Albert Reynolds (3 November 1932 – 21 August 2014) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who served as Taoiseach from 1992 to 1994, Leader of Fianna Fáil from 1992 to 1994, Minister for Finance from 1988 to 1991, Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1987 to 1988, Minister for Industry and Energy from March 1982 to December 1982, Minister for Transport from 1980 to 1981 and Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1979 to 1981. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 2002.
11 February 1992 – 15 December 1994
|Preceded by||Charles Haughey|
|Succeeded by||John Bruton|
|Leader of Fianna Fáil|
6 February 1992 – 19 November 1994
|Preceded by||Charles Haughey|
|Succeeded by||Bertie Ahern|
|Minister for Finance|
24 November 1988 – 7 November 1991
|Preceded by||Ray MacSharry|
|Succeeded by||Bertie Ahern|
|Minister for Industry and Commerce|
10 March 1987 – 24 November 1988
|Preceded by||Michael Noonan|
|Succeeded by||Ray Burke|
|Minister for Industry and Energy|
9 March 1982 – 14 December 1982
|Preceded by||Michael O'Leary|
|Succeeded by||John Bruton|
|Minister for Transport|
25 January 1980 – 30 June 1981
|Preceded by||George Colley|
|Succeeded by||Patrick Cooney|
|Minister for Posts and Telegraphs|
12 December 1979 – 30 June 1981
|Preceded by||Pádraig Faulkner|
|Succeeded by||Patrick Cooney|
May 1992 – May 2002
June 1977 – May 1992
|Born||3 November 1932|
Roosky, County Roscommon, Ireland
|Died||21 August 2014 81) (aged|
Donnybrook, Dublin, Ireland
|Resting place||Shanganagh Cemetery|
Shankill, Dublin, Ireland
|Political party||Fianna Fáil|
|Children||7, including Leonie|
Albert Reynolds was born in the remote Kilglass, near Roosky, on the Roscommon-Leitrim border on 3 November 1932. His father was a coachbuilder. All his life his political enemies would call him a country "bumpkin".
He was educated at Summerhill College in County Sligo, and found work as a clerk with CIÉ, the state transport service, in the 1950s. Reynolds left what many would consider to be a "job for life" in the state company and moved into the showband scene, coming to own a number of dance halls in his local area. He became wealthy from this venture during the 1960s, when dance halls proved extremely popular, and invested his money in a number of businesses including a pet food company, a bacon factory, a fish-exporting operation and a hire purchase company. Reynolds also had business interests in local newspapers and a cinema. Although his dance hall empire required late-night work, Reynolds abstained from alcohol. He was a traditional family man and had a happy home life with his wife Kathleen (died 2021) and their seven children. He developed a network of business contacts both nationally and internationally.
Early political career (1977–1989)
Reynolds became interested in politics at the time of the Arms Crisis in 1970, a controversial episode in which two cabinet Ministers, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Neil Blaney and Minister for Finance Charles Haughey, were removed from the government over an attempt to send arms to Northern Ireland, where thousands of Catholic families had been driven from their homes, of whom 1,000 had fled across the border to the Republic. Blaney and Haughey were later acquitted in court.
In the wake of this case, Reynolds decided to launch a political career from his background as a successful west-of-Ireland businessman, although, at 44 years of age when first an electoral candidate, he was considered a late starter. He stood for Fianna Fáil at the 1977 general election for the Longford–Westmeath constituency. The election proved to be a landslide victory for Fianna Fáil, with the party receiving a 20-seat parliamentary majority, resulting in Jack Lynch returning as Taoiseach.
Reynolds remained a backbencher until 1979. Pressure mounted in that year on Lynch, the incumbent Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, to step down. Reynolds became a member of the so-called "gang of five" politicians of a strongly rural background, with Jackie Fahey (Tipperary), Mark Killilea Jnr (Galway), Tom McEllistrim (Kerry) and Seán Doherty (Roscommon), which aligned itself to Charles Haughey and supported him in the subsequent leadership contest.
