John Bruton - Taoiseach 1994–1997

Taoiseach 1994–1997

Bruton's politics were markedly different from most Irish leaders. Whereas most leaders had come from or identified with the independence movement Sinn Féin (in its 1917–22 phase), Bruton identified more with the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) tradition that Sinn Féin had eclipsed at the 1918 general election. He hung a picture of his political hero, the IPP's leader John Redmond on a wall in his office as Taoiseach, in preference to other figures such as Patrick Pearse. But as evidence of Bruton's complexity, he also kept a picture of former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Seán Lemass, which had been hung there by Reynolds, and which Bruton kept because he viewed Lemass as the best and most reforming Taoiseach in the history of the state.

Bruton's Rainbow Coalition was generally perceived to be a good government, with Bruton, who was meant to have had a bad relationship with Tánaiste Dick Spring, being seen as its star performer. His popularity soared while he and Spring (along with Proinsias De Rossa, leader of Democratic Left) were seen as an effective team. Constitutional reform was also on the government's agenda when a referendum to abolish the prohibition on divorce was passed by a narrow majority.

Continued developments in the Northern Ireland peace process and his attitude to Anglo-Irish relations came to define Bruton's tenure as Taoiseach. In February 1995 he launched the Anglo-Irish ‘Framework Document’ with the British Prime Minister, John Major. This document outlined new proposed relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Many of Bruton's opponents considered him to be too willing to accommodate unionist demands (in one famous accusation, Albert Reynolds referred to him as "John Unionist"). However, he took a strongly critical position on the British Government's reluctance to engage with Sinn Féin during the IRA's 1994–1997 ceasefire. Bruton complained to a local radio reporter in Cork that "I am sick of answering questions about the fucking peace process", for which he later apologised.

Bruton also established a working relationship with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, however both were mutually distrustful of each other. The relationship became frayed following the ending of the ceasefire in 1996, resulting in a bomb explosion in London. These relations worsened when the IRA killed Jerry McCabe, a member of An Garda Síochána, in a botched post office robbery in County Limerick, and another bomb explosion in Manchester. However, Bruton received widespread praise in the Republic for condemning the Royal Ulster Constabulary for yielding to loyalist threats at Drumcree by allowing members of the Orange Order to parade through a nationalist district. He stated that the RUC had been neither impartial nor consistent in applying the law. His outrage and criticism led to a tense atmosphere between London and Dublin. By the time of the 1997 general election Sinn Féin stated that they would prefer a Fianna Fáil led government and the IRA resumed their ceasefire soon after Fine Gael lost the 1997 general election.

He also presided over a successful Irish Presidency of the European Union in 1996 and helped finalise the Stability and Growth Pact, which establishes macroeconomic parameters for countries participating in the single European currency, the euro. Bruton was the fifth Irish leader to address a joint session of the United States Congress on 11 September 1996, as only the 30th head of state or government of an EU country to do so since 1945.

Bruton's government suffered from some allegations of corruption, and political embarrassment. In 1996 his Minister for Transport, Michael Lowry, resigned from the Cabinet after allegations that he had not paid income tax on payments from the supermarket tycoon, Ben Dunne for work he had done for him as a businessman prior to becoming a minister. His minister of state in the Department of Finance also resigned, on 9 February 1995, as a result of leaks from the department. Additionally, many years later Frank Dunlop made allegations before the planning tribunal that he had informed Bruton about demands for a £250,000 bribe made to him by a Fine Gael Dublin councillor, Tom Hand, in order to rezone the Quarryvale development. Dunlop testified that when he informed Bruton of the bribery attempts, Bruton replied, "There are no angels in the world or in Fine Gael". Bruton vehemently denied this and Fine Gael counsel told the Planning Tribunal in 2003: "I refute entirely Mr Dunlop's contention that he advised me then of the alleged demand made to him by the late Tom Hand". However, following further evidence at the Tribunal, Bruton returned to it in October 2007 and conceded that "it gradually came back to me", that Dunlop, "did say to me something about a councillor looking for money". But, in his own evidence to the tribunal in 2007, Dunlop himself said that he had not mentioned any figure of 250,000 to Bruton in his 1993 conversation with him.

Bruton presided over the first official visit by a member of the British Royal Family since 1912, the Prince of Wales. His welcome speech to Prince Charles was viewed by many journalists negatively in Ireland. In Britain, The Times of London accused him of being "embarrassingly effusive" while The Guardian lambasted that Bruton get a grip on his "extravagantly nonsensical attitudes". Bruton himself viewed the fact that the heir to the British throne could visit the Republic successfully, as marking an important turning point in Anglo Irish relations and stands over the comments he made as appropriate in the circumstances.

Following the murder of crime journalist Veronica Guerin, his government established the Criminal Assets Bureau.

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