Tuesday 17 January 2017

Editorial: Peace process his greatest gamble

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

Albert Reynolds
Albert Reynolds

In a country where the default position on reform mostly mirrors Saint Augustine's views on chastity, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was a political iconoclast. Mr Reynolds, of course, was happier to define himself as a risk-taker. The comparison, though, holds - for in Irish public life iconoclast and risk-taker are synonymous terms. Nothing, alas, epitomises this more than the timid, indolent political response to our latest grotesque abortion controversy, where courageous action has been delegated to the next administration. Those who think such inaction is politically clever are confusing irresponsible cowardice and moral negligence with intelligence; were they but capable of recognising this.

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By contrast, whilst Mr Reynolds possessed his fair share of political vices, nobody could accuse him of temerity or sloth. Intriguingly, despite the restless bright spirit he brought to the post, the defining feature of Albert Reynolds's term as Taoiseach was one of unease. Some of that was driven by the social snobbery of our provincial metropolitan elite over a 'Country and Western' loving Taoiseach from a 'trade' background. But, when it came to Albert and unease, more complex factors were at play. One of these, ironically, may be the reality that by the time Albert came to power the man whose core personal political definition was that of a modernising innovator appeared to be fatally dated. Albert was the creature of the world of Ballrooms of Romance. The Ireland which he took over was, however, in a process of transition towards the even more glittering Dreamlands of the Celtic Tiger.

Transition was occurring in innumerable other ways too. Prior to securing power, the most wounding comment made about his putative rival, Bertie Ahern, was that people wanted to know where the next Taoiseach would sleep at night. In fairness to Albert the pragmatist, he showed far greater courage in dealing with 'liberal' issues such as homosexuality than his successors who quiver fearfully at featherweight phantoms like gay marriage.

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