Fianna Fáil minister
Reynolds was rewarded for his staunch loyalty by joining the cabinet of newly elected Taoiseach Charles Haughey, as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. He was appointed Minister for Transport, making his brief one of the largest and most wide-ranging in the government. As Minister for Transport, Reynolds was involved in a bizarre incident, in which an Aer Lingus plane was hijacked by a disturbed former monk, with the hijacker's chief demand for the safe return of the aircraft and its passengers being that he should be allowed to reveal a religious secret, the Third Secret of Fatima, which he claimed to have in his briefcase. The incident was resolved in Paris with no injuries.
Fianna Fáil lost power following the 1981 general election, but regained it again following the February 1982 general election. Reynolds returned to government as Minister for Industry and Energy. He was responsible for developing the Dublin to Cork gas pipeline. That government fell in late 1982, and Reynolds was back on the opposition benches. During the 1982–83 period the Fianna Fáil leader, Charles Haughey, faced three motions of no-confidence. Reynolds gave him his support at all times, and Haughey survived, defeating his opponents and critics within the party.
In 1987, Fianna Fáil returned to government and Reynolds was appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce, one of the most senior positions in the cabinet, especially at a time when the government's top priority was economic recovery. In 1988, Minister for Finance Ray MacSharry became Ireland's European Commissioner, and Reynolds succeeded MacSharry in the most powerful department in government.
The 1989 general election resulted in Fianna Fáil taking the unprecedented move of entering into a coalition with the four-year-old free-market-centric Progressive Democrats (PD). Reynolds headed the Fianna Fáil negotiation team along with another Minister, Bertie Ahern. A programme for government was finally agreed, almost a month after the general election, and Reynolds returned as Minister for Finance in a coalition government that he described as a "temporary little arrangement".
The failure of Fianna Fáil candidate, Brian Lenihan, to be elected as President of Ireland added to the pressure on Haughey's leadership. In a speech in County Cork, Reynolds announced that if a vacancy arose in the leadership, he would contest it—a clear and open revolt against Haughey's leadership. A number of TDs and Senators, including some members of the cabinet, also began to grow disillusioned with Haughey and they began to look for a successor. Reynolds was the most popular: his profile was enhanced by the so-called "Country & Western" group of TDs (so named because they came from mostly rural counties, as well as Reynolds' earlier fortune in the dance hall business) who began to agitate within the party on his behalf. In November 1991, a relatively unknown rural TD, Seán Power, put down a motion of no confidence in Haughey. Reynolds and a staunch supporter, Pádraig Flynn, announced their support for the motion, and Haughey promptly had them sacked from the cabinet. When the vote was taken, the party re-affirmed its support for Haughey. It looked as though Reynolds' political career was finished.
Haughey's victory was short-lived, as a series of political errors would lead to his demise as Taoiseach. Controversy erupted over the attempted appointment of Jim McDaid as Minister for Defence, and McDaid resigned from the post before he was appointed. Worse was to follow when Seán Doherty, the man who as Minister for Justice had taken the blame for the phone-tapping scandal of the early 1980s, went on television on RTÉ to reveal that Haughey had known about and authorised the phone-tapping. Haughey denied all charges, but the Progressive Democrat members of government stated that they could no longer continue in government with him as Taoiseach. Haughey told Desmond O'Malley, the PD leader, that he intended to resign shortly, but wanted to choose his own time of departure. O'Malley agreed to this and the government continued.
22nd Government of Ireland (February 1992 – January 1993)
On 30 January 1992, Haughey retired as leader of Fianna Fáil at a parliamentary party meeting. Reynolds easily defeated his rivals Mary O'Rourke and Michael Woods in the Fianna Fáil leadership election, and succeeded Haughey as Taoiseach on 11 February 1992.
The Ministers who had been sacked along with Reynolds at the end of 1991 were all appointed to cabinet, while eight members of Haughey's cabinet, including such long-serving Haughey loyalists as Ray Burke, Mary O'Rourke and Gerry Collins, were left out. Nine of the twelve junior Ministers, many of whom were also Haughey supporters, were also dismissed. Reynolds promoted several long-time critics of Haughey, like David Andrews, Séamus Brennan and Charlie McCreevy to senior ministerial positions. Reynolds also promoted younger TDs from rural constituencies, such as Noel Dempsey and Brian Cowen, to cabinet positions. Bertie Ahern, one of Haughey's oldest political allies, remained as Minister for Finance, having agreed with Reynolds not to challenge him for the leadership.
