Reynolds, Albert Martin (1932–2014), businessman, politician and taoiseach, was born in Roosky, Co. Roscommon, on 3 November 1932, youngest of four children (three sons and one daughter) of John P. Reynolds and his wife Catherine (née Dillon) from Cloone, Co. Leitrim. Having emigrated to America, Catherine met her future husband on a visit home and married him.
Early life and education
The Reynolds family lived on Main Street, Roosky. John P. Reynolds engaged in multiple business activities – he was a farmer as well as a coach builder, auctioneer, undertaker, and later a ballroom-owner. From early childhood, Albert Reynolds enjoyed dancing, and was interested in horses, but not farming. His parents inculcated a work ethic in their children, and a strong religious commitment.
The Reynolds family were not politically involved but supported Fianna Fáil. A neighbouring family, the Hanleys, would be more influential: giving Reynolds his first experience of canvassing and learning more about the party (the Fianna Fáil Roscommon TD during Reynolds’s early life was Gerald Boland (qv), minister for justice in de Valera-led governments from 1939 to 1954). In the community, Reynolds also encountered families who had resettled from the north in the early 1920s to escape sectarian violence. He lived through the shortages and rationing of the war years.
Reynolds attended the national school in Roosky, but transferred for his final year to Carrigeen, a one-teacher school with an inspiring teacher, Elizabeth McLaughlin, who tutored him outside school hours, so that he could win a bursary to secondary school. He subsequently attended Summerhill College in Sligo as a boarder. A diocesan college, oriented towards those intending to become priests and teachers, its principal and many of its teachers were priests. Reynolds was a fast learner, and developed a proficiency in the classics. He was a champion at table-tennis, and clandestinely played soccer. Having displayed purchasing skills in local shops, and been given the responsibility of running the school tuck shop by staff, he found that he was good at making money. He could not complete the leaving certificate, because of a sporting accident, and that precluded teacher training. Subsequently, at work, he studied accountancy and completed his exams to intermediate level. He always knew how to read balance-sheets. Like other leaders who started from a business background, such as W. T. Cosgrave (qv) and Seán Lemass (qv), Reynolds's self-confidence and advancement came from varied and adventurous practical experience rather than academic qualifications.
Employment and entrepreneurship
After short-term jobs in a hardware shop in Pearse Street, Dublin, and Pye's in Dundrum, Reynolds found employment in Bord na Móna in Kildare, which allowed him to develop his bent for backing horses. He rented a plot, and harvested turf for family use and local sale. He then moved to CIÉ, where he served as a railway clerk starting at Dromod, Co. Leitrim, and then working at stations on narrow gauge lines as far north in the county as Ballinamore. His job was to organise onward transport of goods and animals, including north of the border. He encountered unionist farming and landed politicians from Fermanagh like Harry West (qv) and Northern Ireland prime minister Lord Brookeborough (qv). He met his future wife Kathleen Coen when he was posted to Ballymote in Sligo, and had to deliver parcels to the drapery store where she worked.
Recognised for his organisational ability, he was invited by the parish priest of Roosky in 1955 to take on the job of secretary of the Roosky Carnival Committee, which raised funds for church repairs. The dance bands in the marquee were a great financial success, and with his brother Jim, who returned from Australia, and support from other family members a ballroom called Cloudland was opened in Roosky, followed by a chain of others. As the business developed, he gave up his career with CIÉ. Reynolds hired the showbands and the singers, including Larry Cunningham, Joe Dolan (qv), Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves, Brian d'Arcy, later a priest and family friend, and the ill-fated Miami Showband (some of whom were murdered on the border in 1975). On one occasion, he hired the Ulster Hall, where Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball performed to a large crowd. One characteristic unusual in the business was that Reynolds was teetotal. He came to know people and performers north of the border from both communities. His business dealings there with unionists as well as nationalists gave him a first-hand knowledge and experience that he was later able to put to good use in helping him to advance the peace process.
He married Kathleen Coen in 1962, and the couple remained married for over fifty years until his death in 2014. They had seven children (five daughters and two sons): Miriam, Philip, Emer, Leonie, Albert, Cathy and Andrea. A family residence 'Mount Carmel' a mile outside of Longford on the Dublin Road was bought, and later extended. Albert and Kathleen liked travel and sun holidays.
After the ballroom and showband era passed its peak, Reynolds embarked on other business ventures, including property companies and the development of a swimming pool in Longford under an urban renewal scheme with business associate Noel Hanlon. He parted commercial company with his brother Jim, owner of the Longford Arms Hotel. His business success gave him financial independence, but not always freedom from disputes and controversy. While he had a genial manner, he could also be ruthless and unforgiving. From a bacon factory in Dublin’s south inner city on Francis Street, where an early partner was John McShane from Portadown, and then an unsuccessful venture in fish exporting, he moved on to the major business venture of his life, what became C&D Foods, selling tinned petfood to the British market and in particular Sainsbury's from a premises outside Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford. Although his son Philip took over the management after he became a minister, Reynolds remained the biggest shareholder. He was one of few Irish politicians to have personally created jobs. His business background appealed both to his constituents, and to those who favoured business experience in their politicians. In 1972, he was elected President of the Longford Chamber of Commerce. He also bought an ailing local newspaper, the Longford News, and turned it around. During elections of the early 1980s, it was a valued publicity vehicle for him.
Entry into national politics
In the late 1960s, Neil Blaney (qv), minister, previously for local government, then for agriculture and fisheries, took charge of by-election campaigns, six out of seven of which between 1966 and 1969 were won by Fianna Fáil. Reynolds volunteered to join his by-election team, which saw among others John O'Leary returned in Kerry South (December 1966), Gerry Collins in Limerick West (November 1967), and Desmond O'Malley in Limerick East (May 1968). Reynolds acknowledged how much he learnt from Blaney's canvassing methods, and how exciting those times had been.
While based in Dublin overseeing his bacon factory, Reynolds assiduously attended the second arms trial in October 1970, in which former minister Charles Haughey was charged with others with a conspiracy to import arms illegally. A similar charge against Blaney, another sacked minister, had been dismissed. Another defendant known to Reynolds was Flemish businessman Albert Luykx, who escaped prison and resettled in Ireland after the war, and who had won the contract to supply and build the Longford swimming pool.
