Albert Reynolds (born 3 November 1932) is a former Irish politician who was twice Taoiseach of Ireland, serving from February 1992 to January 1993 and again from January 1993 to December 1994. The first term as head of a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition, and the second time as head of a Fianna Fáil-Labour Party coalition. He was the fifth leader of Fianna Fáil during the same period. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Reynolds was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a TD for Longford–Westmeath in 1977, and was re-elected at each election until his retirement in 2002. He previously served as Minister for Finance (1988–91), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1987–88), Minister for Industry and Energy (1982), Minister for Transport (1980–81) and Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1979–81).
Albert Reynolds was born in Roosky, County Roscommon on 4 November 1932. He was educated at Summerhill College in County Sligo, and found work as a clerk in the 1950s with CIÉ, the state transport service. Reynolds left what many would consider to be a “job for life” in the state company and moved into the showband scene, owning a number of dance halls in his local area. He became wealthy from this venture during the 1960s when dance halls proved extremely popular and invested his money in a number of businesses including a pet food company, a bacon factory, a fish exporting operation and hire purchase company. Reynolds also had business interests in local newspapers and a cinema. Although his dance hall empire required late nights Reynolds was a traditional family man and had a happy home with his wife Kathleen and their seven children. Reynolds abstained from alcohol. He developed a network of business contacts both nationally and internationally.
Early political career:
Reynolds became interested in politics at the time of the Arms Crisis in 1970, a hugely controversial episode in modern Irish history which saw two Cabinet ministers, Neil Blaney and Charles Haughey, sacked from the government over an alleged attempt to import arms to Northern Ireland. The two men were subsequently acquitted in court but Reynolds then decided to embark on a political career. Reynolds stood as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1977 general election for the Longford–Westmeath constituency. The election was a landslide victory for Fianna Fáil, with the party receiving a twenty-seat parliamentary majority. Reynolds was just one of a number of TDs elected to Dáil Éireann on that day, however, at 44 years of age Reynolds was considered a late starter.
Reynolds remained a backbencher until 1979. In that year pressure was mounting on the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Jack Lynch to step down. He became a member of the so-called “gang of five” with Jackie Fahey, Mark Killilea, Jnr, Tom McEllistrim and Seán Doherty which aligned itself to Charles Haughey and supported him in the subsequent leadership contest. Reynolds’ affable personality helped him to coax a number of backbenchers into supporting Haughey, who went on to beat George Colley in the leadership struggle and become Taoiseach. Reynolds was rewarded for his staunch loyalty by joining the government as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. He took on the Minister for Transport portfolio in 1980, making his brief one of the largest and most wide-ranging in the government. As Minister for Transport Reynolds was involved in a bizarre incident in which an Aer Lingus plane was hi-jacked with the chief demand for the safe return of the aircraft and its passengers being the revealing of the religious secret, the Third Secret of Fatima. The incident was resolved in Paris with no injuries.
Fianna Fáil lost power in 1981 but regained it again in 1982. Reynolds returned to government as Minister for Industry and Energy. That government fell in late 1982 and Reynolds was back on the opposition benches. During the 1982–83 period the Fianna Fáil leader, Charles Haughey, faced three motions of no-confidence. Reynolds gave him his support at all times and Haughey survived, defeating his opponents and critics within the party.
In 1987 Fianna Fáil returned to government and Reynolds was appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce, one of the most senior positions in the cabinet. The position seemed even more important as the government’s top priority at this time was economic recovery. In 1988 the Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, became Ireland’s European Commissioner. Reynolds succeeded MacSharry in the most important department in the government.
The 1989 general election resulted in Fianna Fáil taking the unprecedented move of entering into a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. Reynolds headed the Fianna Fáil negotiation team along with another Minister, Bertie Ahern. A programme for government was finally agreed, almost a month after the general election, and Reynolds returned as Minister for Finance in a coalition government that he described as a “temporary little arrangement.”
The failure to get the Fianna Fáil candidate, Brian Lenihan, elected as President of Ireland added to the pressure on Haughey’s leadership. In a speech in County Cork, Reynolds announced that if a vacancy arose in the position of party leader he would contest it. This was a clear and open revolt on Haughey’s leadership. A number of TDs, including some members of the cabinet also began to grow disillusioned with Haughey and they began to look for a successor. Reynolds was the most popular and his profile was enhanced by his so-called “Country & Western” group of TDs who began to agitate within the party on his behalf. In November 1991 a relatively unknown rural TD, Seán Power, put down a motion of no confidence in Haughey. Reynolds and his staunchest of supporters, Pádraig Flynn, announced their support for the motion and were immediately sacked from the government. When the vote was taken the party re-affirmed its support in Haughey and it looked as if Reynolds political career was finished.
