A political life devoted to reconciliation


Ruairí Brugha: Ruairí Brugha, who has died aged 88, rejected the physical force republicanism he inherited to practise non-violent politics and go on to represent Fianna Fáil in the Dáil, Seanad and the European Parliament.

Much of his life after a youthful involvement in the IRA was devoted to reconciling the nationalist and unionist traditions on the island and a peaceful end to Partition.

His father, Cathal Brugha, was seriously wounded in the 1916 Rising, was elected temporary president of the first Dáil in 1919 and was then minister for defence over the newly formed IRA. He opposed the Treaty in 1922, becoming the most senior figure on the side of the Irregulars to die in the early days of the Civil War.

Ruairí, who was born in Dublin on October 15th, 1917, scarcely knew his father but was under pressure from an early age to join the IRA at a time when purist republicans would have seen Éamon de Valera and his Fianna Fáil party as betraying the aims of the 1916 Proclamation.

His mother, Kathleen Kingston, had been elected several times as a Sinn Féin deputy and also opposed the Treaty. Her home in south Dublin was to become a refuge for IRA men on the run and even for an escaped German spy, Gunter Schütz.

After schooling in Rockwell College, where he excelled in gymnastics, and in Coláiste Mhuire, Ruairí joined the then illegal IRA when he was 16. His mother, who had set up the Kingston menswear shop, decided to send him to England to learn the business.

When the second World War broke out and IRA suspects were rounded up, he went on the run, but was arrested and interned in 1940.

He was on parole from internment for health reasons when he met his future wife, Máire MacSwiney, the daughter of Terence MacSwiney whose death after 74 days on hunger strike in Brixton jail in 1920 made his name known around the world. They were married in 1945.

Máire, who had spent her early years in Germany, was determined to steer clear of involvement in republicanism and Ruairí was becoming disillusioned after his spell in the Curragh. He gave a frank account of this development in his life in 1968 to the author Tim Pat Coogan for his book, The IRA.

It was "inevitable" that he would join the IRA given his upbringing and background, but referring to the IRA doctrine of the ongoing legitimacy of the second Dáil, he said: "We became the victims of an illusion that could never become a reality." He began to have misgivings. "It was obvious to me that the 26 counties were politically free and that the sort of activity in which the IRA had been engaged had not helped to end Partition."

But he praised the idealism of his comrades who included "some of the best elements in the nation." He refused, however, to sign the declaration which would have got him out of the Curragh but was later released on health grounds.

He could not bring himself to join Fianna Fáil while republicans were still in prison and instead joined Clann na Poblachta which had been founded by his former IRA colleague, Seán MacBride. He asked Brugha to stand for the party in the 1948 election in Waterford where his father and mother had won seats for Sinn Féin. Ruairí polled poorly but remained in the party executive until its demise.

In 1962 he joined Fianna Fáil and was unsuccessful in the 1969 election in Dublin South County, but he was elected to the Seanad. He was elected to the Dáil in 1973 when Fianna Fáil lost power after 16 years. A year later, leader Jack Lynch appointed Brugha as spokesman on Northern Ireland.

In this role he helped Lynch to redefine Fianna Fáil policy on the North, supporting the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement which Kevin Boland tried to overturn in the courts. In 1977, Brugha lost his seat in the revised Dublin South constituency.

John Hume urged Lynch to appoint him to the European Parliament, where he served until 1979 as well as in the Seanad. He failed to retain the European seat in the first direct election in 1979 when there was an anti-Fianna Fáil backlash.

He made several attempts to win a Dáil or Seanad seat but without success. By 1982 his active political career was over.

His wife, Máire, commented in her recent splendid memoir, History's Daughter: "Maybe he was too idealistic for politics as he never promoted himself. His only interest was in putting the country first."

He is survived by his wife Máire; daughter, Déirdre; sons, Cathal, Terry and Ruairí; and his sister, Neasa.

Ruairí Brugha: born October 15th, 1917; died January 30th, 2006.