From 1971–4, Reynolds was an elected member on the Fianna Fáil National Executive, and director of elections for Longford in the 1973 general election. In 1974, he stood in local elections at the invitation of local TD Frank Carter, who intended to retire at the following election. Reynolds made plans to stand, when early in 1977 Carter changed his mind. Too committed at that point to withdraw, Reynolds won a nomination at the party's election convention. In the 1977 general election, when Fianna Fáil won a sweeping majority, the party returned two TDs in Longford–Westmeath, Seán Keegan and Albert Reynolds, then aged forty-five.
He made his maiden speech on the Industrial Development Bill, 1977. While praising the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), he urged it and the banks to be more adventurous with regard to small industry needing capital. He stressed the opportunities of an European Economic Community (EEC) market of 250 million people. He criticised the capital taxation policies of the National Coalition, and spoke of the opportunity for canned foods, such as mackerel. In the 1978 budget debate, he criticised the education system for being overly academic, pointing out that most business leaders had not required a third level education to be successful. He said: ‘Life in general is a gamble. Every decision made involves a certain amount of risk’ (Dáil debate, 14 Feb. 1978). On 14 December 1978, he argued that private enterprise should do most of what was required, but where it failed the state should intervene. He supported joining the European Monetary System (EMS), forerunner of the euro.
The Irish economy ran into difficulties in 1979, with the second oil crisis and a prolonged postal strike. Following Lord Mountbatten's assassination in Sligo in August, Taoiseach Jack Lynch (qv) came under heavy pressure from new British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to make security concessions impinging on sovereignty. Speculation grew about Lynch's imminent retirement, leading to jockeying for the succession between George Colley (qv) and Charles Haughey (qv). Reynolds was a supporter of Haughey, and an informal caucus, including Reynolds on the fringe, met to hasten the change in leadership, spurred on by two by-election defeats in Lynch's Cork heartland. What Reynolds and others canvassing for Haughey during the leadership campaign wanted were a firmer grip on the economy, and that Fianna Fáil in government would be 'the republican party' with more conviction. Lynch resigned after hosting the European Council in Dublin in early December, intending to give George Colley an advantage, but Haughey won a tight contest by forty-four votes to thirty-eight and became taoiseach. He appointed Reynolds minister for posts and telegraphs and then for transport. Boisterous celebrations greeted Reynolds on his return to his constituency. After he became a minister, he and his wife acquired an apartment in Hazeldene in Ballsbridge, which could also accommodate family studying in Dublin.
Between 1979 and 1991 in four administrations led by Haughey, Reynolds always occupied an economics ministry. The late 1970s had seen a surge in inward investment, following Ireland's EEC entry. This exposed glaring infrastructural deficiencies, particularly the antiquated telephone system and poor transport connectivity. While plans had been drawn up to modernise the telecommunications system, political drive was needed to implement them. Reynolds received government backing for an investment programme costing over £1 billion. Over the next few years, the system was transformed, the last manual exchange in west County Galway being converted in 1987. American, French and Swedish firms were all enlisted in the transformation. As Padraic White, managing director of the IDA, later commented, with investment in the most advanced system available, a digital-based network, Ireland leapfrogged from having one of the worst phone systems to one of the best, a key factor enabling the IDA to target hi-tech industries.
After the prolonged 1979 postal strike, Reynolds had to restore confidence in the postal system, and he developed a problem-solving rapport with management, unions and workers. He rescinded a decree by a ministerial predecessor Dr Conor Cruise O'Brien (qv), which refused permanent pensionable employment in the post office to any Sinn Féin member. At the request of Cardinal Ó Fiaich (qv), he approved the installation of a television transmitter in the Cooley peninsula to boost RTÉ reception in Northern Ireland, as counterpart to increased reception of BBC NI and UTV in the Republic from their transmitters close to the border.
His other responsibility was public transport and air transport. He pushed through the first bus lanes in Dublin. Prompted by ministerial colleague Brian Lenihan (qv), he restored a rail commuter service to Maynooth. A network of regional airports in addition to Monsignor James Horan's (qv) Knock Airport project was planned, to overcome long road journeys, not least for executives of multinational industries.
In the three general elections of 1981–2, a consequence of which were two governments that each lasted only nine months, Reynolds topped the poll and exceeded the quota. In June 1981, he could point to increased industrial employment and a new Telecom Éireann engineering headquarters in his constituency. During that election, Reynolds was careful to show respect for the family of Maze hunger-striker Martin Hurson, standing in Longford–Westmeath.
During opposition years in the 1980s, he returned to his business, while remaining active politically. Under Haughey's leadership, statements on the north were discouraged. Reynolds later admitted that he would have liked to comment on Owen Carron's election as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone as an anti-H block candidate and on Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. He did strongly contest the charge made by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald (qv) on Fianna Fáil's lack of contact with unionists, and cited his own longstanding business contacts across the border. He dissected the government's budgetary strategy with copious use of figures, drawing on his cabinet experience, but his main interest was the progress of the telecommunications investment programme.
In January 1982, the Fine Gael–Labour government appointed a new frontbench and Reynolds lost his opposition responsibility for telecommunications. There was unrest within Fianna Fáil, after backbencher Charlie McCreevy criticised the party’s negativity on the economy, attacking the government for being 'monetarist' (i.e. Thatcherite). Reynolds, a friend of McCreevy, shared some of his reservations. The coalition's January 1982 budget, described by Reynolds as an economists' budget, was defeated, and precipitated a general election. Over the next year, Haughey faced three leadership challenges after his failure in three elections to win an overall majority, but Reynolds stayed in his camp. In the 1982 Fianna Fáil administration, Reynolds was appointed minister for industry and energy. At the time, he regarded as his major achievement the attraction of the US Hyster forklift company, inclusive of R&D, to Ireland, where it established itself in Blanchardstown with generous IDA grants promising 400 jobs. However, the jobs never exceeded 300 and the company closed in 1987, when Reynolds was in America. Reynolds had to decide immediately on nationalisation of the Whitegate oil refinery which went through. He closely examined the proposed contract for building the Kinsale gas pipeline to Dublin, and sharply reduced the cost to the state. It was completed on time and within budget. He directly negotiated a contract to supply gas to Northern Ireland. A deal was concluded, but a British treasury official privately complained that Reynolds had run rings round his minister of state. In 1984, British prime minister Thatcher cancelled the deal, for financial and strategic reasons.
