Former taoiseach John Bruton’s role in peace process ‘often downplayed’

John Major and John Bruton
John Major and John Bruton John Major and John Bruton presenting the framework documents in 1995

John Bruton’s contribution to the peace process is often overlooked in favour of his predecessor and successor, according to former SDLP leader Baroness Margaret Ritchie.

The one-time South Down MP and Stormont minister, who sat on the board of Co-Operation Ireland alongside the former Fine Gael leader, said he had “helped lay the foundations for peace” but sometimes wasn’t given the credit he deserved.

Mr Bruton, who has died at the age of 76, became taoiseach soon after the IRA ceasefire in 1994. While many republicans are critical of his role during this period, there is wider recognition of the part he played convincing unionism of the peace process’s credibility.

“He believed in reconciliation and he believed in compromise,” Baroness Ritchie said.

“He was an arch critic and opponent of Sinn Féin, as long as the IRA had arms and resisted decommissioning.”

Former SDLP leader and now-peer Margaret Ritchie. Picture by Mal McCann
Former SDLP leader Baroness Margaret Ritchie. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

However, she said his role with John Major in bringing forward the so-called framework documents was an “essential component in building the peace”.

“In that sense, he clearly believed in a political process and he believed in a peace process – through his work with John Major he helped lay the foundations for peace,” she said.

“I remember when we used to attend the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, he tended to take a tougher approach than his predecessor Albert Reynolds and along with his successor Bertie Ahern, they often get greater credit for the part they played in the process than John Bruton, which is perhaps a little unfair.”

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Reg Empey said that while Mr Bruton was part of the Garret FitzGerald administration, which along with Margaret Thatcher signed 1985′s Anglo-Irish Agreement, he deserved credit for his contribution to the peace process.

“The Anglo-Irish Agreement wasn’t an especially pleasant experience for unionism but it’s fair to say John Bruton did some valuable work with John Major in the early stages of the peace process before there was a change of government,” he said.

Lord Empey said Mr Bruton also excelled in his role as EU ambassador following his retirement as a TD.

“”It was an unusual trajectory for someone to go from taoiseach to ambassador but he brought hands-on knowledge to that particular role,” he said.

The former East Belfast MLA said Mr Bruton was “often overlooked in the public consciousness” but nevertheless played a “important and decisive role” in the peace process, alongside John Major.