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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.