At the November 1982 general election, Albert Reynolds was joined in the dáil representing Longford–Westmeath by party colleague Mary O'Rourke (née Lenihan, sister of Brian Lenihan). She was able, ambitious and competitive, and was promoted to the front bench as spokesperson on education in February 1983. Reynolds became spokesperson for industry, but his faith in Haughey was eroding. The feeling was mutual, Haughey regarded Reynolds’s instincts on the state sector as right-wing. Reynolds was critical of the Fine Gael–Labour Coalition, and of the gulf between fiscal rectitude rhetoric and exponential growth in the national debt coupled with prolonged recession. His critique was summed up in his catch phrase, 'the paralysis of analysis' (Autobiography, 118). Reynolds’s reservations about Haughey's hard-line rejection of the 1985 Anglo–Irish Agreement became known, and then taoiseach FitzGerald often praised Reynolds, reportedly to annoy Haughey.
In the 1987 general election, the party won three out of four seats in Longford–Westmeath, strengthening Reynolds’s position in the party, and gave the midlands constituency two cabinet ministers till 1991, though the third seat was lost in 1989. Reynolds insisted on being appointed minister for industry and commerce.
The economy had been in the doldrums for years. The new government took office in March 1987 on a programme of national recovery, which developed into the first social partnership agreement with employers, trade unions and farmers that October. Reynolds made headlines by instructing oil companies to cut out their gift packages and lower the price of petrol by 10p. He challenged the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), which he discovered had substantial reserves tucked away in their accounts, to lower electricity prices. An accommodation was reached, where they had to give ground. He also banned 'hello money', a practice that put new suppliers at a disadvantage when negotiating access for their products in supermarkets. He spent time in the US and Japan on trade missions and promoting investment. As a minister speaking business language and with a developing range of pithy promotional aphorisms, he made a favourable impact at meetings and on business audiences abroad, against the backdrop of an Irish economy taking off rapidly.
A key part of government strategy from 1987, in offsetting a radical cure to chronic budget deficits and accumulation of the national debt, which doubled between 1982 and 1987, was to back the dynamic development of key economic sectors, such as international financial services, tourism and marine resources. Another target was modernisation of the beef industry – the government working closely with the increasingly dominant Goodman group. The minister of state at agriculture Joe Walsh (1943–2014) oversaw the necessary capital investment. Export credit insurance for the Iraq market was under Reynolds’s control. Introduced when the Fine Gael–Labour coalition took office in December 1982, its progressive increase was halted in 1986, given the continuing Iran–Iraq war and risk of default. Reynolds had experience of the beef industry, and overriding official advice, not only restored relief, but increased it from effectively £25 million to £250 million in less than two years. In early 1989, his successor Ray Burke, who saw this as high risk, froze any further increase.
Reynolds was fertile in schemes, some derived from his business contacts. He was interested in selling Irish Steel to a German company, Korf AG, opposed by Desmond O'Malley, and the Whitegate oil refinery to a Nigerian state oil company. But he had difficulties persuading either his civil servants or his government colleagues, who were averse to such high-risk deals. Irish Steel was essentially gifted to an Indian company by the rainbow government in the mid-1990s, and closed down shortly afterwards.
Reynolds sought to bring a businessman's approach to bear on the work of government and of the departments of which he was minister. At times this could be uncomfortable for government colleagues, civil servants and state agencies accustomed to a more conventional political and administrative approach. He believed in talking through problems and was resistant to voluminous and wordy written communications. He committed little to writing. He had a critical eye for balance sheets, especially those of state companies. He maintained his own independent channels of information, whether reliable or not, and he liked to clinch deals, some of which were undoubtedly advantageous, and others which were or might have been unacceptably high risk.
In November 1988, Reynolds succeeded the minister for finance Ray MacSharry, who was appointed EC Commissioner. MacSharry had been tough but egalitarian. Reynolds’s appointment represented some shift of emphasis towards the middle and business classes. In private, he expressed himself keen to bring the top rate of tax down to 50 per cent in two stages, but was sceptical about social welfare increases. He believed poverty was often the result of financial mismanagement, but he was ready to increase payments to dependants. The budgetary redressment of 1987–8 had been so successful, aided by £500 million raised by the 1988 tax amnesty, together with the resumption of growth, that Reynolds was able in the 1989 budget to reduce the standard rate of income tax from 35 to 32 per cent and the top rate from 58 to 56 per cent. He announced his intention of means-testing child benefit, but did not proceed with it. In March 1989, Reynolds went to New York to promote the International Financial Services Centre, announcing that Chase Manhattan Bank was setting up an operation, and proclaiming Ireland's commitment to free enterprise and the low 10 per cent rate of corporation tax for international traded business. He impressed the corporate elite, amongst them future key supporters of the peace process.
The minority government was prone to Dáil defeats on private members' motions. When Haughey returned from an official visit to Japan in April 1989, it had just suffered a defeat, on refusing further financial aid to haemophiliacs who had contracted HIV from contaminated blood products supplied by the state. Reynolds opposed Haughey's decision to call an election and try for an overall majority. Voters were unconvinced, and media campaign coverage concentrated on health cuts, which had borne the brunt of expenditure cutbacks, despite Fianna Fáil's 1987 general election advertisement that 'health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped'. The party dropped four seats in the 1989 election to seventy-seven, six short of a majority. Fine Gael declined to back the government from opposition by renewing the Tallaght strategy. Its price for coalition was a rotating taoiseach. However, the Progressive Democrats (PDs) under Desmond O'Malley, after a bad election in which they lost eight seats, still had the missing number of six seats. As an alternative to another election and to salvage his leadership, Haughey met O'Malley, and negotiations started. The Fianna Fáil negotiating team was led by Reynolds and Bertie Ahern. Reynolds resented parallel backchannel discussions between McCreevy, reporting to Haughey, and Mary Harney of the PDs, while minister of state Walsh also pursued direct informal PD contacts. Reynolds regarded it as a high-stakes poker game, and, with Pádraig Flynn, at one point advocated going into opposition. On the number of PD cabinet ministers, Ahern and Reynolds held publicly there should only be one. Reynolds professed disgust, when Haughey conceded two. Reynolds reflected a widespread party view that Haughey's leadership was the obstacle to an overall majority. At a party meeting in Kanturk, Co. Cork, in February 1990, Reynolds called the Fianna Fáil–PD coalition 'a temporary little arrangement' (Collins, 214), but, like so many developments initially thought of as temporary, coalition has proved a permanent feature of government ever since.
