Commentary since death of Albert Reynolds has corrected the neglect of his achievements

Opinion: Former taoiseach not alone in collapsing coalition relationship

‘To borrow a phrase popular in the Reynolds camp at the time, when Dick Spring wasn’t himself taking offence he had Fergus Finlay to take offence on his behalf.’   Photograph: Paul Goulding

‘To borrow a phrase popular in the Reynolds camp at the time, when Dick Spring wasn’t himself taking offence he had Fergus Finlay to take offence on his behalf.’ Photograph: Paul Goulding

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 00:01

In 2001 RTÉ’s Andy O’Mahoney invited four of us into his radio studio to discuss Albert Reynolds for a series he was recording called Na Taoisigh – Leaders of the State.

The panel was made up of Tom Savage, who had been an adviser to Reynolds in government, Fergus Finlay, who had been an adviser to Dick Spring, Geraldine Kennedy, who had been a political correspondent and one-time TD, and I, who had been a junior party official at Fianna Fáil headquarters and then an adviser to Tom Kitt, who was minister of state for European Affairs when Reynolds was taoiseach.

The programme was to be recorded “as live” for an hour, but the discussion continued for a further hour and 10 minutes after they stopped recording. There was just so much to talk about.

Reynolds’s years as taoiseach were dramatic times, and the significance of his legacy was already very apparent even in 2001.

That O’Mahoney hour was one of the very few, perhaps the only, radio or television programme made by RTÉ about Reynolds’s political career in the almost 20 years since his retirement.

Not only was Reynolds underestimated when he was taoiseach, but his political achievements have been very much neglected since.

Two decades

It has been pleasant over the past 48 hours to see that two decades of neglect of Reynolds’s contribution corrected in the extensive media coverage and commentary on his death.

On the day after Reynolds resigned as taoiseach, November 18th, 1994, this newspaper published a nasty editorial about him, one paragraph of which concluded with the line “public life will not be greatly the poorer for his departure from office”.

This was written a mere 10 weeks after Reynolds had delivered the IRA ceasefire.

The tenor of the editorial, and of some of the other commentary when he resigned, was reflective of a derogatory attitude much of the media had towards Albert. Fintan O’Toole’s column that day, for example, was headlined “Now to undo the damage Reynolds has done.”

The then Irish Times editor Conor Brady acknowledged when he retired that he had been unfair to Reynolds in that editorial.

Personal integrity

He wrote in his memoirs about how the uneasy relationship between Reynolds and The Irish Times arose in part because Reynolds had a habit of issuing libel letters when he felt a line had been crossed in attacking his personal integrity.

Brady accepted, however, that a clash of cultures also contributed to the media antagonism.

“Reynolds,” Brady writes, “had come from a background that few of the Dublin press corps understood or empathised with: show bands, ballrooms and a successful pet food factory in Longford.”

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