Dáil debates

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy


5:20 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before moving on to the Order of Business I understand the Government Chief Whip wishes to propose that we make short statements expressing sympathy on the death of the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds. The statements are confined to leaders only, including the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. I understand provision will be made at a later date for the usual expression of sympathies. I call on the Taoiseach to make a statement.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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As Taoiseach and as a colleague of the former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil Deputy, Albert Reynolds, I wish to express my sincere condolences to his wife, Kathleen, his children, Miriam, Philip, Emer, Leonie, Abbie, Cathy and Andrea, and to his grandchildren and extended family. While his passing is a major personal loss his achievements and dedication to public service to his former constituency of Longford-Westmeath and the entire island of Ireland are outstanding. The wide range of ministerial portfolios assigned to him throughout his early political career prepared him well for his role as Taoiseach in the early 1990s. When he came to office he was not fazed by the complex challenges that confronted his Government and he proved an able negotiator at home and in Europe in getting the best outcome for our people.

Albert Reynolds's role in the peace process was significant indeed. From the outset he was passionate about peace. A difficult often frustrating road lay ahead but he stayed the course and, through agreement and consent with his counterparts, he found an alternative route to bring an end to the bloodshed and violence that marred community life in Northern Ireland for a generation.

He was well known for finding ways to bring people together, whether in the dance halls of rural Ireland, through music or even by connecting them with new telephone networks. Connecting people, bringing people together was his way of doing things. He showed just how vital this was in the peace process as he brought the diverse strands of political opinions together in a way that had never been done before. While he built on the work of his predecessors, he was singular in attaining what had eluded so many before him. Reflecting today on his legacy, we can truly say that his vision, dogged determination, negotiation skills and courage were pivotal in laying the foundations of lasting peace and the Good Friday Agreement.

Before entering politics Albert Reynolds was a businessman of dedication and drive, the very qualities that had helped foster the social and economic climate for our country. Throughout his life, he demonstrated a great love for life, people, his wife and family, his home place of Roosky, Longford-Westmeath and Dublin as well as for enterprise, fairness and peace. His primary focus was always his wife and family. This is what made Albert Reynolds the public servant that he was.

Some days after he passed away we marked the 20th anniversary of the IRA ceasefire. While he was not there to witness it, in their grief and sorrow Kathleen and the Reynolds family can take comfort and tremendous pride in what he achieved with their support. He was indeed a man of peace. History in due course will recognise the part he played in the development of our State. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Sorry, Deputy Kehoe, I jumped ship there a little without giving you the opportunity to speak. Did you want to set out the conditions?

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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No, it is okay.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I think it is clear. The Tánaiste is next. He has up to five minutes.

5:30 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Minister, Department of Social Protection; Dublin West, Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party, I want to express my sincere sympathies to the family of the late Albert Reynolds. I was privileged to serve in the coalition Government that Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring led together, a Fianna Fáil-Labour Government that achieved a tremendous amount in a short period. I was a new Deputy. Deputy Howlin, Deputy Stagg - no, perhaps not that one - and I served in that Government. I always found Albert to be an extremely encouraging and dynamic can-do type of person with whom to work.

He set himself two objectives as Taoiseach - to make economic progress and for Ireland to be at peace. Although his time as Taoiseach was relatively brief for reasons that do not require rehashing today, it is fair to say that he made hugely significant progress on both fronts. On the economic front, that Government helped to lay the foundation for a period of sustained growth and raised living standards.

Of course, it is for his contribution to the peace process that Albert will be best and rightly remembered. He was a public servant and public representative who brought an unusual amount of private sector deal-making experience to the job. That helped enormously in the peace process. As has been well documented, he was prepared to take risks to further the process when others in the same position may well have balked. The risks paid off, culminating in the signing of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, an agreement that paved the way for multi-party talks involving all sides of the divide in the North.

As one of the many women first elected to the Dáil in 1992, I have to say that it was not a particularly woman-friendly place at the time. This institution did not even have a picture of a woman gracing its halls.

