Wednesday 11 December 2019

Obituary: Bart Cronin

Level-headed and skilled civil servant was close friend of Albert Reynolds

Pals: Bart Cronin, right, and Sean Duignan
Pals: Bart Cronin, right, and Sean Duignan
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Bart Cronin, who died in Dublin, last Sunday, at the age of 87 was an affable, chain-smoking civil servant who kept very much in the background, although he became head of the Government Information Service during Albert Reynolds' turbulent two years as Taoiseach, from 1992 to 1994.

His gravelly voice was well-known to many reporters who covered politics and finance and he was well known in Doheny & Nesbitt's public house in Baggot Street, although he was a moderate drinker.

Born in Tureencahill, near Rathmore, Co Kerry, which is Sliamh Luchra, an area steeped in Irish language and music, he grew up as a native speaker. He enjoyed recounting tales of growing up in a relaxed community and running away to join a circus when he was 16. He later became a member of a 'fit up' company, the groups of theatrical players who toured parish halls in rural Ireland at the time.

Like most of those who ended up in journalism and public relations, Cronin did a stint with his local paper, The Kerryman, before coming to Dublin to join the public relations department of Aer Lingus. He settled in Santry in Dublin with his wife Maire and a young family, but he never lost touch with his Kerry roots.

Bart Cronin served in a number of positions for ministers of different political persuasions, although he was personally known to favour Fianna Fail. He was a close ally of George Colley, and it was Colley who brought him into the civil service, where he became the minister's public relations officer in the Department of Energy.

He later moved to the Department of Industry and Commerce under John Bruton, and when Albert Reynolds became minister in that department with the change of government, he stayed on.

Reynolds was a demanding boss, but the two struck up a close friendship. They both smoked incessantly, loved telling stories and staying up late into the night talking about politics and show business. When Albert Reynolds became minister for finance in 1989, Bart Cronin moved to the department with him. It was a turbulent time for 'his' minister, and when Reynolds was sacked by Charlie Haughey and then succeeded him as Taoiseach, Cronin remained loyal to "the Longfordman" as he used to call his boss.

RTE political correspondent Sean Duignan took over as government press officer under Reynolds and worked in tandem with Bart Cronin during the two turbulent years of the Reynolds administration. His boss did not get what he regarded as a fair hearing in some sections of the media and Cronin attempted to rectify this by arranging lunches with influential editors, which sometimes turned volatile and argumentative. Bart Cronin would try to calm the situation for both sides. "I came to rely on him more than anyone else," Duignan later wrote in his memoirs.

Cronin was a consummate insider civil servant. He knew how the system worked and he rarely, if ever, fell out with anyone. As a result he was able to "call in" favours and generally smooth troubled relationships.

However, his skill and knowledge could not save Reynolds when the revelations that extradition warrants for paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth had gone unacted on in the Attorney General's office for seven months. Cronin remained on in government with the new 'Rainbow' administration which took over in 1994 under his old minister John Bruton.

Apart from his work, Bart Cronin was interested in the Irish language, participating in dramas at the Damer Theatre.

His funeral took place in Dublin on Wednesday last and he is survived by his wife Maire and a grown-up family.

Sunday Independent

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