Reynolds introduced two more budgets, but this time with PD influence brought to bear on their priority of cutting taxes. The standard tax rate was reduced to 29 per cent, while the top rate came down to 52 per cent, on the way towards a single higher rate converging on the middle rate at 48 per cent. Bands and exemptions were widened. The standard VAT rate was reduced in two equal steps from 25 to 21 per cent. In three budgets, the general welfare increase was 3, 5 and 4 per cent. Reynolds was constrained on one side by the PDs, who constantly pressed for personal and corporate tax reductions, partly funded by indirect tax increases, and on the other side by social partnership commitments under the programme for economic and social progress (PESP) from 1991. While Reynolds presented his budget as fulfilling the PESP, he was privately scathing about public service pay rises of 10 per cent over three years. Social partnership agreements were overseen and managed from the taoiseach's office, sometimes leading to serious friction with ministers for finance. One structural change involved removing national debt management from the department of finance to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), the legislation steered through the Oireachtas by Reynolds. He had responsibility for distributing £3 billion in structural funds, negotiated with EC President Jacques Delors, to boost capital investment alongside completion of the single market.
During Ireland's 1990 EC Presidency, an informal EC finance ministers' meeting was hosted by Reynolds in Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo. Headway was made on defining budgetary criteria for membership of the single currency. This was when Reynolds first became friends with John Major, British chancellor of the exchequer.
Internal party divisions were heightened by the debacle of the 1990 presidential election. Acute controversy arose over the Fianna Fáil candidate Brian Lenihan's 'mature recollection' (‘Brian Joseph Lenihan’, DIB) about attempts to speak to President Hillery (qv) to prevent a dissolution of the dáil on 27 January 1982, when the Fine Gael–Labour coalition fell over the budget. Lenihan's ministerial dismissal for lying was demanded by the PDs. Reynolds stood by Lenihan, as he resisted pressure from Haughey's emissaries to resign. Mary Robinson was elected President of Ireland, but the campaign seriously damaged Haughey's leadership, and increased the party's desire for a new leader before facing the electorate again.
The Goodman group backed by government in 1987–9 both with IDA grants and export credit insurance went into examinership, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 that led to the first Gulf war. Subsequent departmental investigations as well as media ones, following complaints by competitors, uncovered multiple irregularities, including the sourcing of non-commercial beef outside Ireland, leading to dáil calls for a tribunal of enquiry into the beef industry, which had O'Malley's backing. Conceded by Haughey, it was a blow to his prestige. The beef tribunal caused collateral political damage that cut short one Reynolds administration and foreshortened the other.
Reynolds became the leading challenger to Haughey's hold on power. Time was seen as limited, with EC Commissioner MacSharry's term ending in December 1992. Two unremarkable speeches on Northern Ireland were seen as designed to bolster Reynolds’s leadership credentials by Haughey. Against the background of an economic slowdown, in September 1991, the finance minister criticised public service pay increases under the PESP, but was contradicted by a government spokesman. Renegotiation of the programme for government saw Reynolds dig his heels in on sweeping PD tax demands. While he successfully blocked 'big bang' tax reform, ministerial colleagues were unwilling to risk the fall of the government after four-and-a half years of economic progress. That autumn, a wave of scandals broke over Haughey, relating to the privatisation of food company Greencore, a conflict of interest issue in the purchase of a telecom building in Ballsbridge, and the purchase of Carysfort College. He came under intense pressure to wind up his leadership. Four backbenchers put down a challenge, which mustered the support of twenty-two TDs. They included Reynolds, Flynn and four ministers of state. During a prolonged parliamentary party debate, Reynolds alleged that his home was under surveillance by a white van. While this was ridiculed, the atmosphere of paranoia was general. All ministers who voted against the leader but did not resign were dismissed. Haughey's victory was short-lived. Dr Jim McDaid, appointed minister for defence, had immediately to resign at PD insistence, when it emerged that he had attended an anti-extradition rally. Haughey attended the EC in December, which concluded the Maastricht Treaty, paving the way for introduction of the single currency. He also briefed then British prime minister John Major on the early draft of a secret joint British–Irish declaration, agreed between John Hume (1937–2020) and Gerry Adams, and that was being further worked on by officials.
Reynolds returned to the backbenches. His wife Kathleen was suffering from breast cancer, and circumstances now allowed Reynolds to be with her at a critical time. What was unclear as 1992 began was whether Haughey would shortly retire or seek to retrieve his position, as in the past. In mid-January, Seán Doherty (qv), cathaoirleach of the seanad, implicated Haughey in the 1982 phone-tapping of journalists Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy. PD leader O'Malley made it clear that unless Haughey resigned they would leave government. Haughey stepped down as Fianna Fáil leader on 30 January and as taoiseach on 11 February. With regard to how much Doherty's well-coached moves were concerted beforehand with Reynolds or some in his camp, Reynolds claimed to have kept his distance.
The 1992 administration
Reynolds was favourite to succeed Haughey, representing the hopes of those who had been out in the cold during the long Haughey years. He came to an understanding with his main rival Bertie Ahern that he would step down after six years. With metropolitan superiority, Reynolds supporters were dubbed 'the country and western' wing of the party. This referred to the midlands and west background of many of them, and to Reynolds’s former show business activity, illustrated by a clip of when he donned a cowboy jacket and a Stetson hat on the Mike Murphy show to sing Jim Reeves's 'Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone'. Reynolds was elected on 6 February with sixty-one votes, the two other remaining candidates, Michael Woods and Mary O'Rourke, received ten and six votes respectively. At his press conference that afternoon, Reynolds pledged to concentrate on ending the northern conflict, and indicated that he wanted repeal of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which created Northern Ireland, in return for changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution. He also pledged to develop the economy, and reduce unemployment and emigration. He promised open government and in an early interview as taoiseach he promised 'to let in the light', seen as the genesis of a government commitment to bring in freedom of information legislation (Freedom of information, 10). Before the handover, Haughey briefed him on the secret peace initiative.