Albert stood out as a man who was not shy about acknowledging his devotion and commitment to his family - his wife and children, including his many daughters. This was at a time when men, particularly in the Oireachtas, did not wear their hearts on their sleeves where family and children were concerned. Those tended to be left behind at the door of Leinster House. Albert really stood out. His family - his beloved wife Kathleen and his children - came first. He was very proud of them, their achievements, their education, their careers and their glamour. He made no secret of that. I found it extremely refreshing and positive that one could be quite open about family and family commitments while the earlier generations of men serving in the Dáil then were much more discreet about their families. It was refreshing and admirable, particularly in the context of the many women who were first elected at that stage.

Albert was a character. He had all of the cunning and deviousness occasionally required of politicians, but he was a very good person to work with and he was an honourable man. I regretted when, in later years, I used to meet him in the library and his memory and faculties had grown frailer and dimmer. He was not the acute person he had been when I first met him. However, I consider it an honour to have known him and a distinction and a pleasure to have worked with him. I want to express again my sincere condolences to Kathleen, the girls and his two sons.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Gan amhras, is ócáid an-bhrónach é bás Albert Mac Raghnaill. I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a dhéanamh lena bhean, Kathleen, agus lena chlann go léir. Is léir do chách gur ceannaire agus polaiteoir den scoth a bhí ann. Bhí tionchar faoi leith aige ar chúrsaí polaitíochta na tíre seo agus, go háirithe, saol polaitíochta an oileáin ar fad. Go pearsanta, bhí sé chairdiúil, chneasta agus ghrámhar. Bhí muintir na tíre báúil leis. Chomh maith leis sin, bhí sé foigneach le an-chuid daoine nuair a bhuail sé leo.

The sad passing of Albert Reynolds brought an end to a remarkable journey that ranged from the sweltering dance halls of Longford to the corridors of power in Leinster House and, indeed, Downing Street. His legacy across business and politics rivals that of any Irish politician of the modern era. He was a man with a mission determined to make his mark. A practical patriot, he would not allow himself to be encumbered by the hefty baggage of ideology or history in delivering real results.

The determination that marked his political career was evident in his entrepreneurial life, which also flourished. He started in the inauspicious surroundings of a tuck shop emporium in Summerhill College, through to the rental market of turf plots into the world of a newspaper proprietor, a bacon producer in the Liberties and on to huge international success with C & D Pet Foods. All the while, the dance halls in rural Ireland swelled with people drawn by the talent he attracted.

His hunger to get the deal done was forged in the cut and thrust of the business world. When he moved into politics in his 40s, that hunger drove him on. In the midst of the turbulent political world of the 1980s, Albert Reynolds marked himself out as a focused, result-driven Minister. He attacked his portfolios with verve and firmly stood up for the resources they needed to get the job done. His quick elevation to the rank of Minister for Posts and Telegraphs transformed an archaic telecommunications system into one of the best in Europe. It is hard for people today to comprehend how difficult it was simply to get a telephone throughout the 1980s. I recall him at his first Ard-Fheis making all sorts of commitments in that regard, which many people did not find credible at the time. He proved them wrong ultimately and delivered.

In transport, he drove on the creation of the DART line, which continues to serve Dublin today. In finance, he reduced income tax, underpinned the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC, and oversaw the fledgling start of the Irish economic revival. When he was elected Taoiseach in 1992, his capacity for driving home a deal came to the fore. Amidst scathing media criticism, he emerged from the pivotal Edinburgh EU summit with £8 billion in funding, having reached agreement with his European peers. These funds would prove crucial in building up the modern national infrastructure and strengthening the long-term capacity and potential of the economy. He delicately balanced the intricate demands of the divide in Northern Ireland and built a very strong relationship with Prime Minister John Major. That relationship was the anvil upon which the historic Downing Street Declaration was hammered out. The presence of a former British Prime Minister and staunch Conservative Party MP at his funeral bears testament to the touching loyalty and friendship Albert inspired and what they achieved together in 1993.

