Thursday 22 March 2018

‘Albert Reynolds scolded me for not speaking up’

Family: Albert and wife Kathleen
Family: Albert and wife Kathleen
Whirlwind: Albert was a ‘tough’ canvasser who expected everyone to pull their weight

Johnny Fallon

The great and good have lavished praise on Albert Reynolds since his passing on Thursday but for Johnny Fallon — who knew the former Taoiseach since he was a child — the loss was more personal

As a young child, I was always brought along to political functions. These inevitably went on long into the night, mostly because Albert Reynolds rarely arrived before midnight.

Having dozed off on a lounge sofa, I remember being woken and placed in front of Albert while someone told him I wanted to be Taoiseach one day. He looked at me and said: “Good man, take my advice, start at the top and work your way down.”

Albert was the reason I loved politics. Over the years I held countless conversations with him. He was a regular visitor to our house and although I was young, he always sought out my opinion. It was he who suggested that I be put forward for officer roles in the local organisation. He was the most decisive person I had ever met.

Political meetings have a habit of dragging on, but not once Albert was present. He would wade into a meeting like a storm, mercilessly following the agenda, and while he asked for opinions, he also expected a decision. He hated anything being left over until the next meeting or leaving without a clear plan of action.

However, while he was decisive and firm in his views he was approachable and willing to listen. I remember him scolding me once because a few days after a meeting I suggested we had taken the wrong course of action.

He looked at me and said: “Why didn’t you say something at the meeting?” I made an excuse that I wasn’t sure and knew a lot of people disagreed. I didn’t want to start a row.

His reply was firm: “If you are afraid of starting a row then there is no point in you being in that room. Speak up and say it, it’s too late after.”

He also gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received, telling me: “You have to do what you believe, either in business or politics, you get stuck in and make the changes quick, don’t hang about. With  any luck you will get most of what you need through before some other shower organise to stop you.”

Over the years, I arranged for many people to visit him at his clinics and the one thing that always struck  me was how much people appreciated his straight talking. If he couldn’t do something about your request, then he told you that on the spot.

He was also a tough canvasser. There was no leisurely fun when canvassing with Albert. It was a business. Everyone had their job and everyone was expected to work at pace to get it done. He was well able to scold you if he felt you weren’t pulling your weight.

After a day of wearing out shoe leather we might moan or complain, Albert would just laugh and tell stories about what it was like when Nell T Blaney was canvassing. He and his old friend the late Mickey Doherty were masters of the art of political organisation.

Most of all, though, Albert was a friend. A friend in the truest sense of the word. If you asked him something he would move might and mane to help you, even if it would damage him. No matter what, he was reliable and is one of the few people I can say that I met that never let me down. I learned everything I know from him. In the years of government, Albert always sought out opinions of those he trusted.

His whirlwind, man-of-action approach ensured there was never a dull moment and always a crisis to be dealt with somewhere.

I sat in many bars, kitchens, and offices long into the night weighing up figures and discussing pros and cons but in the end we all knew that Albert was who we relied on. We trusted him and his judgment. He was not perfect, far from it. Indeed he would laugh if you tried to portray him as such.

However, we knew we would follow him anywhere and no matter what happened we could be proud of it. One of the reasons for this was that Albert was an inherently good man. He really wanted to change things and even if you disagreed with him you knew at least that, whatever he did, he did out of conviction.

Playing PR or courting cheap publicity was not his game. At times this could infuriate those of us close to him. In the years after, I often thought: “If only he played the game a bit more”.

In hindsight he was right not to. Game-playing can prolong your career but in the end it only damages your reputation.

While successful and wealthy he was a man far removed from golf-club culture, fine wines, and fancy words. If you had a proposal then he was a man who respected only facts, figures and honest answers.

We had a famous convention in 1992 in Longford-Roscommon. It went on until 5 am. Padraig Flynn was in the chair. Somewhere in the wee hours I got delegated to go buy chips. My mother took the order from the top table and gave me the money.

Outside Albert was in his car trying to catch 40 winks. I knocked on the window and asked him if he wanted anything. He laughed and asked: “Who are you buying for?’ I told him I had an order from all, including Pee Flynn. Then he asked: “Who’s paying?”

When I told him my mother was, he reached into his coat and took out his wallet, saying: “No I don’t want anything thanks, but tell your mother to keep her money and you keep  the change.”

For anyone who knew him he will leave a huge gap in life. He and his family were always approachable and always dependable. In that 1992 election things were going bad.

The night before polling we stayed up all night in The Peer Inn near Lanesboro. As dawn broke Albert was leaving and I followed him out, saying: “We won’t let you down Albert”.

In typical fashion he laughed and put an arm around me. “Oh I know YOU won’t, but it’s the rest of the country I have to worry about,” he said.

It was a privilege to know him and work with him. As he said himself, the day he resigned: “The highs have outweighed the lows”.

I would follow him to the ends of the earth, but he goes now to the one  place we can’t follow. I know one thing for sure, if there is an afterlife then he is probably walking around in his overcoat surveying it and figuring out how they could do things better.

Johnny Fallon is a political consultant

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