Reynolds’s government formation involved an unprecedented purge. Senior ministers, Gerry Collins and Ray Burke, were dropped, while long-serving backbenchers, such as David Andrews and Charlie McCreevy, were brought in, along with Dr John O'Connell (qv), formerly Labour. John Wilson (qv) became tánaiste, but Reynolds’s political mentor was Flynn. His chief advisor was Tom Savage. Ahern remained at finance, and ministers dismissed in November 1991 returned. O'Rourke, demoted to minister of state, refused to take on women's affairs, but after a stand-off was given consumer affairs under O'Malley, with labour affairs under Ruairi Quinn. Reynolds later raised unnecessary doubt over his attitude to women in politics, when, on 9 December 1993, in noisy exchanges with Nora Owen, he expostulated: 'This is women now'. The purge accentuated party divisions, and left Reynolds dependent on his own support base in a crisis. When Brian Cowen became taoiseach (7 May 2008), Reynolds doubted that his former protégé would follow his example.
Reynolds’s leadership style was that of managing director, not chairman or partner, and this created difficulties. He had a preference for discussing problems, often till late, rather than on paper, to which, he told the beef tribunal, he had a 'one-sheet approach'. This was usually rendered as 'one-page man' (Collins, 247). Reynolds was media friendly, and spoke often to favoured journalists. He began holding weekly briefings which proved unsustainable and were not continued during his second administration. His openness to the media was qualified by his tendency to be litigious, in sharp contrast to his predecessor. No ideologue where history was concerned, he once said W. T. Cosgrave was right to force Fianna Fáil into the dáil in 1927.
Reynolds had ambitious economic plans. Two initiatives came to fruition in 1993 and 1994. County and City Enterprise Boards were established to provide support to local small and start-up companies. The Strategic Management Initiative borrowed from New Zealand aimed to provide a framework for radical public service reform. It did not achieve reduced costs or numbers. His hopes that McCreevy would streamline social welfare were dashed, when cuts dubbed 'the dirty dozen' by Labour became an electoral disaster.
Reynolds found himself immediately under pressure on abortion. Within days of taking office, a storm of controversy, leading to street demonstrations, blew up over the Attorney General Harold Whelehan 's injunction to prevent a fourteen-year-old girl, raped by a family acquaintance, from travelling to Britain for an abortion (known as the ‘X’ case). Unknown to the public, the matter first arose during the interregnum between Haughey's resigning and Reynolds assuming office. When the high court granted the injunction, Ireland was pilloried for 'interning' pregnant teenage girls. The family appealed to the supreme court on the grounds that the girl was suicidal, and came under the mother's constitutional equal right to life. Their judgement upholding the appeal created huge shock in the pro-life movement and the catholic church, its authority about to be further undermined by the bishop Eamonn Casey (1927–2017) affair. The 1983 pro-life amendment needed urgent clarification. The attempted government policy compromise was to affirm the right to travel and information (i.e. to allow access to abortion services abroad), but to close the serious breach in the prohibition of abortion at home by removing suicidal intent as a legal ground for it. Reynolds came into office an orthodox catholic, in his younger days having declined an invitation to join Opus Dei. Because of his wife's illness, he had the opportunity of discussing practicalities of the issue with gynaecologists treating her. Not wanting a police state, he sought to steer a middle course between liberals and women's rights activists on the one hand and pro-life organisations and the church on the other. After weeks grappling with a problem where the boat to Britain provided a safety valve, Reynolds protested privately: 'We are a nation of hypocrites, and we clearly wish to stay a nation of hypocrites. The government are not going to interfere with that wish' (personal information, note of conversation on 24 Mar. 1992).
A looming complication was the referendum to allow ratification of the Maastricht treaty, which had an Irish protocol ensuring that European law could not be invoked to overrule the constitutional ban on abortion. The protocol had a different meaning following the 'X' case. While the opposition and PD ministers wanted the abortion complications resolved before the Maastricht treaty was ratified, Reynolds was determined to keep the issue separate, and to give Maastricht priority. When the president of the Law Reform Commission, Justice Rory O'Hanlon stated that he would rather Ireland left the EU than see abortion introduced, Reynolds dismissed him. He also removed the party whip from senator Des Hanafin, chairman of the pro-life movement, for refusing to support the referendum legislation. Reynolds predicted to his press secretary that 'the people won't let abortion get muddled up with Maastricht. The Irish keep their money and their morals separate' (Duignan, 28). Fastidious pro-EU Irish opinion deplored Reynolds’s emphasis on the funds Ireland hoped to obtain, rather than on more idealistic reasons. The Danish people rejected the Maastricht treaty on 2 June. In the ensuing panic, Reynolds was urged, even in Brussels, to consider postponing the vote due on 18 June. He went ahead, the vote was won decisively by 69 per cent to 31 per cent and Ireland was the toast of the European Union.
The Danish vote, however, lit the fuse for the currency crisis, which, three months later, ahead of a knife-edge French referendum, saw Britain exit the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Market pressure intensified on smaller currencies, which Ireland withstood for four months. On occasion, overnight interest rates climbed to 100 per cent, and the Irish pound rose above sterling. The general election and delay in government formation meant devaluation was deferred. Reynolds left the battle to Ahern and officials in finance, the Central Bank and the NTMA. By January 1993, he was sceptical how long it could be sustained, on the adage 'you can't beat the markets' (personal information, note on 30 Jan. 1993). A 10 per cent devaluation was agreed the last weekend in January 1993, and sparked strong and sustained economic growth.
O'Connell at health completed the liberalisation of contraception. Justice minister Flynn produced a white paper on marital breakdown, a non-committal step towards a second divorce referendum. Three abortion referendums were held with the general election in November. The right to travel and information was passed by around 60 per cent. The amendment on the substantive issue, which balanced withdrawal of suicidal intent as a ground with a marginally more pragmatic general formulation, was heavily defeated by combined liberal and conservative opposition. Reynolds announced a progressive change of policy direction on overseas development aid, cut back since 1987, in his October 1992 Bodenstown speech.
At an early meeting with John Major in London, the priority of peace in Northern Ireland was agreed. The two men established a rapport, both having climbed to head of government despite an unassuming background, and, particularly unusual for a British tory prime minister, without the benefit of inherited wealth or a privileged education. The three-strand talks process chaired by NI Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew resumed after the British general election in April 1992 won by Major. Despite unionist parties coming to Dublin in the autumn, talks broke down in early November, just ahead of the Irish government's collapse. However, they did prefigure strand one institutional provisions in the Good Friday Agreement. Reynolds’s main hope of progress rested, with Alec Reid (qv) acting as intermediary, on the draft declaration setting out principles for a peaceful settlement. To expedite this, in October, Reynolds authorised direct backchannel contact between his office and Martin McGuinness (1950–2017).