On Reynolds' first day as Taoiseach, he had to deal with the X Case, a constitutional case on whether a 14-year-old who had become pregnant as a result of rape could access abortion. The Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, refused to allow the pregnant girl to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion. The High Court granted the Attorney General's injunction, while the Supreme Court found that abortion was permissible where there was a threat to a woman's life from suicide. The case strained relations between the coalition parties. Reynolds tried to find a middle ground, but alienated both the Catholic Church and those who sought abortion rights. Three amendments to the constitution on abortion. The wording of the constitutional change caused tensions between the two government parties, but the government remained intact as the amendments passed through the Oireachtas. They were held on the same date as the 1992 general election. The first proposal was defeated, which would have excluded a risk of suicide from circumstances where abortion was permissible, while proposals to allow travel outside the state and access to information were approved.
Beef Tribunal and 1992 election
A tribunal of enquiry into irregularities in the beef industry, referred to as the "Beef Tribunal", was established to examine the "unhealthy" relationship between Charles Haughey and beef baron Larry Goodman. This revealed to the public a substantial conflict of opinion between the two party leaders. At the tribunal Desmond O'Malley severely criticised Reynolds, in his capacity as Minister for Industry and Commerce, for an export credit scheme. When Reynolds gave evidence he referred to O'Malley as "dishonest". This enraged the Progressive Democrats' leader; his party called a motion of no confidence, which resulted in the Progressive Democrats withdrawing from government and the collapse of the government. Reynolds then sought a dissolution of the Dáil from the President, Mary Robinson. A general election was then called.
23rd Government of Ireland (January 1993 – December 1994)
The 1992 general election campaign was a disaster for Fianna Fáil. The world was in recession, the Haughey era was a recent memory, and the Gulf War dominated international news, with Saddam Hussein in the news at the same time as the Beef Tribunal was discussing Reynolds' attempts to sell beef to the Iraqi regime. The fact that Reynolds seemed prepared to issue risky state-funded export insurance, effectively subsidising the Goodman business empire which now accounted for 12% of national GDP, when the country was in deep recession, shocked the electorate. Support for the party fell by 5%. The Labour Party under Dick Spring ran a campaign independent of its traditional coalition partner Fine Gael. It was Fianna Fáil's worst election result since 1927, losing 9 seats. Fine Gael lost 10 seats, while the Labour Party had its best result, with 33 seats. in January 1993, Fianna Fáil and Labour formed a government with Reynolds as Taoiseach and Spring as Tánaiste.
Tensions with Labour
In 1993, Reynolds' Minister of Finance, Bertie Ahern, issued a tax amnesty for people who had outstanding tax bills unpaid and undeclared, provided they make some declaration of their previous income. This created considerable media disquiet, and provoking Spring to make a policy statement. On 9 June 1994, Fianna Fáil lost two seats in the Mayo West by-election and the Dublin South-Central by-election, to the opposition Fine Gael and Democratic Left, placing Reynolds under pressure, as he could no longer depend on Spring to remain in government.
The report on the Beef Tribunal was published in July 1994. The Labour Party had threatened to leave the government if Reynolds was criticised. Reynolds was alleged to have juxtaposed and misquoted sections of the report in issuing a rebuttal before the report became public. Spring was furious that the report was not considered by the cabinet first.
Northern Ireland and foreign affairs
One of Reynolds's main achievements during his term as Taoiseach, was in the peace process in the long-running conflict in Northern Ireland. Piecemeal negotiations had gone on during 1993 between Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major, resulting in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1993. On 15 December 1993, the Downing Street Declaration was signed in London. Reynolds remained involved in discussion with Northern Ireland's nationalist parties, and along with John Hume and , persuaded the IRA to call a complete ceasefire on 31 August 1994. Major was quoted in The Guardian at the time as saying:
Let me now say something that may surprise you. Throughout the process, I was acutely conscious that IRA leaders were taking a risk, too: if Albert and I upset our supporters we might – as Albert put it, be 'kicked out'. That was true, but the IRA's supporters were more deadly than our backbench colleagues. And their leaders were taking a risk too, possibly with their own lives.
