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Gutsy Albert will be remembered 
as strong leader with fine legacy

Albert Reynolds was a gambler. He spent most of his time as Taoiseach living on the edge, cutting deals, juggling controversies and pushing negotiations to the brink of disaster.

The Longford man's reckless style ensured that he served less than three years in the top job - but he still left behind a legacy of huge achievements, particularly on Northern Ireland, that will secure him a proud place in history.

Albert used his own Dail resignation speech in 1994 to sum himself up perfectly. "I am what I am... a risk-taker. I believe that if you are not a risk-taker, you will achieve nothing. I am quite happy that having taken the risks, the successes have far outweighed the failures."

millionaire

Reynolds was also the ultimate self-made man. He left school after the Leaving Cert because his parents could not afford college fees, but quickly displayed an amazing talent for making money.

He became a millionaire through running dancehalls, newspapers, a cinema and a pet food factory where according to one rumour he sampled the product personally.

Although Reynolds had no political background and did not enter the Dail until he was 44, his hunger for the Taoiseach's job was instantly obvious.

He established himself as a capable minister, most notably overhauling Ireland's telecommunications infrastructure at a time when it could take years to get a phone. He remained loyal to Charlie Haughey throughout the scandal-ridden 1980s, then pounced and secured the Fianna Fail leadership in 1992.

From the outset, Reynolds' opponents tried to portray him as a nasty and vulgar man. He could be his own worst enemy, once dismissing a corruption charge as "crap, total crap" and lashing out, "There's women for you!" during a heated Dail exchange.

His inner circle was dubbed the Country and Western Alliance after a television appearance in which he put on a Stetson and sang Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone.

In fact, Reynolds was a good-humoured but ruthless teetotaller who knew how to get things done.

On his first day as Taoiseach he sensationally sacked eight cabinet minsters in what became known as the St Valentine's Week Massacre.

Luckily, Reynolds knew how to make friends as well as enemies. His most important ally was 
British prime minister John Major, who signed the Downing Street declaration with him and 
paved the way for what seemed like the impossible dream of an IRA ceasefire.

They remained close even after a tense negotiating session that Albert summed up as: "I chewed his b******s off and he took a few lumps outta me."

strength

Unfortunately for Albert, stubbornness was both his greatest strength and biggest weakness. He brought down two governments because of stupid rows with his coalition partners and eventually lost power after trying to appoint Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court - an affair that not even the people involved have ever fully understood it.

Albert Reynolds was a flawed Taoiseach, but he had one important quality that marked him out as a great leader. He had guts - and that is why he will be remembered fondly long after his critics are forgotten.


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