Haughey’s victory was short-lived, as a series of political errors would lead to his demise as Taoiseach. Controversy erupted over the attempted appointment of Jim McDaid as Minister for Defence, which saw him resign from the post before he had been officially installed. Worse was to follow when Seán Doherty, the man who as Minister for Justice had taken the blame for the phone-tapping scandal of the early 1980s, went on RTÉ television and said that Haughey had known and authorised the phone-tapping. Haughey denied this but the Progressive Democrats members of the government stated that they could no longer continue in government with Haughey as Taoiseach. Haughey told Desmond O’Malley, the PD leader, that he intended to retire shortly but wanted to choose his own time of departure. O’Malley agreed to this and the government continued.
On 30 January 1992 Haughey officially retired as leader of Fianna Fáil at the parliamentary party meeting. He remained as Taoiseach until 11 February when Albert Reynolds succeeded him having easily defeated Mary O’Rourke and Michael Woods in the Fianna Fáil leadership election.
Reynolds created a storm when he appointed his new cabinet. Eight members of Haughey’s old cabinet, including such long-standing figures as Ray Burke, Mary O’Rourke and Gerry Collins, were instantly dismissed. These three ministers had been loyal to Haughey. Nine of the twelve junior ministers, many of whom were also Haughey loyalists, were also sacked. The ministers who were sacked along with Reynolds at the end of 1991 where all re-instated.
Reynolds promoted several long running critics of Haughey, like David Andrews, Séamus Brennan, and Charlie McCreevy into senior ministerial positions. Reynolds also promoted a number of younger TDs from rural constituencies like Noel Dempsey, and Brian Cowen, to cabinet position. Bertie Ahern, possibly one of Haughey’s biggest supporters, remained as Minister for Finance due to his agreement with Reynolds not to challenge him for the leadership.
From Reynolds’s first day as Taoiseach, he had to deal with the X Case incident, which proved very divisive. Reynolds, a natural pragmatist tried to find a sensible middle ground position and seemed to alienate both liberals and the Church. This was when the Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, refused to allow a 14-year-old girl to travel to Britain for an abortion. The incident strained relations between the government parties of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. A referendum on abortion was eventually held, with the government suffering an embarrassing defeat on the third strand of the referendum which would make abortion illegal except when the life of the mother was in danger. The referendum and the wording of the constitutional change between the two government parties caused tensions, however, the government remained intact.
Beef Tribunal and 1992 election:
A tribunal of enquiry into irregularities in the beef industry, referred to as the “Beef Tribunal”, was established to examine the “unhealthy” relationship between Charles Haughey and the beef baron Larry Goodman. However this revealed to the public a substantial conflict of opinion between the two party leaders. At the tribunal Desmond O’Malley severely criticised Reynolds, in his capacity as Minister for Industry and Commerce, for an export credit scheme. When Reynolds gave evidence he referred to O’Malley as “dishonest.” This enraged the Progressive Democrats leader and the party voted against itself and Fianna Fáil, in a motion of no confidence and the government fell.
The election campaign was a disaster for Fianna Fáil. The world was in recession, Haughey was still in people’s memories, and the Gulf War dominated international news. It certainly did not help to have Saddam Hussein in the news, at the same time as the Beef Tribunal was discussing Reynolds’ attempts to sell beef to the Iraqi regime. The fact that Reynolds seemed prepared to issue risky state funded export insurance, effectively subsidising the Goodman business empire which now accounted for 12% of national GDP, when the country was economically in deep trouble, caused great distrust in the electorate. Support for the party fell by 5%, and it was clear that the public sided with Reynolds over O’Malley, concerning the allegations made at the Tribunal. The Labour Party, under Dick Spring were riding high in opinion polls and pursued a campaign independent of its traditional coalition partners Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil had received its worst election results since 1927. Fine Gael lost 9 seats while the Labour Party had its best result with 33 seats. Eventually negotiations began to form another coalition government, the expected Fine Gael-Labour Coalition fell through after weeks of negotiations because of Spring’s desire to be a rotating Taoisach with John Bruton of Fine Gael. A Fianna Fáil–Labour Party government came to power with Reynolds returning as Taoiseach and Dick Spring of Labour becoming Tánaiste.