The contempt between Reynolds and O'Malley was mutual. Elements in the PDs wanted an election, convinced that like the German FDP they could always be in office as a swing party. When O'Malley testified to the beef tribunal in July, he described Reynolds’s ministerial decisions to keep increasing export credit insurance to Iraq as 'foolish, reckless and grossly unwise'. Three months later, Reynolds ill-advisedly retaliated by describing O'Malley's evidence as 'reckless, irresponsible and dishonest' (Autobiography, 169; Duignan, 148). There was heated ongoing argument about the amount of public money put at risk and the estimated final cost. The coalition broke up, and an election was called.
The campaign went disastrously for Fianna Fáil, which, far from gaining an overall majority under a new leader, returned with nine less seats and an historically low 39 per cent of the vote. Reynolds was pilloried for using a four-letter word beginning with 'c', also used by Clinton and Major, and he was treated in the media as if he were Haughey mark-two or worse. Labour won thirty-three seats and became arbiters of the next government, Fine Gael having also lost many seats. Fianna Fáil laid low, while Labour rebuffed what it considered presumptuous Fine Gael overtures, and turned to construct a policy platform with the Democratic Left party. When that was circulated to other parties, Fianna Fáil's prepared response approved by Reynolds and Ahern was sent back by return, indicating a willingness to adopt Labour's priorities, including a third banking force (which was never proceeded with, but still remains relevant). Reynolds left to attend a European Council in Edinburgh in Holyrood Palace that would determine the quantity and distribution of EU structural funds. The outcome was stunningly successful for Ireland, which was able to benefit from the hardball negotiating tactics adopted by Germany's valued partner Spain. A new cohesion fund was agreed, mainly for Spain, and Reynolds announced that Ireland would receive £8 billion in structural and cohesion funds to 1999. Critics claimed this was overstated, but it was still the largest package Ireland ever negotiated from the EU. Reynolds gave chancellor Kohl an undertaking that IRA attacks in Germany on British army barracks and soldiers would cease, on the basis of a contact made with the republican leadership in Derry by a personal intermediary of Derry origin living in the midlands. Back from Edinburgh, Reynolds met Dick Spring, and briefed him on the secret backchannel NI peace initiative. Coalition negotiations were initiated, and a programme for a partnership government agreed. It included items previously not a priority for Reynolds, such as an extra May Day bank holiday, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, which justice minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn steered through the Oireachtas in 1993. Later, Reynolds refused to seek the resignation of a Labour junior office holder stopped by gardái in a car at night in ambivalent circumstances in the Phoenix Park, to avoid creating a precedent for open season on private lives of politicians.
Despite last-minute opposition and media efforts to derail Reynolds’s return as taoiseach in a first Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition, it took office on 12 January. Labour expected to dominate it, with Reynolds becoming an avuncular figurehead. Announcing his government, Reynolds recalled that in 1932 Fianna Fáil had taken power as a minority government with Labour support, and that their leader Tom Johnson (qv) had said: 'We shall have to coalesce some day'. Labour had six cabinet seats, proportionately more than the nine for Fianna Fáil. Spring took foreign affairs, and enterprise and employment was filled by Ruairi Quinn. Otherwise, Labour chose mainly social ministries, with the exception of social welfare, where Michael Woods was reinstated to repair the 'damage' left by McCreevy. Michael D. Higgins became the first minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht, responsibilities removed from the taoiseach's office. Reynolds remained personally committed to the film industry. To Labour's relief, Flynn, perceived by them to be a reactionary figure on social and family issues who was the strongest political influence on the taoiseach, left to become EU Commissioner, where he reinvented himself as socially progressive, to the point of causing serious alarm in boardrooms.
The peace process, the Downing Street declaration and paramilitary ceasefires
In 1992, Reynolds nominated Gordon Wilson (qv) to the seanad, where he was a strong witness for peace. The nation had been deeply moved at the time of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb in 1987, which killed twelve people, by the poignant, deeply moving, and dignified manner, in which Gordon Wilson described the last dying moments of his daughter Marie. Reynolds retained Dermot Nally (qv), who retired as cabinet secretary in December 1992, on a consultancy basis, for his experience in dealing with the British cabinet office. Reynolds met new US president Bill Clinton in March, who was eager to support Irish peace efforts. Reynolds asked him to defer his campaign commitment to appoint a special envoy. He also met Senator Edward Kennedy, his sister Jean Kennedy-Smith, who was nominated US ambassador to Ireland, and leading New York businessmen and opinion formers such as Chuck Feeney, Bill Flynn and Niall O'Dowd. Reynolds returned to Boston and New York that April.
On 20 March 1993, an IRA bomb exploded in Warrington, England, killing two boys. In April, another bomb exploded in the City of London at Bishopsgate, killing one and causing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage, a year after a similar bomb at the Baltic Exchange. These acts caused soul-searching about pursuing peace by backchannels. Reynolds believed the city bombs ultimately made the British government amenable to negotiation, but, against that, combined with inflexible republican political messages, it made the British backchannel more cautious and ultimately sterile. Controversy arose over President Robinson's plan to visit community groups in West Belfast, where she would meet Gerry Adams without cameras present. Despite British and Labour Party pressure, Reynolds let the visit proceed, so as not to undermine the peace process. Work in the Irish backchannel on the draft joint declaration had reached an impasse, but Reynolds was anxious to transmit it, even in an unsatisfactory state, to the British. Cabinet secretary Robin Butler travelled to Baldonnel airport to receive it. The British, whether at political or senior official level, where they met Nally and Seán O hUiginn of the Department of Foreign Affairs, were unwilling to negotiate on the draft, especially after John Hume and Gerry Adams went public in joint statements. In late September, Hume handed to Reynolds a short paper that nationalists were led to believe was 'Hume–Adams', in an attempt to pressurise both governments and retain control of the initiative. Unrealistic expectations and fears were raised that British acceptance of their offer would bring immediate peace. Autumn 1993 was tense and turbulent on both security and political fronts.
