News Politics

Sunday 21 September 2014

Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds dies aged 81

Louise Kelly, Fionnan Sheahan, Cormac Byrne and Jason Kennedy

Published 21/08/2014 | 07:04

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny is offering the Reynolds family a State funeral.

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Officials from the Taoiseach's office will meet with members of the family later this morning to discuss the funeral arrangements.

Fianna Fáil has opened an online book of condolences on www.fiannafail.ie. Members of the public will also be able to sign a book of condolences at the party’s headquarters at 65-66 Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2 from 9am tomorrow morning.  The book will remain open from 9am-5pm.

All messages will be passed on to the Reynolds family.

Read more: President Higgins: 'Albert Reynolds was committed to serving the people of Ireland'

The normal protocol when a former Taoiseach passes away is for a State funeral to be offered to the family.

In the past decade, State funerals have been held for Charlie Haughey and Garret Fitzgerald upon their deaths in 2006 and 2011 respectively. 

Roscommon-born Albert Reynolds passed away shortly before 3am this morning at the age of 81.

Tributes for the late politician have already begun to flood in.

Bertie Ahern extended his sympathies to Mr Reynold's family and said he was deeply saddened to hear of his death.

Read more: Albert Reynolds: Five key moments in the life of the former Taoiseach

"His wife Kathleen was so important to Albert in his life. He was very close to his family even though he dedicated much of his life to politics.

Sunday Independents Liam Collins with Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds
Picture By David Conachy.  19/08/09
Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds Picture By David Conachy. 19/08/09
Albert and Kathleen Reynolds. Pics: Arthur Carron/Collins
Picking winners: former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds studies the form for the big race

"I was elected to politics the same day of Albert Reynolds," the former Taoiseach said on RTE Radio 1.

"When he was leader in 92, I was appointed as his Minister for Finance and I was with him right through the EU negotiations – and then the peace work."

"If there wasn’t a Downing Street declaration, I don’t think there would have been a ceasefire on the first place. That was carefully crafted and Albert put huge amount of energy and commitment into that."

Former Taoisaeach and Fine Fail leader Brian Cowen expressed his sadness at the passing of "close personal friend" Albert Reynolds in a statement this morning.

File photo dated 28/10/99 of former Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, who has died, according to state broadcaster RTE. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday August 21, 2014. The 81-year-old became the eighth prime minister of the country in 1992, serving for just under three years. See PA story DEATH Reynolds. Photo credit should read: Neil Munns/PA Wire
Former Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds Credit: Neil Munns/PA Wire

Read more: Albert Reynolds: A life remembered 

"I want to extend my sincere sympathies to his wife Kathleen, his children Miriam, Philip, Emer, Leonie, Abbie, Cathy and Andrea and to his extended family and many friends," he said.

"I knew Albert to be loyal, to be supportive and to be generous.  It was a great privilege for me to work with him and I will always be grateful for his trust and faith in me, particularly in appointing me to the cabinet for the first time in 1992."

He added: "Albert Reynolds’s political bravery and his wisdom were the key ingredients in fostering a new dispensation of peace, tolerance and reconciliation, mutual respect and equality on this island.  For that he will always have the enduring respect of the Irish people.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a ainm dhílis."

Former US President Bill Clinton pointed to the risks Mr Reynolds took in the Northern Ireland peace process.

“I am saddened by the passing of former prime minister of Ireland Albert Reynolds, who worked hard and risked much as Taoiseach to advance the Northern Ireland peace process,” he said.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton said he was “very sad to hear of Albert’s death”.

“I know how devoted he was to Kathleen and his family,” the former Fine Gael leader told Rte Radio 1.

“The negotiation of the Downing Street declaration was absolutely crucial – it was the foundation on which successive governments on both sides of the channel could build upon.

"The declaration was the enduring legacy of Albert Reynolds. I found it very helpful to me – and no doubt it was important to Bertie Ahern.”

Read more: Taoiseach who earned his spurs as peacemaker

Addressing the short tenure of the former Taoiseach, Bruton said:

“It’s not the length of time you serve, it’s the strength of the contribution he made.”

