Former Ireland prime minister Reynolds dies aged 81

DUBLIN, Ireland – Former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds, a central figure in the Northern Ireland peace process who helped broker the 1994 IRA ceasefire, has died aged 81, current taoiseach Enda Kenny said Thursday, August 21.

Reynolds served as taoiseach twice, once in 1992 and then again in 1993-94, but had recently been suffering from the last stages of Alzheimer's disease, his son Philip revealed earlier this week.

Kenny said it was "with great regret" that he learned of the news.

"Albert Reynolds brought an energy and drive to the development of business and economic growth during his tenure in office as minister for industry and as minister for finance," he said.

Kenny hailed Reynolds' contribution in working toward peace in Northern Ireland, saying he "played an important part in bringing together differing strands of political opinion".

British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote on Twitter that he was "sad to hear of the death of Albert Reynolds", calling his contribution to peace "crucial".

Reynolds, alongside then British prime minister John Major, signed the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, affirming the right to self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland.

The key text was followed a few months later by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire, and is regarded as a precursor to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, generally seen as the end of the decades-long sectarian conflict known as The Troubles.

The historic peace deal was signed by Protestant Unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic Republicans, who wanted it to join the Republic of Ireland.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams paid tribute to Reynolds on Twitter, sending a message of support to his family.

"Albert acted on North when it mattered. RIP," he said.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, also a member of Sinn Fein, lauded Reynolds' role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

"Very sad to hear that former taoiseach Albert Reynolds has died," he tweeted.

"Deep sympathy to Kathleen and family. Albert was a peacemaker. #Appreciation."

A wealthy businessman, Reynolds was first elected to parliament in 1977 for the Longford-Westmeath constituency for the centrist Fianna Fail party.

A biography of Reynolds on the party's website said that "without a doubt his greatest achievement was in Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations, signing the Downing Street Declaration in 1993."

"Albert Reynolds asked the defining question 'who is afraid of peace?'" the it continued.

"His determination brought about what had seemed impossible."

Reputation will 'stand tall' 

Former prime minister Bertie Ahern, who succeeded Reynolds as party leader, said he was "deeply saddened" by his predecessor's death and praised his "courage, perseverance and his commitment to democratic politics. "

Reynolds was "not afraid to take political risks to further the path of reconciliation," he said in a statement.

"When the definitive history of this period is written, his name deserves to stand tall."

Born November 3, 1932 in the small town of Rooskey in the midwest, he made a fortune in publishing, pet food and dance halls.

He became the prime minister in February 1992 after his party leader Charlie Haughey stepped down over a phone-tapping scandal, and he ruthlessly cleared the cabinet of those loyal to his predecessor.

Though both his tenures as prime minister were short, Reynolds was also remembered for pressing for greater European Union integration and negotiating EU funds which arguably paved the wave for the Irish economic boom in the 1990s. –