#08: Albert Reynolds

Name: Albert Reynolds
Party: Fianna Fáil
Terms: February ’92-December ‘94
“Interesting” would be the word to describe Albert Reynolds’ life even before he became the most powerful man in the country. He grew up in rural Sligo, the son of a coach maker, and left a secure civil service job to pursue a wide range of business activities like selling fish, running dancehalls and cinemas and owning what Wikipedia calls  a “bacon factory” but I’m going to out on a limb and assume was either a pig farm or a slaughterhouse.
"But…then where did they build the pigs?"

“But…then where did they build the pigs?”

He got into politics in his mid-forties and helped Charles Haughey get the support he needed for his successful leadership challenge and as a reward was given the position of Minister for Transport. This put Reynolds in the middle of one of the downright  weirdest incidents in recent Irish history where a deranged Australian ex-Trappist monk named Laurence Downey hijacked an Irish plane to France (Iran was his first choice but he was told there wasn’t enough gas in the tank).  Downey claimed that he had read the Third Secret of Fatima (a religious prophecy that supposedly revealed the End of Days) and wanted to force the Pope to reveal it to the world. Reynolds was in Paris as the Irish government’s man on the ground during the crisis.
He then spent the rest of his time in France with a sexy linguist fleeing an albino monk.

He then spent the rest of his time in France with a sexy linguist fleeing an albino monk.

Reynolds became Taoiseach in 1992 when the previously mentioned scandalnado finally blew Charles Haughey out of power. Reynolds tried to make a clean break with the Haughey years by completely re-shuffling the cabinet and promoting members of the party’s anti-Haughey faction. Reynolds couldn’t just wipe the slate clean however, as he himself had been quite heavily involved in some classic Haughey-grade shady motherfuckery, such as the sale of massive quantities of beef to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
“Gasp! Ireland you sold BEEF to Saddam Hussein?!”

“Gasp! Ireland you sold BEEF to Saddam Hussein?!”

"You sold ANTHRAX to Saddam Hussein, don't you dare judge me!"

“You sold ANTHRAX to Saddam Hussein, don’t you dare judge me!”

This, plus a dodgy economy, meant that Reynolds went into the 1992 election looking like he was going to lose his position as Taoiseach almost as soon as he’d got it. Luck, however, was on his side.  I’ve already mentioned the “plucky sidekick” theory of Irish political governance, and in this case that was the Labour party under Dick Spring which was looking to form a coalition with John Bruton’s Fine Gael (more on him later). However, this time around Labour was less a “trusty Dick Grayson” kind of sidekick and more of a “bratty Jason Todd” and Spring’s condition for entering government with Bruton was that he and Bruton  would “take turns” at being Taoiseach. Bruton, understandably, was all “No. Fuck no. Robin doesn’t get to “take turns” being Batman. Robin’s Robin and Batman’s the goddamn Batman! That’s how it works.” (His exact words).
So instead Labour went into government with Reynolds, leaving Bruton scowling on a darkened rooftop between some gargoyles.
As you might expect, in government the relationship between Fianna Fáil and Labour was tense and fractious, with Dick Spring’s liberalism in stark contrast to Reynolds’ staunchly conservative Catholicism which led to the collapse of the coalition two years later. Reynolds tenure as Taoiseach is no mere footnote though, a lot happened in that time. Some good, some really bad.
Pros
  • Major work done on the peace process. By which I mean, Reynolds worked with UK Prime Minister John Major on the peace process. Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher, when put in a room together, would sink fangs into each other’s necks and roll around on the carpet hissing and spitting. By contrast, Reynolds and Major formed a close friendship that culminated in the Downing Street Declaration that served as an important step on the road to the Good Friday agreement.
  • The nineties was probably Ireland’s first “good” decade. Every decade from independence on was more or less horrible in different ways but the nineties marked the point where the nation’s fortunes started comin’ up Milhouse. Reynolds deserves some of the credit for that for getting significant investment from the EU.
  • He handled being stood up by a drunken Boris Yeltsin on the tarmac of Shannon Airport with the grace and quiet dignity of an Austen heroine.
  • Did all his own stunts. Oh my God, remember Deliverance? In the raft?! That was him! That was actually Bert Reynolds…wait.
May be thinking of wrong guy.

May be thinking of wrong guy.

Cons
  • He appointed former Attorney General Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court. Whelehan, or, to use his birth name, Satan Lord of Flies, had deliberately botched an attempt to extradite Father Brendan Smyth to Northern Ireland. (Smyth, for background, is believed to have sexually abused almost 150 children). When it was alleged on a British documentary programme that Reynolds‘ choice for the big chair had enabled Smyth to escape justice in the North in order to protect the Catholic Hierarchy that had hidden his crimes, Dick Spring very sensibly threw up his hands and walked his party right out of the coalition.
  • The X Case. Ohhhhhhh I’m not even going there.

20 comments

  1. Dare I be pedantic about devil nomenclature? Of course I dare. Beelzebub is Lord of the Flies; Satan is the Adversary. Remember people, failure to be specific about the Great Evils, is itself a Great Evil… 8)
    Oh, and thank you for the history, Mouse. I promise not to ask about the X Case.

  2. Spring’s condition for entering government with Bruton was that he and Bruton would “take turns” at being Taoiseach

    I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around how that would even work. Would they alternate days? Would one get to be Taoiseach during the work week and the other get the position on weekends?

    1. When they’ve done it in Israel they would split the term in half with one handing off the position to the other mid way through.

    1. I think you’re misreading, Alchemist. The Spring is capitalized, so clearly it’s a period of time in which the dick would be receiving more warmth and precipitation.

      …So it would basically sound like sex noises, I guess?

      1. To be fair…having crossed swords with Irish bureaucracy before, I’m not sure I can whole-heartedly support your proposition…but I suppose it couldn’t be WORSE. (I’m trying to figure out when Gubu was, in relation to this, but maybe it was in Fitzgerald’s govt? It seems like the kind of bizarrity you’d mention)

      2. Haughey coined the phrase, but I actually didn’t mention it because the Haughey entry was already huge and besides, it didn’t really have anything to do with Haughey himself, it was just a weird random event.

      3. Looking at all of these, I’m realising the 80s/early 90s was a REALLY bonkers period in Irish history – something I had absolutely no understanding of at the time (being all of 6 at the end of the decade).

        My poor father had to explain to me what rape was as a result of the X case (which we’re not talking about), which illustration of just how omnipresent it was at the time.

  3. Yay, my decade was actually the good one for once! The 90s may not have been the cool decade in a lot of ways, but at least it was a good time to be in Ireland, or releasing Disney movies. Now, sending beef to Hussein might not be great, but at least it isn’t as ridiculous as sending pork to him. Or sending beef to Shankar Dayal Sharma. Though I noticed that conversation had talking flags. Did the maps really desert you for good after the moomin incident? I hope not, those guys are a big attraction, polling time for Irish blogs is a bad time to lose them!

    Dangerous move there, Bruton. Don’t you know that kind of response is how the likes of Satan was made?!? Didn’t you read Paradise Lost?!?!? Speaking of Satan, I think you got mixed up on his name, Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub, silly. Satan is Lucifer (and probably was born just Lucifer, he got his name legally changed by the many legal workers occupying Hell after deciding he didn’t like God).

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