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also paid tribute to Mr Reynolds, saying he was very approachable.

“Backbench TDs the world over, say one of their gripes about their leaders is they aren’t accessible or they’re too busy or they won’t talk to them,” he said.

“Albert travelled the length and breadth of the country to functions. He was a very approachable person. Yes, of course he was tough. Of course he’ll be remembered for the cabinet that he cleaned out. To be fair, that was second nature. He was running a big business.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin also spoke to RTE Radio 1 this morning about the capacity that Mr Reynolds had “to develop trust and build relationships”.

“He had a very warm personality and he was very accessible to TDs, no airs and graces, his feet firmly were on the ground – a very practical man.”

Martin was a young backbencher at the time but he remembers that Mr Reynolds was “a person that you could talk very readily with”.

“I didn’t get that sense of hierarchy with him,” he said.

“I could never get over his capacity to stay up all night drinking cups of teas when people all around him were drinking – he had that capacity to engage with people.”

Martin also pointed out that Mr Reynolds was “the pioneer of telecommunications in this country”.

“He revolutionised that situation,” he said.

Read more: Impact of former Taoiseach's death felt strongly across Midlands

Mr Reynolds was first elected as a TD for Longford when he was 45 in 1977.

A Fianna Fail stalwart, he led the party in two coalition governments.

One reign was with the PDs and another was with the Labour Party.

Former Labour Leader and Tanaiste Dick Spring said Mr Reynolds deserves to be remembered and respected for his major contribution to bringing an end to the violent conflict on the island of Ireland.

In a statement today, Spring said: “Albert recognised in 1992 that the opportunity for bringing about lasting peace on the island of Ireland was nearer at hand than at any time since the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969. That possibility was one of the motivating factors behind the formation of the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition Government in 1993.

“He displayed admirable negotiating skills in his dealings with John Major, with whom he had a very special relationship, in bringing President Clinton to play an important role in the peace process, and in his dealings with Sinn Féin/IRA, which brought about the 1994 ceasefire, without which a solution would not have been arrived at. The Downing Street Declaration was the foundation stone which led to the Good Friday Agreement.

“He deserves to be remembered and respected for his major contribution to bringing an end to the violent conflict on the island of Ireland, which blighted our history for so many decades.

Mr Reynolds made an enduring contribution to the peace initiative in Ireland.

He believed that he could charter the divide between the north and south of the country, helping to put an end to 25 years of violence.

He was also a very successful businessman with an empire that included dancehalls to the pet food industry.

His earliest business venture was selling chocolate bars at a profit to friends at boarding school in Summerhill, Sligo.

Soon he was running the school tuck shop and making profit for the school.

After helping organise Rooskey Carnival dances in 1955 he and his brother, Jim, set up ‘Reynolds Dancing Ltd’ with a thriving empire of 14 halls including Fairyland, Roscommon; Jetland, Limerick; Borderland, Clones; Barrowland, New Ross. 

They booked national names like Dickie Rock, Brendan Bowyer and Joe Dolan; and international stars like Roy Orbison, Chubby Checker, Aker Bilk and Jim Reeves.

Read more: Editorial: Decision to speak about Reynolds's Alzheimer's battle is courageous

In a short few years Albert Reynolds was a millionaire.

He began working life as a Bord na Mona clerk before moving to CIE. In summer of 1961, he refused a move to Rosslare Harbour and quit CIE.

He went on to diversify into other businesses including a pet food manufacture, hotels, fish exports, meat processing and a local newspaper, the Longford News.

Living in Longford for most of his life, he was considered a deal maker and is credited with securing billions of funding from the EU.

For his political years the Reynolds’s life was divided between Dublin and Longford.

For most of his life he did not drink alcohol but he was for years a heavy smoker and socialised widely.

After he was forced to resign as Taoiseach in November 1994, Mr Reynolds and his wife Kathleeen moved to an house on Ailesbury Road that proved too big for two people.

In 2007, the couple moved to an apartment nearby in the Four Seasons hotel complex.

Here Albert Reynolds wrote his memoirs of a life less ordinary in business and politics which were published in 2009.

