News John Downing

Tuesday 16 September 2014

'One-page man' was 
no provincial bumpkin 
but an arch-pragmatist

Published 22/08/2014 | 02:30

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Albert Reynolds

ALBERT Reynolds's greeting to the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, at the EU summit building in Edinburgh sounded rather like: "How're ye, Helmet!"

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The widely recounted anecdote in December 1992 was an example of how some snoots liked to denigrate Albert Reynolds as something of a provincial bumpkin. In reality it said far more about a man who treated everybody he encountered with the same respect and affability.

The story mirrored the widely-spread cant about Albert Reynolds as a "one-page" man. It is true that he favoured a quick summary of the most complex of issues, and EU matters were a very good example of this.

But saying he wanted a quick summary did not mean he would shun necessary study of more technical details if required. He was merely applying business pragmatism to the business of politics and government.

I first encountered him as an Irish Independent correspondent in Brussels in the late 1980s when he was Finance Minister. He took an equally pragmatic approach to EU affairs and was interested when he felt it was important.

He knew the importance of Ireland's move, in tandem with Spain, Portugal, and Greece, to get large EU regional and social funds, in return for joining a border-free EU single market and common currency. The overall fund was achieved at the 1992 Edinburgh summit when a major €85bn aid package was agreed and Reynolds immediately publicly announced he would get IR£8bn or €10.2bn - some 12pc of the pot - for Ireland.

It was an exaggerated assertion which led to some very testy exchanges with this journalist and others. No real breakdown of his figures was available and the division of the aid cake had yet to be even discussed with the other EU governments. It took 15 months for a shortfall in Reynolds's estimate of up to €1bn over the seven-year aid period to emerge.

But the announcement achieved his chief aim of boosting the chances of putting together a new Fianna Fail coalition with Labour after a disastrous general election some weeks earlier. It also upped the ante for Ireland in getting a bigger share of the pot than they would otherwise have got, delivering hugely valuable funding to Ireland.

So, if you take the bigger picture Albert Reynolds was right. And that occasion in Edinburgh was the one and only unpleasant encounter I can recall.

Albert Reynolds was no plaster saint. He was a very good politician who brought business values to the job and had a very unusual approach to the job.

There are strong grounds for arguing that he did far more good than anything else. Even if you could discount Irish funeral rhetoric by 100pc, you would still be left with a very positive image of the man.

There is no doubt that he deserves to be remembered as the statesman who laid the cornerstone of peace in the North ending three decades of unremitting horror and murder in these islands. He also should be recalled as someone who worked tirelessly and effectively to help take the Irish economy out of the doldrums in the early to mid-1990s.

My own abiding memory is of a courteous, kindly and generous man of considerable ability. I very much liked Albert Reynolds.

Irish Independent

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