One of Reynolds’s main achievements during his term as Taoiseach was the advancement in the peace process regarding Northern Ireland. Piecemeal negotiations had gone on during 1993 between Reynolds and the British Prime Minister, John Major. Reynolds had a very good relationship with Major. On 15 December 1993 the Joint Downing Street Declaration was signed in London. Reynolds, additionally, remained involved in discussion with Northern nationalist parties. Eventually, along with John Hume and Gerry Adams, he did manage to induce the IRA to call a complete ceasefire on 31 August 1994.
Reynolds also managed to negotiate considerable benefits from the European Union regional aid budget, in the aftermath of Danish rejection, of the Maastricht Treaty. Reynolds introduced a second tax amnesty, which allowed some tax evaders to get away with tax evasion and fraud, which provided some limited benefit to the national finances.
In September 1994 Reynolds was infamously stood up by Russian president Boris Yeltsin whose plane landed at Shannon Airport but who failed to emerge to meet the waiting Irish dignatories. The incident made headlines around the world as it was alleged that Yeltsin was too drunk to appear although a Russian official said that Yeltsin was unwell and Yeltsin himself later stated that he had overslept.
Tensions with Labour:
Reynolds’ Minister of Finance, Bertie Ahern, issued a tax amnesty for people who had outstanding tax bills unpaid and undeclared, provided they make some declaration of their previous income. This created considerable media disquiet, and Spring felt the need to respond. On 9 June 1994 Fianna Fáil lost two seats in the Mayo West by-election and the Dublin South Central by-election to the opposition Fine Gael and Democratic Left. This placed real pressure on Reynolds, as he could no longer depend on Spring to remain in government.
The report on the Beef Tribunal was published in July 1994, and Labour had threatened to leave the government if Reynolds was criticised. Reynolds claimed that report “fully vindicated” the policies and decisions of Reynolds as being in the State’s interest. Reynolds was alleged to have juxtaposed and misquoted sections of the report in issuing a rebuttal before the report became public.
However, Spring was extremely annoyed that the report was not considered by the cabinet first. This caused tension between Reynolds and Spring.
Whelehan controversy and downfall:
Reynolds had decided to re-appoint the Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, when the government had been formed in 1992. Spring had not objected at the time, despite the fact that Spring had serious reservations concerning Whelehan’s devout Catholic faith. When the position of president of the High Court became available, Reynolds proposed Whelehan. At this stage there were allegations surfacing that Whelehan had been less than keen to prosecute a serial child abuser, Fr. Brendan Smyth, due to its implications on the accountability of certain prominent members of the Catholic Hierarchy. It was later revealed that Whelehan, in his capacity as Attorney General, had mishandled an attempt to extradite Smyth to Northern Ireland, where he faced criminal charges. The fact that this was covered on the British television station, Channel 4, when the Irish state broadcaster was mute, and Irish newspapers effectively talking around the issue because of libel law, seemed to make it even more embarrassing for the country. Spring was trying to decide how to prevent the appointment, in the face of a strong commitment by Reynolds.
In this context, Spring led his ministers out of a cabinet meeting and mulled over the consequences and what the next step should be. The coalition looked finished, but Reynolds still held out for the chance to patch things up. Realising that his bluff had been called, Reynolds was forced to go before Dáil Éireann and indicate that if he had known ‘then’ what he ‘knew now’ about the incompetent handling of the case by the AG’s office he would not have appointed Whelehan to the judicial post.
However Reynolds was damaged politically, having appeared more interested in holding on to power, at all costs. Spring decided that he could not go back into government with Reynolds. Subsequently the Labour Party resigned from government on 16 November 1994.
Reynolds realised that nothing could be done to save the government, and he resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil the day after his coalition collapsed. He could have asked President Mary Robinson to dissolve the Dáil and call new elections, though Robinson has since stated she would have refused such a request, thereby forcing Reynolds to resign. As such the 27th Dáil continued without a government in place.
On 19 November 1994 the Minister for Finance, Bertie Ahern, was unanimously elected the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil. Reynolds’s favoured successor, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, withdrew from the leadership contest on the morning of the vote. Instead of re-entering coalition with Fianna Fáil under Ahern, however, Spring led Labour into successful coalition negotiations with Fine Gael and the Democratic Left. Fianna Fáil thus found themselves in opposition against a Rainbow Coalition. Reynolds returned to the opposition backbenches of Dáil Éireann.