The declaration was only a means to an end in securing a peace that would enable a permanent agreement. He successfully grappled with President Clinton over securing visas to bring the IRA over the line and into a viable peace framework. The IRA ceasefire in August 1994 was a decisive moment along the road to peace on this often troubled island. The make-or-break, all-in attitude of Albert Reynolds was essential in taking the gun out of Irish politics. Ultimately, it represented the triumph of constitutional republicanism. He was a risk taker, and taking those risks certainly left a mark and made the island a better place to live.

His wife Kathleen and his seven children will sorely miss a loving husband and father. His commitment to them was unwavering and the strength of his family sustained him during the darker moments of the office. In the throes of the hurly burly of high office, he remained a strong family man and I hope and I know that they will draw comfort in the knowledge of a life well lived. Hopefully, the memories will sustain them in the months and years ahead.

Albert came a long way from a wet Tuesday night in Rooskey to go toe-to-toe across the negotiating table with some of the giants of modern politics. However, he always took great pride in his roots and remained deeply motivated to serving his people. His personal warmth, humility and immense generosity of spirit belied his major lasting achievements. He never forgot where he came from and his legacy means that we will never forget him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

5:40 pm

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Is ceart agus is cóir go bhfuil an Dáil ag tabhairt ómóis don iar-Thaoiseach Albert Reynolds, fear a bhí lárnach sa tsíocháin ar an oileán beag seo. Tá mé ag smaoineamh fosta faoi fear eile, Ian Paisley, a fuair bás an tseachtain seo caite. Táimid ag smaoineamh faoina theaghlach fosta.

It is poignant that Albert Reynolds's funeral took place just days before the 20th anniversary of the ground-breaking IRA cessation. That decision by the IRA leadership resulted in enormous changes and had profound effects on politics in Ireland and the relationship between Ireland and Britain, but much of the work done to bring about that opportunity was carried out away from the public eye and is often now forgotten. People remember the political highs of the past two decades. We had the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement, the Hillsborough agreements and the decision by the late Ian Paisley to share power with republicans and his term of office with Mr. Martin McGuinness, but none of these changes would have been brought about and the peace process would not have been advanced in the way it was without the risk-laden work undertaken by Albert Reynolds, Fr. Alex Reid and Fr. Des Wilson, Mr. John Hume, Mr. Martin Mansergh, the Sinn Féin leadership and others before the 1994 cessation, including brave citizens in civic unionism, the Protestant churches and the community sector.

The Ireland of the early 1990s was a different place. Successive Irish Governments, including the so-called constitutional republicans, worked with successive British Governments in pursuing an entirely negative agenda which merely fed the cycle of discrimination, censorship, repression, resistance and conflict. Albert brought a different approach. He was persuaded by the potential of my dialogue with Mr. John Hume and supported it when others sought to undermine it. He struck up a dialogue of his own with the then British Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, and, despite sigificant opposition both inside and outside the British Parliament, the Downing Street Declaration was secured.

Bhí cairdeas an-mhaith idir mé féin agus Albert. Bhí sé oscailte mar dhuine. Chuir sé agus a bhean chéile, Kathleen, fearadh na fáilte romham ina dteach. Bhí siad an-fhlaithiúil agus díreach liom.

Albert was a doer. He was not satisfied with dialogue without an aim, without objectives, without concrete outcomes. Is cinnte dearfach go raibh deacrachtaí eadrainn, ach bhí sé an-dáiríre faoi shíocháin a bhunú. He also knew the North much better than he was given credit for. Some of this went back to his showband days and the work he did across the Six Counties with people from both the Unionist and broadly Nationalist communities who had one thing in common, they liked dances and the showbands.

Under Fr. Reid's guidance, Albert also opened up dialogue with loyalist paramilitaries and their representatives - a very significant initiative - in order that they could come to have a sense of ownership and belonging in dealing with the Taoiseach as opposed to British Ministers. It is a testament to his ability to get things done that, though one of the shortest serving Taoisigh, he achieved so much in such a short space of time. A lot of this was possible because he was an outsider. He was not part of the Fianna Fáil establishment or the Irish establishment; in fact, many of them looked down their noses at him and the same establishment was very partitionist - some policy makers remain so to this day.

