THE appeal of Albert Reynolds for the Irish in Britain was how effortlessly he could make the jump from a Longford Association dinner dance to signing of the Downing Street Declaration with John Major in 1993.
Accessible and equally at home in the company of exiled countrymen or those who helped to shape the Peace Process, Reynolds, a multi-faceted character, is credited with helping to pave the way for an IRA ceasefire that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement.
But throughout the 1970s, the enterprising businessman turned councillor was a regular face at the Longford Association dinner dance in London.
Chairman Michael McCann, involved in the association since the late 1960s, remembers Reynolds mingling easily at one function in the Gresham hotel on Holloway Road and how later, his billing among emigrants encompassed this style and a focus to improve Anglo Irish relations.
Former RTÉ London Correspondent Brian O’Connell believes his everyman charisma and direct way of dealing was key to signing the Downing Street Declaration with John Major.
“They trusted Albert in Westminster,” said O’Connell. “The feeling was that he would lift his end of the plank.”
O’Connell’s position afforded him a unique insight into relationship enjoyed by the then Irish Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.
“The trust between him and John Major was fantastic,” he said. “It took about 15 months of talking. Reynolds was very dogged and determined in the run-up to the signing of the Declaration”.
“[Later] when the Good Friday Agreement was signed [in 1998] I did an interview with John Major that day in London and Major said: ‘How is Albert?’ He said ‘do you have a number for him’ and he asked could I dial the number.
“I went into my cubby office and dialled up Albert’s number. I got his daughter and I said: ‘is your dad there? I have John Major here in the RTÉ office in London’ and she put her dad on. I handed the phone to John Major and I sat there while two fairly bemused detectives sat in the outer room with me drinking tea, while he nattered to Albert Reynolds on the phone for ages.
“They were saying ‘It’s a great day; a great day’ and then Major looked at me as if to say would you mind closing the door please.”
“It was then it struck me that they liked each other.”
Respected for his business acumen as well as his ability to strike a deal, Reynolds found a lucrative niche in the Irish Show band scene and is billed as someone who marched to the beat of his own drum.
According to Irish Post photographer Mel McNally, his generosity with time was a trait with a winning quality as far as emigrants were concerned:
“He was available to everyone and anyone [when he came over to Britain]. You’d meet him at a function or in the Irish Embassy and you’d apologise for delaying him, but he’d tell you sincerely: ‘that’s what I’m here for.’
McNally first met the late Taoiseach when he was hiring acts for his Show Band enterprise.
Later they’d meet at the Sydney Opera House when the photographer was documenting an official visit to Australia.
“He didn’t realise I was there and said: ‘Mac what are you doing out here? And he called me into his company. I asked him what was he doing the next day and did he want to go to the races. There was a meeting in Randwick and he said: ‘We’ll have to go to that.’
It was an easy style that fit with successful careers in both business and politics and amongst other achievements paid much homage since his death, Reynolds is credited with giving emigrants greater access to family in Ireland through improved communications services affected in the late 1970s when he was appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.
Albert Reynolds was born on November 3rd, 1932, in Rooskey, Roscommon. His tenure as Taoiseach, from 1992 to 1994, was one of the briefest in the history of the state, when he led two successive, fragile governments.
After the second coalition fell, in large part because of a sexual abuse scandal involving the priest Brendan Smyth, he resigned as prime minister and as leader of the Fianna Fail party.
Besides his son Philip, he is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and six other children, Miriam, Emer, Leonie, Abbie, Cathy and Andrea.
“I believe in making a decision and going for it,” Mr. Reynolds said in 1994, referring to his peace efforts. “You can leave the status quo or take a risk, try to change things that will leave an impression after you’re gone.”