Albert Reynolds – a man of peace and man of risks

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There was a marked contrast between this week’s State Funeral for former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and the last one, that for his predecessor as Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey.

Haughey was buried with the full military honours accorded to a former Taoiseach but his death in 2006 came at a time when his star had – to put it mildly – waned.

With all the Tribunal revelations about his personal finances – and the live allegation, never really proven, that he had dipped into the funds raised for Brian Lenihan Senior’s liver transplant – he was persona non grata to all but the most ardent Fianna Fáil supporter.

There’s a televised drama on Haughey set to be released this season. And certainly within Fianna Fáil there has been an attempt to revive some parts of the reputation of this very complex, convoluted and tainted politician. Delivering a fierce apologia at his graveside Bertie Ahern (who has also fallen by the wayside since then) argued that posterity would be kinder to Haughey’s achievements.

That remains to be seen – but don’t hold your breath.

Reynolds was different. He had been no stranger to controversy during his career. And he had some very notable achievements to his name, principally the Downing Street Declaration. Yet, he never made the same impact as some of his illustrious forbears or successors.  He didn’t have the charisma of Haughey or the populism of Bertie. He wasn’t a particularly engaging speaker. His tenure as leader of Fianna Fáil and as taoiseach was really short – less than three years.

In the 20 years since he resigned as Taoiseach, Reynolds – like his British counterpart at the time John Major – had just become a little forgotten about. Of course, Alzheimer’s had taken an increasing grip in recent years, removing Reynolds from the public eye.

So it was nice to see this week that the public amnesia was not a permanent one, that many of Reynolds best achievements were remembered. It was also nice to see that sports supporters – often the most cynical – were very respectful to his memory at the All Ireland semi-final in Croke Park last Sunday. I couldn’t imagine Haughey or Ahern getting the same treatment.

There were some very good pieces and assessment written about Albert in the last week and I’ll focus for a second on just two in my own paper, The Irish Times, each given a different perspective.  The former journalist and newscaster Sean Duignan was Reynolds’ press secretary when he was Taoiseach and his book on those two and a half years – One More Spin on the Merry Go Round – is among the finest books on Irish politics ever written.

He gave a very perceptive summation of Reynolds whose disposition was essentially that of a gambler. Politicians are cautious by nature and prefer taking the path of least resistance when making a decision. Look at Obama’s wavering this summer and you see the classic case of a politician paralysed by all the negative permutations that might flow from taking a tough and unpalatable decision.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

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