Albert was removed from office well before Mr. Tony Blair's election in 1997 and the inclusive all-party negotiations which he recognised were necessary but which the Major Government failed to deliver. After his retirement he remained a firm supporter of the peace process. He was of particular assistance in advising us quietly on the side on how to deal with the Irish Government of the day, including the Fianna Fáil Government. He also developed a very warm personal relationship with Mr. Martin McGuinness. He acted on the North when it was needed and, as the political process faces into more difficulties, the Taoiseach - I say this fraternally and respectfully - could do well to emulate him. The current difficulty is not, as some would put it, that the problem parties need to have their heads knocked together by the Governments. I want less British Government involvement in Irish affairs, but both Governments have responsibilities - that is what Albert Reynolds recognised. His big job was to get Mr. John Major to start thinking about Ireland in a positive way. The Irish Government has a clear responsibility to ensure the British Government lives up to these responsibilities.

Ba mhaith liom comhbhrón ó chroí, ar mo shon agus ar son Sinn Féin, a dhéanamh le bean chéile Albert, Kathleen, lena leanaí agus le mórtheaghlach Reynolds. Kathleen was hugely supportive of Albert. At times Fr. Alex Reid must have driven her to distraction, but she was and remains a very sound, solid and strong woman.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I offer my deepest sympathy to the late Albert Reynolds's wife, Kathleen, and all of his family. It is important that we are remembering a father, a husband and a grandfather. One could clearly see on the day of the removal and the day of the burial the warmth and love for Albert the person. The first priority must be respect and extending our warmth and sympathy to Kathleen and the family.

On Albert Reynolds the politician, we live in a era in which many Ministers serve for long terms and we are told that things take time and that we have to be patient. Albert Reynolds never served for longer than three years in any role, yet he made a major impact in every ministry. He did not wait; he did not accept delays and he did not kick things down the road; he was a man of action and deeds. As Minister, he was responsible for the biggest overall of Ireland's telecommunications network, laying the groundwork for decades to come. He saw the introduction of bus lanes in Dublin, despite many of the authorities delaying over arguments on responsibility. He oversaw work on the Cork to Dublin gasline with his customary urgency and determination. As Taoiseach, he will always be remembered for his tough negotiating style, whether it was in the European Union, internationally or at home.

The Downing Street Declaration and the ceasefires of 1994 will remain as his outstanding achievements and greatest gift to the country. While he was a man who had strong views, he knew the people and the value of talking to people and laying aside baggage. He was not afraid to take a risk. It is easy to play it safe and look out for one's own career, but he did not do so. He took the risk and did what so many others had failed to do - he brought people to the negotiating table and earned the trust of many who were deeply suspicious of democratic politics.

Albert, as we all know, was not perfect and he never claimed to be. Whether in politics or business, he accepted that others disagreed with him. What he demanded was respect and acceptance that voters on any side were pure and he had the ability to look at all sides of an argument. Anyone who watched his funeral mass - I was present at it - could have been left in no doubt that his primary focus was his family. They were his priority. He was a father and a husband before anything else. He brought with him a sense of reality to politics. His business experience served him well and ensured he would not fall into the bubble that politics could create. There was always a life and interests outside politics for him. Perhaps his greatest legacy is that to win the respect of the people, one does not have to be eternally popular, one does not have to hold office for decades, rather one needs to be decisive and have the courage of one's own convictions. Whether one agreed or disagreed with Albert - I had a few political disagreements with him - there is no doubt that when he faced decisions, he took them and dealt with the consequences. To his wife, Kathleen, and his children, Miriam, Philip, Emer, Leonie, Abbie, Cathy and Andrea, and all of his grandchildren, I offer my sincere sympathy on behalf of the Technical Group.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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May he rest in peace.

Members rose.