Further to David McKittrick’s obituary of Albert Reynolds (22 August), I should say that there are few better ways of learning what makes a politician tick than travelling with them at close quarters on delegations to challenging countries.
In 1998 I was invited to Iraq for a second time by the British/Iraqi national Riad El Taher, a scion of a Basra Shia family that can trace its ancestry back to the 13th century. Who to ask to come along? No British MP of influence was keen to come. So I suggested that we approach the Irish, who were more likely to cut ice in the United States at that time than most Brits. Albert Reynolds jumped at the chance.
On that long 15-hour motor journey across the desert from Amman to Baghdad – no flights were allowed into the airport – Reynolds curled up in the back of an elderly people carrier and slept as we trundled along. With a chuckle, he woke up at precisely the right moment and observed: “One of my main assets as a politician is an ability to sleep at will, whatever the circumstances.” During our time in Baghdad his energy was amazing. His questions, ever pertinent, might have seemed offensive and overly direct coming from most people; yet such was his charm that Reynolds got away with it. Unlike many effective inquisitors, he was a good listener. It was obvious how this man was a Father of the Peace Process.
We spent five hours over dinner, cooked by Mrs Aziz at the house of Tariq Aziz. Every second question was prefaced, “Tam, here, is British, but I, as an Irishman, think differently...” For the rest of his waking hours he went scurrying round Baghdad, meeting ministers, officials and businessmen to tee up trade for Ireland. I did not have the impression that he was overly interested in money for himself, but rather adored doing deals that he thought would benefit the Republic.
On return, he kept his word to the Iraqis and did everything he could to influence his friends among the Irish community in New York not to embark on war. At the end of my telephone calls with him I could sense how he grieved over the bombing of Baghdad, which we had tried so hard to prevent, and the plight of Iraq.Reuse content