‘Violently anti-IRA’ Bruton as good a taoiseach as could be had – British

UK National Archives for 1997: Former taoiseach described as ‘nice, straightforward’

Then-taoiseach John Bruton at the United Nations General Assembly in June  1997. File photograph: Kathy Willens/AP Photo

Then-taoiseach John Bruton at the United Nations General Assembly in June 1997. File photograph: Kathy Willens/AP Photo

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John Bruton was “as good a taoiseach as we are likely to get”, according to a senior British civil servant in 1997.

The former taoiseach was described as “nice, straightforward and violently anti-IRA” by John Holmes, the private secretary to Tony Blair. He was, however, bound to follow policies which were designed to bring Sinn Féin into the talks at the time.

Dick Spring, tánaiste at the time, was “greener, but not unreasonably so”.

“Bruton is as good a taoiseach as we are ever likely to get from a British point of view,” wrote Holmes in a briefing document for Blair prior to their first meeting in May 1997, shortly after Labour’s victory.

Blair was told that the Irish economy was doing well and the population was very pro-Europe. “Not surprising given the amount of money they get from the EU,” said Holmes.

After the Irish election the following month, as a result of which Bertie Ahern became taoiseach, Blair rang Bruton and commiserated at Fine Gael’s loss. Bruton said the new taoiseach was a “pragmatist” and the two men would get on well.

“But he [Bruton] did worry that the Irish government might get too close to Sinn Féin. They were dangerous people and he doubted their sincerity. They would need very careful watching even after a ceasefire,” said a memo for the call.