John Bruton: Tributes to ‘formidable gentleman’ who has died aged 76

Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Former Taoiseach John Bruton, pictured arriving at Leinster House in Dublin in April 2017 to address the Seanad on Brexit.

Former taoiseach John Bruton has died aged 76 with tributes being paid to a brave and formidable politician and gentleman.

He passed away in a Dublin hospital this morning, surrounded by his family.

Mr Bruton, was the Fine Gael leader from 1990 to 2001 and was Taoiseach from 1994 until 1997.

Former Taoiseach had been suffering from ill health

In a family statement, it was announced that he “died peacefully in the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin, surrounded by his loving family, early this morning following a long illness”.

”He was a good husband, a good father and a true patriot,” the statement added.

“We will miss him greatly.

“John is survived by his wife, Finola, son Matthew and daughters; Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, grandchildren, sons-in-law, his brother, Richard and sister, Mary, nieces, nephews, many cousins and extended family.”

John Bruton smiling
John Bruton ( Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Meath TD

Mr Bruton was first elected to the Dail as TD for Meath at the age of 22 and continued to rise through Fine Gael until his retirement from domestic politics in 2004.

He served two terms as minister for finance during the 1980s and as minister for industry and energy and minister for trade.

Mr Bruton later served as the European Union’s ambassador to the US from 2004 to 2009.

Born in Dunboyne in Co Meath, he graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) before qualifying as a barrister from King’s Inns.

Fine Gael leader

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “devastated” by the news of John Bruton’s death.

The Fine Gael leader said Mr Burton was one of the reasons he became involved in politics.

“He was always encouraging and supportive on a personal level, from my time in Young Fine Gael to my time as Taoiseach,” Mr Varadkar said in a statement.

“We kept in touch and his knowledge and experience were particularly helpful during Brexit and during coalition negotiations.

“We last spoke just before Christmas when he was unable to attend the Council of State due to his illness.

“I spoke to his wife Finola and brother Richard this morning to pass on my condolences.

“John was a doer and a philosopher. He was passionately pro-European in government and in opposition, and was well-liked and respected among colleagues in Europe and in the European People’s Party in which he served as vice-president.

“He knew that Ireland’s place and destiny was at the heart of Europe and made the case for it eloquently.

Bertie Ahern: ‘He was a gentleman’

At the general election in 1997, Mr Bruton lost to Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail.

He stayed as leader of Fine Gael for another four years.

Former taoiseach Mr Ahern said Mr Bruton was “one of the decent people”.

“My view of John is that he was a gentleman,” Mr Ahern told RTE.

“He was always the private man. He was leader of the House in government, and I was leader of the House in opposition, way back in the early Eighties.

“I worked with them on so many issues over so many years. We got on very well. I considered him one of the decent people. His involvement in the North (Northern Ireland) was always genuine.

“He was a totally genuine person and always acted in the interests of the people of the country, of the people of need and I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about John Bruton.”

John Major pays tribute

Former UK prime minister Sir John Major paid tribute to the “brave” and “formidable” John Bruton.

“I was shocked to learn of the loss of John Bruton,” Sir John said.

“He was a brave and talented Taoiseach who contributed mightily to the early days of the peace process.

“In testing circumstances, he put peace above political self-interest to progress the path towards the end of violence.

“He was a formidable servant of the Irish nation and of peace, and I am deeply saddened at his passing.”

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill expressed her condolences to the Bruton family.

Speaking in the Assembly, she said: “I want to pass on my condolences to the family of former taoiseach John Bruton, who we’ve just been notified has sadly passed away.

“To his family and friends, we send them our condolences at this very sad time.”

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly also expressed her condolences, while speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Edwin Poots said he will write to the Bruton family to express his condolences.

‘Nearly four decades of dedicated service to the people of Ireland’

The speaker of the Dail Sean O Fearghail said that John Bruton’s legacy will be his “total commitment to democracy, absolute integrity to politics and dedication to public service”.

In a statement, the Ceann Comhairle said: “I was saddened to learn of the passing of John Bruton and on behalf of the Houses of the Oireachtas pass on my deepest sympathies to his wife, Finola, children, Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, grandchildren, sister Mary, and his brother and our colleague in Dail Eireann, Deputy Richard Bruton.

“John Bruton gave nearly four decades of dedicated service to the people of Ireland as a Member of the Dail from his first election in 1969 to his retirement in 2005.

“As a TD, Minister and ultimately Taoiseach, John brought total commitment to democracy, absolute integrity to politics and dedication to public service. This will be his legacy.”

A politician ‘who impacted Anglo-Irish relations’

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he was sorry to hear about the death of John Bruton.

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, he said of the former taoiseach: “He positively impacted Anglo-Irish relations, and the Framework he agreed with John Major in 1995 was a crucial step in the road to the (Good Friday Agreement).

“My thoughts are with his family and friends.”

From the archives

In a 2019 interview in the Irish News, Fr Chris Hayden asked former Fine Gael leader John Bruton about the biggest influences on his political thinking. The former Taoiseach explained that he came from a constitutional nationalist family “who would not have supported the use of violence at any stage in the endeavour to built a new and better Ireland”.

“That’s an influence on me, and it’s a tradition that has been downgraded in a lot of Irish historiography, which has glorified the blood-sacrifices, the ambushes, the shootings that were part of the struggle between 1916 and 1923, and the civil war that was inevitable,” he added.

“Once you declare an absolute right to a 32 county republic, and you don’t achieve it, and you use violence to get there, civil war becomes inevitable.

“I strongly support the view that if we’re ever to make progress in this country, we’ll make it on the basis of peaceful cooperation with other countries and peaceful resolution of any internal differences we have ourselves, or with our neighbours.

“In my view, that’s the path we should have stayed on, the path of Daniel O’Connell, Parnell and John Redmond.”