On 13 October, an IRA bomb, aimed on faulty intelligence at the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leadership, detonated in a Shankill Road fish shop killing nine civilians, all protestant, and one IRA bomber. Adams carried his coffin to much public outrage, but Reynolds understood he had to do it. First at official level, then en marge of a European Council in Brussels on 28 October, Major made it clear that he could not proceed with a document bearing the fingerprints of Hume and Adams. Reynolds came away believing that if the declaration were sufficiently distanced from them it might still work. At the subsequent Fianna Fáil ard fheis on 6 November 1993, he came under pressure for distancing himself from Hume–Adams. Among his catchphrases were that he was seeking a formula for peace; taking risks for peace; 'opportunity comes to pass and not to pause'; and, the pointed challenge: 'Who is afraid of peace?' (Taking the long view, 129). Three days after the Brussels meeting, in the Greysteel Halloween massacre, loyalist gunmen killed eight people in a County Down pub. The leak of an early Irish draft of a joint framework document designed to revive the talks process between constitutional parties had the opposite effect. In late November, the existence and content of secret backchannel talks between a British emissary and McGuinness, facilitated by intermediaries, former priest Denis Bradley and businessman Brendan Duddy, were exposed. Briefed in his office by British cabinet secretary Robin Butler, Reynolds expressed indignation at not being informed. Two versions of documents exchanged were published, the first by the British government, then a fuller one by Sinn Féin. Partially inaccurate reports also appeared in the British press about a secret Irish backchannel to republican and loyalist paramilitaries. In both countries, surprisingly, there emerged cautious support for unapproved roads to peace.
Reynolds made it clear that he was ready, if necessary, to pursue his initiative without the British government, which tabled, then withdrew, an Northern Ireland Office pro-unionist counter-draft that had no prospect of persuading the republican movement to renounce violence. Over the autumn, the draft declaration had been amplified and made more inclusive to meet British objections. Reynolds obtained paragraphs from Archbishop Eames, who was in regular touch with Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux and principles from Rev. Roy Magee (qv) agreed with the Combined Loyalist Military Command. For Major, two of three avenues for progress had closed. The talks process remained in abeyance. The British backchannel had ended in public acrimony. The remaining way forward was the joint declaration. Following a stormy meeting in Dublin Castle on 3 December, when famously John Major broke a pencil in frustration, intense negotiations on the joint declaration began, which, henceforth known as the Downing Street Declaration, was published by Major and Reynolds following a meeting on 15 December. Major later acknowledged it would not have happened without the drive and political courage of Reynolds.
In summary, the declaration committed the two governments to be persuaders for an agreed Ireland, while outlining how a united Ireland could be achieved peacefully, using the mechanism of concurrent self-determination. History showed that majority rule where minority consent was refused did not work. Irish unity would only be achieved by those who favoured this outcome peacefully persuading those who did not. The taoiseach promised a balanced constitutional accommodation, fully reflecting the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. With a permanent end to violence, democratically mandated parties that established a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods would be free to participate fully in democratic politics. The Irish government would establish in their jurisdiction a forum for peace and reconciliation. The declaration did not contain any time limit to reach agreement that could be misrepresented as a timetable for British withdrawal.
The declaration was widely welcomed and was a catalyst for peace. Amongst unionists, only the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) denounced it, without loyalist backing. Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Molyneaux sent Reynolds a friendly cautionary letter. Hume supported it with some regrets. Sinn Féin temporised, as it went well beyond what they agreed in June 1992, and sought clarification. Whereas Major to reassure unionists adopted a peremptory approach, Reynolds sought to persuade, and was willing to supply all clarification required, not involving renegotiation. He embarked on other confidence-building measures, notably lifting Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act that prohibited interviews with Sinn Féin, where his pragmatism matched Michael D. Higgins's anti-censorship zeal. Reynolds supported Adams's US visa request, Clinton's granting of which for forty-eight hours caused an Anglo–American rift lasting a week. The appearance of nationalists winning an argument with the British with American support Reynolds considered very important. The British later accepted that they had overreacted. Reynolds wrote on a draft March 1994 letter to Adams: ‘You will be amazed at the level of international support all of us can muster to assist in bringing about a political settlement. Your recent visit to the US must have convinced you of this’ (Martin Mansergh papers). Reynolds experienced this himself on his St Patrick's Day visit to New York, Chicago, Washington and Connecticut. But IRA violence continued, including mortars fired at Heathrow airport, which infuriated him. Reynolds rejected a temporary Easter truce. He helped the British clarify twenty Sinn Féin questions. He gave similar clarification to loyalists. In interviews, he was a tireless persuader for peace. While waiting, the two governments reverted to trying to restart the talks process. Major pressed for changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution, asserting de jure jurisdiction over the island, with Reynolds, like Lemass in 1968, only willing to modify Article 3. In mid-July, when an increasingly isolated Reynolds indicated that he would have to draw negative conclusions if there were no movement by the end of the summer, his message crossed with a signal that there would be. Covering their tracks, Sinn Féin rejected the Downing Street Declaration, at its Letterkenny ard fheis in late July. Reynolds again rejected a temporary ceasefire, proposed to him by an Irish American delegation. A precondition of a ceasefire was that veteran republican Joe Cahill (qv) receive a US visa so as to brief IRA supporters there. Strongly urged by Reynolds, it was very reluctantly granted by President Clinton. The case put to republican activists by the leadership included their assessment that 'Dublin's coalition is the strongest government in 25 years or more', and that Reynolds had no historical baggage to hinder him (Moloney, 500).
The IRA ceasefire was announced on 31 August. A week later, Hume, Adams and Reynolds shook hands outside government buildings. Demilitarisation began, with border crossings gradually restored and all road closure orders lifted by Mayhew, and phased prisoner releases in the Republic. Clinton pledged a Washington investment conference in 1995. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation opened in October. Reynolds embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. On his return, he secretly met Gusty Spence (qv) and other loyalists in Dublin, shortly before their announced ceasefire on 13 October. The British wanted movement on decommissioning weapons, made more urgent after the IRA murder of a Newry post office worker on 10 November. The joint frameworks document, mainly drafted by O hUiginn at foreign affairs on the Irish side, was virtually complete, and was published in February 1995 after the change of government. Reynolds went to America again in late October.
