Ex-Irish premier Reynolds, peace negotiator, dies aged 81

AFPBy Conor Barrins

Dublin (AFP) – Former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds, a central figure in the Northern Ireland peace process who helped broker the 1994 IRA ceasefire, has died aged 81, current premier Enda Kenny said Thursday.

Reynolds served twice as taoiseach, or prime minister, once in 1992 and then again in 1993-94. He had recently been suffering from the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, his son Philip revealed earlier this week.

He sat in parliament from 1977 to 2002, serving in a number of ministerial posts.

Kenny said he learned of the news “with great regret”.

He hailed Reynolds’ contribution towards peace in Northern Ireland, saying he “played an important part in bringing together differing strands of political opinion”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was sad to hear of Reynolds’ death, calling his contribution to peace “crucial”.

In 1993, Reynolds and then British prime minister John Majorsigned the Downing Street Declaration, which affirms the right to self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland.

The key text was followed a few months later by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire, and is regarded as a precursor to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, generally seen as the end of the decades-long sectarian conflict known as The Troubles.

The historic peace deal was signed by Protestant Unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic Republicans, who wanted it to join the Republic of Ireland.

“We were able to have the fiercest of rows without leaving scars,” Major told RTE state radio.

“He was more than a politician. People who took the risks that Albert took, that could have caused him huge political difficulties and that he took for the greater good of ending bloodshed — I think that’s not a politician, I think that’s a statesman.”

From Sinn Fein — the political wing of the now-defunct IRA — party president Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, both paid tribute to Reynolds and lauded his role in bringing about peace.

Born November 3, 1932 in the small town of Rooskey in the midwest, Reynolds made a fortune in publishing, pet food and dance halls.

The businessman represented the Longford-Westmeath constituency in parliament for the centrist party Fianna Fail.

The party website said that “without a doubt his greatest achievement was in Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations, signing the Downing Street Declaration in 1993.”

“Albert Reynolds asked the defining question ‘who is afraid of peace?'” it continued.

“His determination brought about what had seemed impossible.”

Former prime minister Bertie Ahern, who succeeded Reynolds as Fianna Fail leader, said he was “deeply saddened” by his predecessor’s death.

“When the definitive history of this period is written, his name deserves to stand tall,” he said in a statement.

Though both his tenures as prime minister were short, Reynolds was also remembered for pressing for greater European Union integration and negotiating EU funds which arguably paved the wave for the Irish economic boom in the 1990s.

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