go. I’ve stripped away all their excuses, one by one.”

Reynolds did much to convince John Major that Sinn Fein’s change of policy was sincere, and he helped bring the US administration on board.

As Noel Whelan noted this morning on Twitter…

And there’s also this interestingly little snippet from Brian Rowan in which Reynold’s emphasises the importance of a full cessation of violence…

It was not an easy or internally popular root to take, as the Telegraph’s obit notes:

When his deputy and coalition partner, the Labour leader Dick Spring, joined him to work on the Downing Street Declaration, he was shocked to learn of the extent of negotiations with the IRA. Spring was anxious to keep his distance, so Reynolds pushed on alone.

That first ceasefire and the involvement of John Major in the process was the first public fruits of a process that had already begun by his predecessor, Charlie Haughey.

Domestically, in Coalition with Labour’s Dick Spring his government brought an end to the criminalisation of homesexuality and the legalisation of the sale of contraceptives. But otherwise he proved a seriously ill-starred political leader.

His premiership only outlasted the IRA ceasefire by several months, when it came to light that his own Attorney General, the ultra conservative Catholic Harry Whelehan had let two extradition warrants for the paedophile Catholic Priest Brendan Smith from the RUC languish in his office for seven months.

As the Telegraph also notes, it scandalised the press at the time, not least because Reynolds had pressed ahead with his intention of appointing Whelehan as President of the High Court in spite of the Smith scandal:

In a damning political obituary, the Irish Times described Reynolds as a “political bully behind a smiling face who showed a cynical indifference to those principles of public office which did not suit his purposes and whose actions, once in power, belied so much of the high principle he enunciated in his campaign to get there”. Public life, the paper concluded, “will not be greatly the poorer for his departure from office”.

History may be a little kinder, however. It is an irony that the very qualities which got Reynolds into such trouble in the domestic arena also helped him to bring about the IRA ceasefire — his willingness to take risks, to back his own hunches and to cut a deal using the tough negotiating skills of a marketplace fixer.

He was, as he once said, a businessman and a risk taker.

Reynolds influential deputy in north south affairs Martin Mansergh continued to shape his party’s response to the unfolding peace process continuing under his successor Bertie Ahern.


  • Michael Henry

    All the leaders of the Political party’s / Governments who were involved in the Peace process before and during the GFA talks have died of or have got the boot from their positions-( Except Sinn Fein )- for all the big talk about others who helped Sinn Fein with the Peace Process the present was not on their side never mind the future- Reynolds helped open doors and got a nice handshake with Adams and Hume-the media can brag now a days about Reynolds all they want but most of them opposed his moves with Sinn Fein back in the day- Reynolds had foresight unlike others –

  • Roy Walsh

    I was sorry to learn of the passing of Albert Reynolds, he had a political knack which involved that most important political quality, realistic practability. With this he knocked head’s together and the result was a Provisional ceasefire.
    I did have disagreements with him, including on his peace process but I always was thankful that a wee cute business man from Roscommon brought us an opportunity to go into town without significant security checks and peace for our children.
    Beannaigh Albert.

  • tmitch57

    After reading the memoirs of both Reynolds and Ahern as well as multiple biographies of these two and Haughey what I took away from it was that for Reynolds the North was not simply an abstraction, a green card to be played to win extra votes during a tight election, but was populated by real people who deserved to be able to live in peace. I think that this stems from his extensive business contacts with people from both communities in the North when he was a businessman organizing bands to play in the dance halls. Reynolds seemed to have been as obsessed with bringing peace to NI as President Jimmy Carter was with bringing peace to the Holy Land, Often a oeace process needs at least one organizer who is obsessed in order to be successful. Reynolds also had the good fortune to come along at a time when NI was ripe for peace because of the Hume-Adams dialogue, the successful penetration of republican paramilitaries by British intelligence, and the constitutional talks in 1988 and 1992 that created a basis for discussion between the SDLP and the UUP. Ahern then built on what Reynolds had achieved to help deliver the Good Friday Agreement in conjunction with Tony Blair.

  • tmitch57

    I think this obituary piece by Stephen Collins sums up his political career rather well.