In September 1994, Reynolds was left standing on the tarmac at Shannon Airport, by President of Russia Boris Yeltsin, who failed to emerge from his plane to meet awaiting Irish dignitaries. Headlines around the world alleged that Yeltsin was too drunk to appear; a Russian official said that the President was unwell and aides later suggested that he had had a heart attack. Yeltsin later announced that he had overslept.
Whelehan controversy and downfall
Reynolds had decided to reappoint the Attorney General Harry Whelehan when the government was formed in 1992. When the position of President of the High Court became available, Reynolds proposed Whelehan for the position. At this stage allegations surfaced that Whelehan had been less than keen to prosecute a serial child abuser priest, Brendan Smyth, due to the implications that such an action concerned the accountability of certain prominent members of the Catholic hierarchy. It was later revealed that Whelehan, in his capacity as Attorney General of Ireland, had mishandled an attempt to extradite Smyth to Northern Ireland, where he was facing criminal charges. This was covered on the British television station, Channel 4, when the Irish state broadcaster was mute, and Irish newspapers were effectively talking around the issue for fear of action for libel.
Spring led his Ministers out of a cabinet meeting to consider the position of the Labour Party. The coalition appeared to be finished, but Reynolds still held out for the chance to patch things up. Reynolds went before the Dáil and said that if he had known 'then' what he 'knew now' about the incompetent handling of the case by the AG's office he would not have appointed Whelehan to the judicial post.
However Reynolds was damaged politically, having appeared more interested in holding on to power than in the integrity of government actions. Spring decided that he could not go back into government with Reynolds, and the Labour Party resigned from government on 16 November 1994.
On 19 November 1994, Reynolds resigned as party leader, and the Minister for Finance Bertie Ahern, was unanimously elected the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil. Reynolds's favoured successor, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, withdrew from the leadership contest on the morning of the vote. It initially appeared that Labour would rejoin the coalition with Fianna Fáil under Ahern, allowing Ahern to ascend to the position of Taoiseach. Instead, Spring led Labour into successful coalition negotiations with Fine Gael and Democratic Left, and Fianna Fáil found themselves in opposition, against a Rainbow Coalition. Reynolds remained as acting Taoiseach until John Bruton took office on 15 December, and then returned to the opposition backbenches.
Post-Taoiseach period (1994–2014)
At the beginning of 1997, Bertie Ahern allegedly encouraged Reynolds to run for office in the coming election, and offered him the position of "peace envoy" to Northern Ireland and his support as a candidate for the presidency. Fianna Fáil won the election; however, Ahern, allegedly reneged on this promise to Reynolds due to poor election results in his constituency and the change in the political situation in Northern Ireland. Reynolds was still interested in being a candidate for the presidency, along with two other Fianna Fáil candidates, Michael O'Kennedy and Mary McAleese. In a cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach gave a typically ambiguous speech which seemed to encourage his cabinet to support for Mary McAleese.
Reynolds won the first round of voting with a comfortable margin, but supporters of O'Kennedy backed McAleese, who was successful and went on to become the Fianna Fáil nominee and the eighth President of Ireland.
Reynolds retired from politics at the 2002 general election, after 25 years as a TD; he stated, "I don't bear any grudges over Ahern."
Reynolds was involved in a long-running libel action against British newspaper The Sunday Times, over an article published in 1994, which alleged that Reynolds had deliberately and dishonestly misled the Dáil regarding matters in connection with the Brendan Smyth affair that brought down the coalition government. The newspaper claimed a defence of qualified privilege with regard to these assertions on the basis of their supposed benefit to the public, but a High Court jury found in favour of Reynolds in 1996. The jury recommended that no compensation at all be paid to the former Taoiseach. The judge subsequently awarded contemptuous damages of one penny in this action, leaving Reynolds with massive legal costs, estimated at £1 million. A subsequent court of appeal decision in 1998 declared that Reynolds had not received a fair hearing in his High Court action, and the case continued to be heard in the House of Lords. This case led to the recognition under British law (and later introduction into Irish law as the "defence of fair and reasonable publication"), the so-called Reynolds defence of qualified privilege for publishers against whom libel actions regarding defamatory comments made in media publications are being taken.
