John Bruton with Gerry Adams at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin in December, 1994 file photo.

Higgins Leads Tributes to John Bruton

President Michael D. Higgins was today leading tributes to former taoiseach John Bruton who has died aged 76.

Said Higgins in a statement: “It is with sadness that I have learned of the death of Council of State member and former Taoiseach, John Bruton. May I send my deepest sympathies to John’s wife Finola, to his children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, and to all of his family.

"It was a privilege to serve as a member of Dáil Éireann and of Cabinet with John and, in particular, when he served as a very energetic Taoiseach from 1994 to 1997.

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"John Bruton was a deeply committed politician, who demonstrated a life-long interest and engagement in public affairs and public service both in Ireland and internationally. His contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process during his time as Taoiseach was very significant. In this work, he brought a particular sensitivity and a generous approach to inclusion with regard to the perspective of the ‘Other’.

Together with John Major, his overseeing of the development of the Joint Framework Document in 1995 was a pivotal foundation for the Good Friday Agreement. It was a mark of John Bruton’s interest in politics that while his term as Taoiseach included an emphasis on the local, and in particular the ongoing issues with regard to Northern Ireland, he was always a strongly committed promoter of politics in the European Union.

"This was reflected in his ongoing work in support of European integration throughout the period following his term as Taoiseach. In his role as Ambassador of the European Union to the United States from 2004 to 2009, he helped to further build the definition of that role during what was at times a challenging period in relations between the EU and the United States.

"Very open and forthright in his opinions, John had a great sense of humour which was a great help in ensuring a sense of collegiality and that small issues would never be allowed to defeat what was important in relation to the things that mattered most.

"Always bristling with ideas, and occasionally demonstrating an impatience with the difficulties of implementation, those of us who worked with John, be it in Government or in Opposition, will recall the energy which he brought to the different parts of politics. This continued in John’s many contributions to the public debate in the years following his departure from office and, in all of his roles, was something which I always very much welcomed and found very refreshing.

"Our most recent contact was in relation to the recent considerations of the Council of State, which he sought to attend right to the end.

"While we were conscious, and would occasionally remind each other both in Government and in the years after, of an ideological gap between us, our conversations nearly always ended with the very particular deep laugh which all of us who knew him will immediately recall.

"John will be remembered with great warmth and his contributions to the public debate greatly missed.”

The Irish Times, in an obituary, described Mr. Bruton as "one of the leading politicians of his age who had the unique distinction of being the only person in the history of the State to become taoiseach because of a change of government without an election halfway through a Dáil term.

"He succeeded to the Taoiseach’s office in December 1994 when the Labour Party pulled out of government with Fianna Fáil and did a deal with Fine Gael to form a new administration rather than precipitating a general election.

"Bruton was widely regarded as doing a good job as taoiseach between 1994 and 1997 but his rainbow coalition narrowly failed to win re-election in 1997. While he continued to lead Fine Gael for another four years, he was never to be taoiseach again. Bruton displayed great tenacity in fighting off two challenges to his leadership, the first in 1994, shortly before he became taoiseach and the second in 2000. He finally fell to the third challenge in 2001."

The obituary noted that when he left Irish politics Bruton took up an appointment as European Union ambassador to the United States in 2002 "and his reputation grew as his more successful political opponent Bertie Ahern left office mired in controversy in 2008."