Opinion Editorial

Friday 17 January 2020

Editorial: A legacy of peace and prosperity



Albert Reynolds was this country's shortest-serving Taoiseach. He was also the first government leader to be truly based outside of Dublin, representing Longford where he lived and worked for the bulk of his adult life, and from where he launched a political career when aged in his mid-40s.

Other things also made the man universally known as "Albert" stand out from his political colleagues. Before he came to politics he had built a hugely-successful and lucrative career in show business as an impresario and ballroom owner. It all led him to branch out into a diverse range of business enterprises and achieve considerable personal wealth.

He brought these business values to his politics, something which proved to be a great strength and at times a considerable liability. Even the manner in which he turned to politics was different to many other of his colleagues.

In the early 1970s Reynolds used to travel to Dublin to look in on a bacon-processing plant he had acquired as part of his business interests. He used the opportunity to attend the trial of Charles Haughey for allegedly importing arms to give to Northern nationalists and this re-kindled his interest in Fianna Fail politics.

Reynolds aligned himself with Charles Haughey after he was first elected to the Dail in June 1977. When Haughey's supporters forced Jack Lynch to quit in 1979 the nation got to know the Longfordman for the first time with the mammoth portfolio of Minister for Posts & Telegraphs and Transport & Power.

He brought all his business skills and drive to this work showing himself especially determined to modernise the phone system. As Industry Minister, and later as Finance Minister, he worked on EU preparations for the single market and the common currency and repairing the national finances.

But he broke with Haughey believing that two cabinet seats should not have been given to the Progressive Democrats in FF's first ever coalition.

By February 1992 he was both leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach. There followed two years and nine months of extraordinary political activity punctuated by repeated bouts of high political drama.

His failure to keep two coalition governments together showed him culturally incapable of guiding Fianna Fail through their first experiences of sharing cabinet power. The Fianna Fail-PD government lasted eight months on his watch and the succeeding Fianna Fail-Labour coalition lasted 21 months.

He believed Fianna Fail should govern alone and sharing government powers was for other parties. Neither was he any more successful in bringing any cohesion to his own Fianna Fail party which had been fractured since the mid-1960s. In fact he compounded divisions and created new ones by sacking eight cabinet members and nine juniors on his arrival in the job.

But despite all of that his term in Government Buildings also racked up some stellar successes. He laid the cornerstone of the Northern Ireland peace process and brokered a paramilitary cessation of decades of violence. This was an unparalleled legacy which will puts his shortcomings in the shade.

He also drove efforts to maximise EU grant aid and helped drive huge economic growth. During his period in office the economy was set on a path of marked recovery which would continue into the next decade.

In summary, there are strong grounds for arguing that Albert Reynolds worked successfully for peace and prosperity. We must also recognise that he was a much-loved figure in Irish public life more generally and a dedicated husband and loving father. For all these reasons we honour the memory of Albert Reynolds.

Irish Independent

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