Reynolds remained on as a TD following his resignation. At the beginning of 1997 he was thinking of retiring from politics at the next general election, which would have to be held during that year. Bertie Ahern, encouraged him to run and offered him the position of “peace envoy” to Northern Ireland and his support as a candidate for the presidential election. Fianna Fáil won the election, however, Ahern reneged on this promise to Reynolds due to poor election results in his constituency and the change in the political situation in Northern Ireland. However, Reynolds was still interested in being a candidate for the presidency, along with two other candidates, Michael O’Kennedy and Mary McAleese. In a meeting of ministers the Taoiseach gave a typically ambiguous speech which seemed to encourage his Cabinet to support McAleese. Although Renyolds won the first round of voting with a comfortable margin, supporters of O’Kennedy backed McAleese. McAleese was successful and went on to become the eighth President of Ireland. Reynolds was humiliated by Ahern and many of the ministers he had sacked when he came to power in 1992. He retired from politics at the 2002 general election after 25 years as a TD. Reynolds has said that I don’t bear any grudges over Ahern.
Reynolds was involved in a long-running libel action taken against British newspaper The Sunday Times on foot of an article published in 1994. It alleged that Reynolds had deliberately and dishonestly misled the Dáil regarding matters in connection with the Brendan Smyth affair that had brought down the coalition government. The newspaper claimed a defence of qualified privilege with regard to these assertions on foot of their supposed benefit to the public, but a High Court jury found in favour Reynolds in 1996. However, the jury recommended that no compensation at all be paid to the former Taoiseach. The judge subsequently awarded contemptuous damages of only one penny in this action, leaving Reynolds with massive legal costs, estimated at £1 million. A subsequent court of appeal decision in 1998 declared Reynolds had not received a fair hearing in his High Court action and the case continued to be heard in the House of Lords. This case led to the recognition under British law (and later introduction into Irish law as the “defence of fair and reasonable publication”) of the so-called Reynolds defence of qualified privilege for publishers against whom libel actions regarding defamatory comments made in media publications are being taken.
Perhaps the most interesting story concerning the retirement of Albert Reynolds is his relationship with the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. In 1999 General Musharraf became President of Pakistan following a military coup. The White House at the time had a policy of not recognising governments that came to power through a coup d’état. Reynolds was asked by business associates to travel to Pakistan and meet with Musharraf. Musharraf then asked Reynolds to act as an advisor to him and to contact US President Bill Clinton to reassure the White House as to the intentions of the new government of Pakistan. Reynolds also claimed in interviews with Irish radio that because of the trust built up between himself and Musharraf he was later asked to arrange peace talks between India and Pakistan. These talks started in early 2001 but the September 11 attacks caused them to stall. After the attacks Musharraf could not get in contact with the White House. He called Reynolds, and Reynolds then called former US President Bill Clinton, who quickly contacted President George W. Bush to communicate the Pakistani position.
In July 2008, it was reported that Reynolds was medically unfit to give evidence at the Mahon Tribunal because of “significant cognitive impairment”. Reynolds had been due to give evidence on several previous occasions on payments he allegedly received when he was Taoiseach. Speaking about his former boss, RTÉ sports commentator George Hamilton said that it is a pity Reynolds’ mental capacity had diminished. “He was razor sharp”, said the broadcaster, who is also a qualified rugby union referee.
Reynolds receives annual pension payments of €149,740.
In 1993, Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, who was then Minister for Finance, wrote to developer Owen O’Callaghan seeking a substantial donation. At the time O’Callaghan was heavily involved in lobbying for state support for a stadium project at Neilstown, County Dublin. According to the report, O’Callaghan felt compelled to donate a sum of IR£80,000 to Fianna Fáil to get funding for the stadium. The Mahon Tribunal said it did not find the payment to be corrupt. However, the report said pressurising a businessman to donate money when he was seeking support for a commercial project was “entirely inappropriate, and was an abuse of political power and government authority”.
In November 2007, it was alleged at the Mahon Tribunal, that Reynolds, while on Government business in New York, collected a substantial sum of money for his Fianna Fáil party, that did not get fully credited to the party. On the same trip, it emerged in the tribunal that Reynolds had the Government jet make an additional and unscheduled five-hour stopover in the Bahamas.