In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, became President of Pakistan following a military coup. The White House at the time had a policy of not recognising governments that came to power through a coup d'état. Reynolds was asked by business associates to travel to Pakistan and meet Musharraf.
Musharraf asked Reynolds to act as an advisor to him and to contact US President Bill Clinton, to reassure the White House, as to the intentions of the new government of Pakistan. Reynolds claimed in later interviews that because of the trust built on with Musharraf he would be asked to arrange peace talks between India and Pakistan. These talks started in early 2001, but were interrupted by the September 11 attacks, after which Musharraf could not get in contact with the White House. He called Reynolds, who called former US President Bill Clinton, who quickly contacted President George W. Bush to communicate the Pakistani position.
In 1993, Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, then Minister for Finance, wrote to developer Owen O'Callaghan seeking a substantial donation. O'Callaghan was then heavily involved in lobbying for state support for a stadium project at Neilstown, County Dublin. According to the report, O'Callaghan felt compelled to donate a sum of IR£80,000 to Fianna Fáil to get funding for the stadium. The Mahon Tribunal said it did not find the payment to be corrupt. However, the report said that pressing a businessman to donate money when he was seeking support for a commercial project was "entirely inappropriate, and was an abuse of political power and government authority".
In November 2007, it was alleged at the Mahon Tribunal that Reynolds, while on government business in New York, collected a substantial sum of money for his Fianna Fáil party that did not get fully credited to the party. On the same trip, it emerged in the tribunal that Reynolds had the government jet make an additional and unscheduled five-hour stopover in the Bahamas.
In July 2008, it was reported that Reynolds was medically unfit to give evidence at the Mahon Tribunal, because of "significant cognitive impairment". Reynolds had on several previous occasions been due to give evidence concerning payments he allegedly received when he was Taoiseach.
Illness and death
In December 2013, it was revealed by his son that Reynolds was in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease. Reynolds died on 21 August 2014. The last politician to visit him was former British Prime Minister, John Major, a close friend of Reynolds. The serving Taoiseach, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, said at the time:
The funeral, held at Church of the Sacred Heart, in Donnybrook, on 25 August 2014, was attended by President Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, former SDLP leader and Nobel prize winner John Hume, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, former Taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, John Bruton, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke. Other guests included former Ministers Charlie McCreevy and Padraig Flynn, Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, fashion designer Louise Kennedy and racehorse owner JP McManus. An unexpected visitor from overseas was the frail but vigorous Jean Kennedy Smith, former US Ambassador to Ireland, who was the last surviving sibling of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Reynolds was buried at Shanganagh Cemetery with full military honours.
His successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who was one of the negotiators of peace in Northern Ireland and had long been a political ally and friend, said on 21 August 2014
I am deeply saddened to learn today of the death of Albert Reynolds. He was not afraid to take political risks to further the path of reconciliation. The Downing Street Declaration paved the way for the IRA ceasefire and all the positives which have flowed from the peace process for people North and South. So much of this achievement has its roots in Albert's courage, perseverance and his commitment to democratic politics.
The Archbishop of Dublin, who attended the service, commented on Reynolds' determined character:
In his life, in his responsibility for the political and economic destiny of those he was called to serve, Albert Reynolds was responsive and creative and determined in his desire to move forward in the search for peace and for a more just, secure and prosperous society.
Former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Brian Cowen expressed his sadness at the passing of their "close personal friend".
As my local TD in what was then the Longford-West Meath constituency, I had some interaction with him. We were certainly very proud of him down there. I think history will be very kind to him and it should be. In a relatively short period as Taoiseach he achieved a terrific transformation, both in the peace process and also setting Ireland on a period of very rapid economic growth. He wasn’t perhaps the greatest politician in the world. He managed to blow up two coalitions in a relatively short period of time. But I think if you go back and you ask Irish people now if you could have visionary, dynamic and bold leadership like Albert Reynolds, or the 10 years of dither, fudge and buying off the various stakeholders that came after him under Bertie, I think everybody would go back and have Albert in a flash.
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