Mr Reynolds battled for years with Alzheimer's disease.

Towards the late stages of his life, he required 24-hour care and could not recognise some members of his family.

He is survived by his wife Kathleen, two sons and five daughters.

Former Fianna Fail Minister Michael Smith, who served in Albert Reynold’s cabinet, said: “He was a very practical, extremely honest, hardworking and very warm

“The Irish people owe a great debt to Albert, his contribution to the ceasefire, the Good Friday Agreement and lasting peace was absolutely immense.

“He had a rare courage and gambling ability which came to bear in the negotiations with the EEC in Edinburgh. No one gave him a chance of wrestling the kind of funds, which was £8billion at the time, which made such a contribution to our ailing economy and gave it such a stimulus at the time.

“His bravest contribution came in the autumn of ’93. Negotiations with the British government at the time for to try and move towards a new era of peace in our country was going nowhere and his courage in these negotiations brought the British government around to realise there were real possibilities if they went down the road that he was asking them.

“Out of that grew the Downing Street Agreement on December 15, 1993 and for me the contribution to make that happen will go down in history when the full details are known.”

Read more: Tributes flood in for the late Albert Reynolds  

“We had a great rivalry but that made for great vote getting, we’d fight for votes, fight for them and we won three seats in 1987,” fellow Longford-Westmeath Fianna Fail TD Mary O’Rourke told Newstalk Breakfast.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, said: “Albert’s biggest achievement was the part he played in the peace process.

“He did the right thing by the North when it mattered.

“A lot of work had been done behind the scenes but no one had seized of the moment with the very down-to-earth straight-forward way that he did.

“Fr Alex Reid was probably one of the singular influences on Albert Reynolds in persuading him of the possibility and potential for building peace.

“Whatever anyone wants to say about other things about his term as Taoiseach he will be rightly remembered for his positive role in the North.

“We had differences of opinion, of course we did, but I have to say, and this is something that has stayed with me ever since, he was very welcoming and very straightforward.

“In terms of his family, I was in and out of their home for quite a long period until he became ill and I went to visit him in the recent past. One of the things that struck me is how straight-forward and decent they were to me and others at Sinn Fein on a very genuine level .

“I think that famously he is depicted as a dealmaker. He understood the North a lot better than a lot of people might have thought.”

Speaking to Shannonside radio, Adams added: "I think that famously he's depicted as dealmaker. He understood the North a lot better than people would've thought. He opened dialogue with the loyalists."

The US Embassy also released a statement this morning acknowledging that Reynolds found a way towards a solution "during some of the most difficult moments of conflict in Northern Ireland".

"His impact on the signing of the December 1993 Joint Downing Street Declaration was clear. The investment that he and others made in the process set the stage for the critical breakthroughs of twenty years ago this month," read the statement.

"We remember him as one of the architects of the peace we see today, even if work is still ongoing.  Our sympathies go out to his family and friends.”

Denis Naughten expressed his condolences on Twitter: "I'm sorry to hear of the passing of my former constituency colleague Albert Reynolds RIP. My thoughts are with Kathleen & his family."

"His success in negotiating the Downing Street Declaration & it's significance cannot be underestimated. Albert Reynolds RIP."

Meanwhile, Martin McGuinness also shares his sympathies. "Very sad to hear that former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds has died. Deep sympathy to Kathleen & family.Albert was a Peacemaker. #Appreciation," he tweeted.

 

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary said: "As my local TD is what was then the Longford-West Meath constituency, yes I had some interaction with him.

"We were certainly very proud of him down there.

"I think history will be very kind to him and it should be.

"In a relatively short period as Taoiseach he achieved a terrific transformation, both in the peace process and also setting Ireland on a period of very rapid economic growth.

"He wasn’t perhaps the greatest politician in the world. He managed to blow up two coalitions in a relatively short period of time.

"But I think if you go back and you ask Irish people now if you could have visionary, dynamic and bold leadership like Albert Reynolds, or the 10 years of dither, fudge and buying off the various stakeholders that came after him under Bertie, I think everybody would go back and have Albert in a flash."

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