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Former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds Dies

John Major And Albert Reynolds
Albert Reynolds, the former Irish prime minister who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, right, was first elected to parliament in 1977, according to Fianna Fail's web site. Photographer: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Albert Reynolds, the former Irish prime minister who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, has died. He was 81.

His death was confirmed by Fianna Fail, the party he led. No other details were provided. In December, Reynolds’s son, Philip, said his father was in the “very late stages” of Alzheimer’s disease, the Irish Independent newspaper reported.

A former finance minister, Reynolds served as premier between February 1992 and December 1994. In 1993, he signed the Downing Street Declaration with U.K. Prime Minister John Major, in an agreement that affirmed the right of Irish people to self-determination.

“It was Reynolds’s determination that gave impetus to the peace process and the establishment of an IRA cease-fire in 1994, followed shortly afterwards by a loyalist cease-fire,” Fianna Fail said in a statement on its website. “Albert Reynolds asked the defining question, ‘Who is afraid of peace?’ His determination brought about what had seemed impossible.”

Albert Martin Reynolds was born on Nov. 3, 1932, in Rooskey, County Roscommon and educated at Summerhill College, Sligo, in northwest Ireland.

Business Life

In the 1960s, he became involved in dancehalls, cinemas and pet-food companies, creating a business empire. His interest in politics was in part spurred by the trial of Charles Haughey in 1970 on charges of attempted arms importation, according to Modern Irish Lives, edited by Louis McRedmond.

As finance minister, Haughey was accused of facilitating the attempted importation of arms to be used in defense of Catholics in Northern Ireland. Reynolds attended the trial of Haughey, according to Modern Irish Lives, and saw him acquitted in one of the most controversial moments of Irish history.

Reynolds was first elected to parliament in 1977. Under Haughey, he served as industry and transport minister before being appointed finance minister in 1988, slashing income-tax rates and helping expand the International Financial Service Center, on the north bank of the River Liffey in Dublin.

“History will be very kind to him and it should be,” Michael O’Leary, chief executive officer of Dublin-based Ryanair Holdings Plc and a constituent in Reynolds’s political base, said today at a news conference. “We’d have him back in a flash.”

Career Turns

Fired for challenging the leadership of Haughey in 1991, Reynolds became party leader within months and served as prime minister in two coalition governments. During his first term, he opened communications with the Irish Republican Army through priests in Belfast and with loyalist militants through Protestant clergymen. He sealed the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993.

“If there wasn’t a Downing Street declaration, there wouldn’t have been a cease-fire,” Bertie Ahern, who succeeded Reynolds as Fianna Fail leader, said in an interview with RTE, the Irish state broadcaster.

Reynolds’s second administration fell in December 1994, after a series of disagreements with his coalition partner, the Labour Party. The breaking point came over the appointment of the attorney general as president of the High Court.

“A head had to roll and it was mine,” Reynolds wrote in his 2009 autobiography.

At that point, Reynolds simultaneously stepped down as party leader and prime minister.

Political Arc

“As he said himself, it’s the little things that trip you up,” former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy said in Reynolds’s book. “The peace negotiations, the economy, we’d done all those things right. Then to fall over something that no one understands to this day.”

Reynolds failed in a bid to win his party’s nomination as its candidate in the 1997 presidential election and retired from politics before the 2002 general election.

His survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Kathleen Coen, and five daughters and two sons.

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