herald

Saturday 25 October 2014

From dancehalls to the Dail - the life of Albert, the risk-taker and architect of peace

Albert Reynolds was born in Roosky, Co Roscommon on November 3, 1932. Educated at Summerhill College in Sligo, he first worked as a clerk with CIE in the 1950s.

Despite having a permanent job in a Sate company, the entrepreneur in Reynolds shone through and he moved into the entertainment scene, buying dance halls in his local area and promoting events.

He then invested his money in a number of businesses, including a pet food company in Longford.

Despite his late-night life with the dance halls, Mr Reynolds did not drink alcohol, and was a family man, devoted to his wife Kathleen and to their seven children.

He was first elected a TD for Longford Westmeath in 1977 at the age of 45.

Two years later he was a key member of the backbench group which helped topple the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

He was rewarded for this by Charlie Haughey, who appointed him as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.

In the 1980s, Reynolds went on to serve as Minister for Finance but was not happy in coalition with the Progressive Democrats - the party which broke away from Fianna Fail. His relationship with Haughey was also 
beginning to deteriorate.

He was dramatically sacked from the Finance post after supporting an unsuccessful plot to topple Haughey in late 1991.

But Albert was to have the last laugh when three months later Haughey was ousted. Becoming Taoiseach, he then stamped his own authority on the party by sacking eight of Haughey's ministers.

The first controversy he had to confront was the 'X case' when a 14-year-old girl was refused permission to go abroad for an abortion. The case strained relations between the coalition of Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

power

A referendum on abortion was held, but the Government suffered an embarrassing defeat on it.

Reynolds was not happy sharing power with the PDs, and was deeply critical of PD leader Des O'Malley at the beef tribunal in 1992.

That tribunal was set up to examine the relationship between Haughey and beef baron Larry Goodman.

O'Malley severely criticised Reynolds, in his role as Minister for Industry and Commerce, for an export credit scheme. Then, when Reynolds gave evidence he referred to O'Malley as "dishonest".

This enraged O'Malley and the PDs called a motion of no confidence. The Government fell.

The subsequent election campaign was a disaster for the Fianna Fáil party, but Labour had its best result with 33 seats. In the end a Fianna Fáil-Labour Party government came to power with Reynolds returning as Taoiseach.

He was further embroiled in rows over a passports-for-sale scandal, and a tax amnesty.

But it was at this point in his career that Reynolds was to begin the process that he is most remembered for - the Peace Process in Northern Ireland.

ceasefire

On December 15, 1993, the Joint Downing Street Declaration was signed in London. Reynolds remained involved in discussion with Northern nationalist parties, and eventually, with John Hume and Gerry Adams, he managed to persuade the IRA to call a complete ceasefire on August 31, 1994.

In September 1994, while in his position as Taoiseach, Reynolds was infamously left standing on the tarmac at Shannon Airport when Russian president Boris Yeltsin landed but failed to emerge to meet the waiting Irish dignatories. The incident made headlines around the world.

While on the international stage Reynolds was high profile, it was events back home that were to lead to his downfall.

The publication of the beef tribunal report, controversy over Albert's backing of Attorney General Harry Wheelehan for the position of President of the High Court, and a row over the Attorney General's handling of the Fr Brendan Smyth case was to prove too much for Labour's Dick Spring who pulled his party from Government in November 1994.

Reynolds resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil the next day.

On November 19, 1994 the then Minister for Finance, Bertie Ahern, was unanimously elected the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil.

hnews@herald.ie

Opinion

Entertainment News