Major: Without Albert the peace process may never have started

Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds has been remembered as a courageous peacemaker after he died following a long illness.

Mr Reynolds’s elder son Philip told RTE this morning that he died overnight.

The family confirmed last year that he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr Reynolds is survived by his wife Kathleen, two sons and five daughters.

Tributes have been paid to the 81-year-old for the risks he took to make the seemingly impossible happen in Northern Ireland and secure the legacy of the peace process.

One of the most symbolic gestures in Mr Reynolds’ short time as Taoiseach was a public handshake he instigated between Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and former SDLP leader John Hume following talks in Government Buildings in Dublin in 1994.

Mr Hume said the statesman gave outstanding public service to the people of Ireland.

“He had an unwavering commitment to peace on the island and his relationship with John Major was instrumental in securing the Downing Street Declaration in 1993.

“He demonstrated integrity, determination and great courage in his pursuit of peace at a time when it was so necessary.”

Sir John Major, who signed the 1993 Downing Street Delcaration with Mr Reynolds that paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement and lasting peace, remembered him as the leader who made things happen.

In a heartfelt message, the former British prime minister described him as a friend and a politician deserving of his place in history.

“Albert Reynolds was at the heart of the success of the Irish peace process. Without Albert, it may never have started – or might have stalled at an early stage – and Ireland, North and South, might still be enduring the violence that scarred daily lives for so long,” Mr Major said.

“Albert cared about achieving peace and took risks to deliver a future for Ireland that many thought was impossible. He deserves an honoured place in the history of his country.

“To me, he became a friend I cherish and will miss.”

Sir John said: "Albert Reynolds was at the heart of the success of the Irish peace process. Without Albert, it may never have started - or might have stalled at an early stage - and Ireland, north and south, might still be enduring the violence that scarred daily lives for so long.

“Albert cared about achieving peace and took risks to deliver a future for Ireland that many thought was impossible. He deserves an honoured place in the history of his country.

“To me, he became a friend I cherish and will miss.”

David Cameron said: “I’m sad to hear of the death of Albert Reynolds. His partnership with Sir John Major led to the crucial Downing Street Declaration in 1993.”

Former Taoiseach and ex-Fine Gael leader John Bruton – once dubbed “John Unionist” by Mr Reynolds – laughed off the jibe and paid tribute to his predecessor.

“His particular contribution, I think, is the negotiation of the Downing Street Declaration, it was absolutely crucial,” he said.

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins said Mr Reynolds was a dynamic minister and a courageous leader.

“Former Taoiseach Reynolds was committed to serving the people of Ireland with all of his energy. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to his significant contribution to our contemporary society,” the president said.

Stuart Dwyer, charge d’affaires at the US embassy in Dublin, said: “As leader during some of the most difficult moments of conflict in Northern Ireland he found a way towards a solution.

“The investment that he and others made in the process set the stage for the critical breakthroughs of 20 years ago this month. We remember him as one of the architects of the peace we see today, even if work is still ongoing.”

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