Former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, who led an alliance known as the Rainbow Coalition and played a central role with Britain in efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland after decades of conflict, died in Dublin on Tuesday. He was 76 years old.
His family said he died in hospital after a long illness. They did not determine the cause. Mr. Bruton also served as ambassador to the European Union in Washington.
Mr Bruton, who received death threats across British and Irish politics, had a long career with the centre-right Fine Gael party. He was Taoiseach (pronounced TEE-shack) as Prime Minister from 1994 to 1997, when Britain was led by Conservative Prime Minister John Major.
The governments in Dublin and London have long acknowledged that each has a key role to play in navigating Northern Ireland’s dangerous sectarian and political divide between Protestants and Catholics.
Mr Bruton believes that part of his diplomatic mission is to counter the suspicions of Protestants in Northern Ireland, who primarily sought, and still seek, continued integration with the United Kingdom as part of the United Kingdom. Ta. Many Protestants feared that peace efforts would weaken their ability to steer the situation and delay Irish unification.
Bruton’s efforts to calm Protestant tensions have led rival politicians in Catholic-majority Ireland to refer to him as a “John Unionist.”
But he also took issue with Major’s distrust of the largely Catholic Irish Republican Army, which declared a cease-fire in 1994 as part of peace efforts to unify Ireland. Specifically, Mr Bruton took issue with Mr Major’s skepticism of the IRA’s assurances that IRA forces were ready to dispose of their weapons.
Still, Mr Bruton distrusted the IRA and condemned its use of violence to pursue political objectives. But he agreed to speak to Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, head of the group’s political wing, despite it being widely reported that the two were deeply suspicious of each other’s motives. . Mr Bruton cut off this so-called backdoor line of communication in 1996 after the IRA broke a cease-fire and bombed the Docklands area of east London.
In public, Mr. Bruton and Mr. Major cultivated the image of a statesmanlike partnership. In 1995, for example, the two countries created a framework agreement that promised “peaceful political means without resort to violence or coercion” for participants in peace efforts. Furthermore, the framework foresaw “equality of respect and treatment” between Northern Ireland’s fractious communities.
This was a precursor to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which, among other things, established an elected power-sharing executive run by these former adversaries, ending three decades of bloodshed that claimed more than 3,000 lives. It put an end to it.
But in private, the two prime ministers sometimes clashed, and in 1996, Mr Major threatened to hang up on Mr Bruton, who was known for his short temper. The two men were talking on the phone about incendiary marches by hardline Protestants in Catholic areas of Northern Ireland.
An official statement from the Irish government said Mr Bruton told Mr Major that the government’s response to the march suggested it was not in charge of the situation. Mr. Major retorted, “If you want to continue the conversation like that, you can continue alone.” After ruffling feathers, they resumed dialogue and avoided a major setback.
Mr. Major and Mr. Bruton tried to promote peace negotiations, but both failed due to domestic politics in their countries. The 1997 election brought Labor Party leader Tony Blair to power in the United Kingdom, and Ireland’s center-right Fianna Fail party’s Bertie Ahern became prime minister, allowing him to preside over the Good Friday Agreement. Ta.
In response to news of Bruton’s death, Major said: “Under trying circumstances, he put peace above political self-interest and led the way towards an end to violence.”
John Gerald Bruton was born on May 18, 1947, to Joseph and Doris (Delaney) Bruton, members of a wealthy farming family near Dublin. His younger brother, Richard Bruton, also played an important role in Irish politics.
John studied politics and economics at University College Dublin and qualified as a barrister at King’s Inns, Ireland’s oldest law school, but did not practice law. At the age of 22, he became the youngest member of the Irish Parliament, representing Fine Gael in the Meath constituency near Dublin.
In 1978 he married fellow political activist Finola Gill and they had four children, Matthew, Juliana, Emily, and Mary Elizabeth. His wife and children survive, along with his sister Mary and his brother.
Mr Bruton twice served as Ireland’s finance minister, with mixed results. In 1982, he tried to increase government revenue by imposing a value-added tax on children’s shoes. The move was so unpopular that defections of coalition members led to the collapse of the government and allowed his political opponents to paint him as an eccentric millionaire.
But he is also credited with pushing for corporate tax cuts that attracted foreign investment and helped create the so-called Celtic Tiger economic boom.
Mr Bruton became leader of the Fine Gael Party in the early 1990s. He was 47 years old when he became prime minister in 1994 as leader of the Rainbow Coalition (a coalition of Fine Gael, Labor, and a small left-wing party, the Democratic Left).
After taking office, he hung a portrait of moderate Irish politician John Redmond on the wall of his office to signal that he intended to take a conciliatory approach to governance and Britain.
Bruton was known as an ardent Eurofan and opponent of Brexit. With these EU qualifications, he served as EU Ambassador to Washington from 2004 to 2009. His main mission was to defuse tensions with the George W. Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq and trade issues.
Despite the scent of corruption among his lieutenants, Mr. Bruton linked peace efforts to domestic gains. In it, he sponsored a referendum that narrowly overturned the country’s constitutional ban on divorce. In 1995, Mr. Breton welcomed the then Prince Charles to Ireland, the first official visit by a member of the British royal family since Ireland gained independence in 1921. British newspapers accused him of overreaching about the trip, but Mr Bruton insisted his visit to Ireland was. He strengthened the often troubled relationship between London and Dublin.
In 1997, his Rainbow Coalition appeared poised for re-election, but the Labor Party lost ground and the Coalition was defeated. Mr Bruton was replaced as prime minister by his rival Mr Ahern. Still, when Mr. Bruton died, Mr. Ahern said he had “no bad things to say” about him.