Country owes Reynolds a great debt, says Taoiseach

IRELAND owes former leader Albert Reynolds a great debt for his contribution towards peace and prosperity, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said last night.

Speaking at the launch of Mr Reynolds’ autobiography in Dublin, Mr Cowen paid warm tribute to the man who first appointed him to Cabinet.

In a lengthy speech that mixed humour and emotion, he spoke of Mr Reynolds’ career as a minister and his short-lived, but significant, tenure as taoiseach between 1992 and 1994.

In particular, he cited the deal that Mr Reynolds struck to secure £8bn in structural funds from the EU – money that would play a key role in Ireland’s economic development.

In reference to the North, he said Mr Reynolds worked tirelessly to produce a breakthrough in the peace process.

That came in the shape of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, which paved the way for everything that followed, including the IRA ceasefire in 1994.

While Mr Cowen did not wish to suggest everything was “solved” when Mr Reynolds left office, he said the former taoiseach’s contribution had been crucial.

“To Albert Reynolds I say, as Taoiseach of this country today, we are deeply proud, and deeply grateful, for all that work,” Mr Cowen said, to sustained applause from those present.

Mr Reynolds did not speak at the launch but his son, Philip, said his father had been determined not to write his autobiography until such time as peace had been achieved. “I think in so far as any country can say it’s at peace, this is probably an appropriate time,” he said.

In addition to Philip, Mr Reynolds was accompanied by his wife Kathleen, to whom warm tributes were also paid, and the couple’s five daughters.

Guests at the launch included John and Pat Hume, and a large Fianna Fáil contingent, including Junior Minister Martin Mansergh, who aided several taoisigh during the peace process; former EU commissioner Padraig Flynn; Transport Minister Noel Dempsey; and former junior ministers Tom Kitt and Ned O’Keeffe.

A large number of current and former officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs were also in attendance, as were broadcaster Gay Byrne and his wife Kathleen Watkins.

Unable to attend on the night because of other engagements were Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

Also absent was former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, whom Mr Reynolds accuses in his book of ruining his chances to run for the presidency in 1997.

Mr Cowen, meanwhile, had guests in laughter when he pointed to one slight inaccuracy in the book. It quotes Mr Cowen as saying how he looked forward to entering coalition with a “renegade” Labour Party in 1992. Mr Cowen took the chance to correct the record: “I actually said with a ‘regenerated’ Labour Party!”

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