There was another social partnership agreement, the programme for competitiveness and work. Economic growth was accelerating and the government deficit vanishing. In August 1994, Kevin Gardiner, of US investment bank Morgan Stanley in London, first coined the term Celtic Tiger. The ceasefires boosted investment and especially tourism.
The fall of Reynolds
Success in the peace process did little to arrest rapidly deteriorating relations between the coalition leaders. There had been controversy over passports for sale to an Arab investor in C&D foods, although examination of the file did not show any personal intervention by Reynolds, over tax residency rules, and in 1993 over a second tax amnesty opposed by Labour and Ahern that Reynolds pushed through. Tensions erupted over publication of the beef tribunal report just before the IRA ceasefire. Before Labour had time to study the report, and without any consultation, Reynolds pre-emptively claimed vindication, which in terms of integrity was true, but not with regard to the wisdom of his conduct of the export credit insurance scheme. His informal decision-making style, businessman to businessman, without adequate regard to procedures or safeguards, especially when the rules were being flouted, won him no credit, even if in the end taxpayers were less exposed than they might have been.
A stand-off was brewing over the vacancy of president of the high court, to which Reynolds wished to appoint then attorney general Whelehan. Spring was opposed, wanting a more liberal nominee. There was hostile briefing from Labour sources against Reynolds, while he was abroad. This, along with material later that year, led to a celebrated libel suit against the British edition of the Sunday Times that made legal history, in which he was at first awarded nominal damages, but later won a settlement where the damaging allegations were completely withdrawn. Reynolds failed to pin down a decision on the presidency of the high court appointment, when he met Spring on his return. The gravity of revelations of delays in the attorney general's office in processing warrants for extradition from Northern Ireland of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth (qv) was not properly grasped, and, when Reynolds pushed through a government decision, Labour withdrew from cabinet. Whelehan's appointment proceeded in a frigid atmosphere. There was cliff-edge drama in the dáil, with Reynolds first justifying the appointment, and then the next day apologising abjectly for it. Claiming alleged dishonesty about an abstruse legal precedent as a justification, Labour resigned from government. Quinn told Reynolds: 'We've come for a head, Harry's or yours – it doesn't look like we're getting Harry's'. They got both. Reynolds resigned the following day, reflecting sadly: 'It's amazing. You cross the big hurdles, and when you get to the small ones you get tripped' (Autobiography, 402, 405). He did not seek a dissolution, which under the constitution the president could have refused. Reynolds resigned as leader of Fianna Fáil, but remained taoiseach in a caretaker capacity, while Ahern attempted to re-form the Fianna Fáil–Labour government. Labour explored all options, before forming a rainbow coalition under John Bruton with Fine Gael and Democratic Left, for which a series of by-elections had improved the arithmetic.
The unexpected fall of Reynolds caused consternation in the republican movement. Intermediaries warned of blood in the streets. Reynolds momentarily considered a fightback, but was dissuaded. Spring pronounced that the peace process was bigger than one man. On 15 December, Reynolds left office, and then attended a party in his honour that night at the residence of US ambassador Kennedy-Smith. The editor of the Irish Times Conor Brady later accepted that they had been unfair to Reynolds in judging his departure to be no loss. Early in 1995, a dáil sub-committee took evidence on events leading to the fall of the Reynolds government, but refrained from forming conclusions. Subsequently, more emphasis was placed on the breakdown of relations, especially between leaders, as the explanation.
Reynolds in retirement
As ex-taoiseach he continued to be a member of the Council of State. Reynolds remained a TD till 2002, and was in international demand for his unique blend of political and business achievement. In October 1995, he talked to the Basque parties seeking a similar peace process to end the ETA campaign in Spain. He disputed the British contention that the decommissioning precondition to talks was signalled prior to the IRA ceasefire. He received an honorary doctorate from the NUI in 1995, and was honoured by universities in north America, Europe and Australia. In 1998, he was elected grand marshal of the New York St Patrick's Day parade. At Ahern's suggestion, he offered himself as party nominee for president in 1997, but the nomination was won by Mary McAleese. After bruising revelations concerning Haughey, there was nervousness in the parliamentary party that old controversies concerning Reynolds would resurface, and that his unconventional habits of operation might create problems in a presidential role, which he promised to use to promote business. (He was later criticised for inappropriate solicitation of a party donation from developer Owen O'Callaghan in the Mahon tribunal report.) Reynolds felt betrayed by Ahern, and sometimes made political interventions unhelpful to his successor. Ahern invited him to the reopening of Stormont in May 2007. Some were astonished to see Ian Paisley Jr crouch beside Reynolds to obtain his autograph. Reynolds claimed he had helped advise the DUP how to navigate Sinn Féin negotiating tactics. Internationally, after talks with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, he persuaded Bill Clinton to meet Musharraf when visiting the region. Reynolds also had discussions with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on compensation to victims' families from the Libyan bomb on the aircraft over Lockerbie in 1988.
In 2006 the C&D factory burnt down, but the business was kept going by Philip Reynolds. Between 2008 and 2019, ownership transferred in stages to the Goodman group. Reynolds’s autobiography with Jill Arlon was published in 2009. In 2010, during the financial crisis which led to the IMF/EU bailout, he conveyed to government what he believed was an alternative offered by the Chinese. A last public appearance was at the state banquet for Queen Elizabeth in Dublin Castle in May 2011. At that stage he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and within a short time his condition deteriorated drastically. Years previously, he and Kathleen had moved to a penthouse apartment in the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge. John Major visited him and his family there on the twentieth anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration in December 2013. He died on 21 August 2014, and was buried in Shanganagh Cemetery in south Dublin.
Reynolds came to politics late, in mid-life, without any strong party background, and unusually for a Fianna Fáil leader, other than Jack Lynch, without earlier family involvement in the war of independence. He prided himself on his pragmatism and made a significant contribution towards bringing Ireland's economic performance and living standards up to European levels. He negotiated a transformative EU aid package. Nevertheless, his business-style approach to government had a mixed reception at home and created for him a controversial and contested reputation. However, combined with success in peace-making, it was very attractive to the American investment community. While not good at holding governments together, nor a strong party leader, Reynolds pioneered a highly productive, if short-lived, Fianna Fáil–Labour partnership. He was the shortest serving taoiseach till then, but not subsequently. His lasting achievement, despite one breakdown in the ceasefire, was his decisive role in persuading the republican movement to bring to an end the twenty-five-year IRA campaign.