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Saturday 25 January 2020

Former Tanaiste Peter Barry passes away after a short illness

Peter Barry. Photo: Liam Mulcahy
Peter Barry. Photo: Liam Mulcahy

Ralph Riegel, Kevin Doyle and John Downing

FORMER Tanaiste Peter Barry has passed away following a short illness.

Mr Barry, who celebrated his 88th birthday this month, been hailed as the greatest leader that Fine Gael never had.

Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prior to the Anglo Irish summit meeting at Chequers in 1984. Also present from left to right, ministers Peter Barry, Douglas Hurd, Dick Spring and Geoffrey Howe. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prior to the Anglo Irish summit meeting at Chequers in 1984. Also present from left to right, ministers Peter Barry, Douglas Hurd, Dick Spring and Geoffrey Howe. Photo: Getty Images

Tributes to the former Tanaiste have flooded in from across the business, political and sporting worlds in Ireland.

Mr Barry, who has central to the success of the ‘Barry’s Tea’ brand passed away peacefully in Cork this morning.

He was a TD between 1969 and 1997, serving at different times as minister for environment, education, transport and foreign affairs.

Between January and March 1987 he served as Tánaiste to Garret Fitzgerald.

Peter Barry (left) with the Minister for Health and Environment John Boland and David Moloney, Fine Gael director of elections at Fine Gael news conference in the Westbury Hotel. Picture: Tom Burke
Peter Barry (left) with the Minister for Health and Environment John Boland and David Moloney, Fine Gael director of elections at Fine Gael news conference in the Westbury Hotel. Picture: Tom Burke

Announcing his passing this morning, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Throughout his long and distinguished political career, Peter gave outstanding service to his country and to his native city.

“In particular, his central and pivotal role in negotiating the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 helped to create the foundations on which the peace process in Northern Ireland was built.”

Mr Kenny said that in the coming days people will “reflect on and salute” Mr Barry’s “extraordinary legacy”.

“We also remember at this time Peter's late wife Margaret who was such a support to him throughout his career,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Barry had four sons and two daughters, including sitting Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune.

A former Lord Mayor of Cork, he served as a TD on Leeside for 28 years and also helped oversee the expansion of his family business, Barry’s Tea, into one of Ireland’s best known consumer brands.

Mr Barry was also famous for describing himself in the Dáil register throughout his lengthy career as “a tea taster” rather than a businessman.

A key architect of the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985, Mr Barry was also a staunch supporter of Dr Garret Fitzgerald’s famous Constitutional crusade in the 1980s.

Mr Barry famously took part in the race race to succeed Dr Garret Fitzgerald in 1987 but was defeated by Alan Dukes, and he retired from national politics in 1997.

The father of six was succeeded by his daughter, Deirdre Clune, in his old Cork South Central Constituency.

Ms Clune is now an Ireland South MEP for Fine Gael. Uniquely, three generations of the Barry family served as Lords Mayor of Cork.

In 2010, Mr Barry received the highest accolade his native city could bestow, the Freedom of Cork.

At the time, then Cork Lord Mayor and now European Affairs Minister, Dara Murphy, insisted that the Freedom award was “long overdue” to Peter Barry in recognition of his lifetime of work for his native city.

Mr Barry had served as Cork’s Lord Mayor in 1970 – a role he was deeply proud of given that his own father, Anthony Barry, had served

 as Cork’s Lord Mayor in 1961.

The Barry family political dynasty began with Anthony Barry who was first elected to the Dáil for Cork Borough in 1954.

After his retirement from politics, his Cork seat was successful won back by his son, Peter Barry, in 1969.

Whereas his father had lost a Dáil election, Peter Barry established himself as a dominant force in Cork politics for Fine Gael in the 1970s and 1980s, being returned at every election he contested over three decades.

His political nous was deeply appreciated within Fine Gael as the party struggled as times to counter the enormous popularity in the south west of Jack Lynch for Fianna Fáil.

Over the course of his career, Mr Barry’s political and business skills saw him hold a number of senior portfolios for Fine Gael including education, transport, environment, labour, industry & commerce and finally foreign affairs.

It is for the latter that he is best remembered.

Mr Barry served in the Cabinet of Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave before being appointed to the Department of Foreign Affairs by Dr Garret Fitzgerald in 1982 at a critical juncture in Anglo-Irish relations.

