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Check out this video of Albert Reynolds playing a small part in ending a hijacking crisis

It’s 1981 and the Minister for Transport is in the thick of a major stand off at a French airport.

Source: doykeyes92/YouTube

THE SAD PASSING of Albert Reynolds give us a chance to remember not just his time as taoiseach but also as a cabinet minister in the 1980s and early 90s.

Reynolds was appointed Minister for Transport in 1980 and on 2 May 1981 he was involved in a bizarre incident in which an Aer Lingus plane was hijacked en route from Dublin to London.

Flight EI164 was about five minutes from Heathrow airport when passenger Laurence James Downey, 55-year-old Australian, is said to have gone into the cabin toilet, doused himself with petrol and the found his way into the cockpit holding a lighter and making threats unless he was taken to Iran.

The pilot told him they did not have enough fuel to make it Iran so he asked to go to France with the plane subsequently landing at Le Touquet in northern France.

By this time Minister Reynolds had mobilised and informed the media of what Downey was demanding: for the Pope to reveal the Third Secret of Fatima.

reynolds hijacking 1

The above clip from RTÉ’s Reeling in the Years (from 2.21 to 4.54) shows him informing bemused reporters of Downey’s demands. One journalist enquires as to what the Third Secret of Fatima is before a young Sam Smyth, hanging on Reynolds’ shoulder, says it is religious writing.

Typical of Reynolds he wasn’t giving much away, adding: ”It’s religious secrets. It’s not for me to say what it is.”

Eventually, after a nearly 10-hour stand off, French special forces stormed the plane and apprehended Downey. No shots were fired and no one was injured.

albert reynolds hijacking 2

A smiling Reynolds emerged to tell reporters what had happened:

They came in from the rear and the side doors. He didn’t notice the lights going on in the cockpit so they came in from behind and surprised him. He didn’t offer any resistance. There was no trouble and that was it and nobody was hurt.

Later we see the minister, cigarette in hand, phoning the Taoiseach to update him on the situation.

albert reynolds hijacking 3

“But there’s absolutely delight all around,” he tells Charles Haughey, clearly very satisfied with a great day’s work.

Downey was later sentenced to five years in prison. Reynolds went onto serve in several cabinet posts, including Minister for Finance, before becoming taoiseach in 1992.

Albert Reynolds: A political life in pictures

Read: Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds has passed away

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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