Saturday 18 January 2020

Barry - 'best Taoiseach the country nearly had'

Peter Barry. Pic: Collins Dublin
Peter Barry. Pic: Collins Dublin


Not long ago in this country, to turn on the TV or radio, or to pick up a paper, was to learn about another atrocity in the North. That we can look at those tragedies through the safety of hindsight is in no small measure due to the diplomatic skill and dogged determination of Peter Barry, who died yesterday at the age of 88.

The lead-up to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 has often been seen as an arm-wrestle between unionists, nationalists, Downing Street and the Irish government. That is a genteel way of putting it. It was far more of a head-butting contest; and no head proved harder nor more effective than that of the steely, if softly spoken, Minister for Foreign Affairs. If the Good Friday Agreement paved the way for peace in the North, the Anglo-Irish Agreement laid down its foundations.

Throughout his life, Peter Barry distinguished himself in two ways as a man apart in Irish public life. He amassed a fortune as a successful businessman, and brought that winning formula into a lifetime of service to the Fine Gael party, proving himself a gifted statesman.

More remarkable still, he won and held the respect of both colleagues and adversaries throughout his life. Many politicians struggle to do either.

He served as tánaiste and also became deputy leader of Fine Gael. When Garret FitzGerald resigned as party leader, he ran against John Bruton and Alan Dukes, and it was Dukes who won out. When awarded the Freedom of Cork, he was described as "unquestionably the best taoiseach this country nearly had".

To his credit, Mr Barry never sought the limelight. His legacy will be his work, and it is likely to outlive that of many of his more flamboyant contemporaries.

Countless lives hanging by a thread in Aleppo

You don't have to be a super-power or a soldier to have a stake in Aleppo. Anyone with a beating heart must feel shame at the suffering, and that this siege has been allowed drag on for five years.

With food, water and medical supplies all running out, the city must also contend with being bombed daily. An inferno of war for half a decade; its 250,000 trapped citizens are choking in a living hell.

Yet the major players involved seem blind to the horrors visited on these terrified civilians and the traumas of their children. The siege will only intensify as the balance of power in the region shifts.

Russia and the United States must broker an immediate, lasting ceasefire. No-fly zones and safe areas must be established. In America, there appears to be diplomatic paralysis for fear any intervention could have a negative impact on the outcome of the imminent election.

In Europe, there is a similar and equally reprehensible reticence. Where is the push to bring pressure to bear on President Putin to get Syria's Assad to hold back? The UN charged Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council to do something, yet Moscow is helping Assad attack Aleppo. Hundreds of thousands of lives are hanging by the slenderest of threads. Many believe that, should Aleppo fall, Syrian government forces will massacre its trapped citizens, especially Sunni Muslims.

After Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995, when 8,000 men and boys were massacred in the war, the world said "never again." How hollow that all sounds now.

Irish Independent

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