Together with Dr Fitzgerald and then Labour leader Dick Spring, the three men helped hammer out the Anglo Irish Agreement with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher between 1982 and 1985.

The agreement, now widely considered to be the cornerstone for the current peace deal in Northern Ireland, was achieved despite one of the most violent periods in Anglo-Irish relations including an IRA attempt to assassinate Mrs Thatcher as she attended a Conservative Party conference in Brighton.

Many within Fine Gael favoured Mr Barry taking the leadership after Dr Fitzgerald signalled his resignation in 1987.

However, despite having served as deputy leader of Fine Gael between 1979-1987 and from 1989-1993, Mr Barry was content to play a senior role in front bench politics under first Alan Dukes and then John Bruton.

In retirement, Mr Barry maintained a relatively low profile.

He socialised within his lifelong and close-knit circle of friends in Cork and indulged his love of travel and the arts.

Sri Lanka was one of his favourite destinations and he often recommended its famous tea growing terraces to Irish holidaymakers.

Friends described him as a private man who was very modest in his tastes. The former Tanaiste was very proud of the fact the family business was built up by his grandfather, the son of a north Cork blacksmith, thanks to his renowned ability to 'taste' and blend tea.

Mr Barry was also noted in Cork for having always insisted on using a Ford car as his personal vehicle while he was a TD because the marque was based on Leeside.

Despite ranking as one of the wealthiest men in the Dáil, Mr Barry only drove a Mercedes as his personal car after his retirement.

The former Tanaiste preferred to remain out of the limelight in retirement though he hit the headlines a decade ago when it emerged he had personally purchased the Gen. Michael Collins/Kitty Kiernan letters so they could be displayed in Cork Library and not be lost to an overseas buyer.

Obituary by John Downing

PETER Barry, who has died aged 88, will be widely remembered for his trenchant and successful work in advancing peace in Northern Ireland.

The veteran Fine Gael politician and businessman is also recalled by some in his own party as the “best leader they never had.”  His poor campaign for the party leadership in spring 1987, after the departure of the iconic Garret FitzGerald, helped the much younger candidate, Alan Dukes, to win.

He is also credited with driving “Barry’s Tea,” a tea importation and blending business, taking it from a small provincial firm founded by his grandfather at the turn of the last century, and based in Cork, to an iconic national household name. For many years he chaired the firm and was also part of the exclusive local club known colloquially as the “Cork merchant princes.”

Educated at Christian Brother’s College, Cork, he was often described as “a tea-tester” by profession. He followed his father, Anthony Barry, into the tea business and also into local and Dáil politics with both of them serving as Lord Mayor of Cork and local TD.

The family political and business tradition has continued with his daughter, Deirdre Clune, being elected as a TD and Senator and currently serving as a Euro MEP. The tea business also continues to thrive led by many of his close family.

Peter Barry was first elected to Dáil Éireann in June 1969 and he continued to serve until his retirement from national politics in 1997, when his daughter, Deirdre Clune, was elected to Cork South Central. His ability and political clout were identified early on, when he was appointed Transport and Power Minister by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973, after Fine Gael-Labour took power as a National Coalition.

Thereafter, he remained a strong party figure and frequent government minister for almost quarter of a century. He was Environment Minister in Garret FitzGerald’s first, and short-lived government in 1981/82, but his real legacy came in his next appointment.

When FitzGerald headed a more stable coalition with Labour, over the years 1982-87, Peter Barry combined the roles as deputy party leader and Foreign Affairs Minister, also taking on the role of Tánaiste for a brief period at the end of the government term. He took a very strident role in ground-breaking negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland, articulating a strong nationalist voice in difficult talks.

Signed by the Dublin and London government leaders on November 15, 1985, the so-called “Anglo Irish Agreement” delivered a first, which later proved to be one of the corner-stones of the break-through 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This was the first time that a London government, on that occasion headed by hard-line Conservative, Margaret Thatcher, formally conceded that Dublin had a role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and the treaty was registered with the United Nations.

This was viewed by many supporters as Peter Barry’s signal contribution to Irish politics. On a personal level he was known as someone who often avoided publicity and along with his wife, Margaret O’Mullane, he had four sons and two daughters.

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