Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and receiving around-the-clock care.
His son Philip spoke publicly on behalf of the family for the first time after the former Fianna Fáil leader was conspicuously absent from the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration.
Mr Reynolds, 81, and former British prime minister John Major had crafted a friendship and a diplomatic strategy from an unlikely start which in 1993 led to the breakthrough for the Northern Ireland peace process.
Last week Mr Major visited his former counterpart at his home in the Four Seasons hotel and Philip Reynolds said the fact his father was not seen in public says everything about the seriousness of his condition.
He said his mother, Kathleen, had always been reluctant to attend political functions and was representing the family because the former taoiseach could not. “He has been ill for a long time. He is in the very late stages of Alzheimer’s... He has been suffering slowly with it for five years now,” Mr Reynolds Jr told Shannonside FM.
He said that after retirement his father was very frustrated at having lived a very busy political and business life only to then have a very quiet one. This frustration made it hard for the family to spot the initial signs of the disease when he started to deteriorate and they did not know if it was a symptom of a change in pace.
Mr Reynolds Jr said the effects were gradual and, within the family, it was the children, who were away and saw less of their father, who began to notice him slip. “As a family we started to recognise it at various times and those of us who would see less of him rather than more of him would have remarked on it.”
He said the family had preferred to stay private about his father’s illness.
He said when a letter was sent to the Mahon Tribunal explaining that he could not give evidence on account of memory loss they were hurt by suggestions that it was an illness of convenience.
“It was hurtful... It was difficult to listen to people making the assumption that he was trying to dodge something but in fact he was in the early stages of where he is today... He was adamant that he was going to defend himself and if he could, none of us would have stopped him.”
Mr Reynolds Jr, who did not rule out embarking on a political career, spoke about his father’s unusual friendship with John Major. Neither man had a background in Northern Irish politics and Mr Major knew little about the subject when he was approached by the then new leader of Fianna Fáil.
However, Mr Reynolds Jr said his father had connections in the North through both the showband gigs he organised and the family pet food business. He used this to build diplomatic links and embark on a strategy to negotiate an end to the Troubles.
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