We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.


Pat Rabbitte John Bruton was a thoughtful and substantial politician

The former government minister says the late Taoiseach was intellectually curious, committed to public service, and without pretension.

JOHN BRUTON’S PREMATURE passing is a loss to public life. He was a cerebral politician, intellectually curious, committed to public service and without pretension.

As Taoiseach in the mid-90s, he was a skilful manager of a three-party government, which generally has been recognised as one of the better governments of the last 50 years.

234Dick Spring_90642820 Leaders of the Rainbow Coalition Proinsias de Rossa of Democratic Left, John Bruton FG and Dick Spring of Labour.

This surprised many because, in the 80s, John was a far more robust and partisan politician. He is one who became an impartial and generous chairman of a progressive government which, for example, prosecuted a successful referendum to permit divorce, something that Bruton the Politician had not been traditionally associated with.

file-photo-dated-011295-of-irelands-prime-minister-john-bruton-makes-a-point-during-a-speech-with-president-clinton-outside-the-goverment-building-dublin-former-irish-premier-john-bruton-has-died File photo: John Bruton with Bill Clinton in 1995. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

However, it was the economic lift-off in the 1990s that distinguished that Rainbow Government, without risking the kind of collapse that happened later. Jobs were added at a thousand per week, growth was steady, the budget was in marginal surplus and young emigrants were starting to return home.

Our time in the Dáil

I had a good rapport with John. I will not easily forget that on the day after the new Cabinet was formed in 1994, the largest plant in my constituency, Packard Electric, was closed by General Motors with the loss of hundreds of jobs. It was an industrial disaster for what was then an unemployment black spot.

John gave me a commitment regarding the task force that I had set up comprising local business leaders, academics from the technical college and representatives from the local Chamber of Commerce. He said if they came up with worthwhile proposals, money would be forthcoming to implement the recommendations.

That money was later provided, and the outcome was a model for dealing with that kind of industrial blow. John was particularly enamoured of special education courses run in the college for the employees. Some people were retrained, some got jobs in an improving economy, others went back to education and some retired.

97 Mary Robinson_90669804 President Mary Robinson leaving Aras an Uachtarain for the last time, 1997. Behind her are Pat Rabbitte and John Bruton, to far left.

John and I had the same birthday. May 18. On at least two occasions I can recall, a huge birthday cake was brought into the Cabinet Room and suitably attacked. Another time, I had threatened to place a price-fixing order on the price of the pint. John tried to dissuade me on the grounds that it was contrary to competition policy. He changed his mind when he found it was hugely popular at a time when the vendors were gouging the public.

A democrat

John Bruton was a more ideological politician in his earlier years in the Dáil when he held a number of ministries but, like many of us, he grew to become more pragmatic when he ascended the office of Taoiseach and had to co-exist with two other parties. He continued after leaving the Dáil to engage in public discourse and pursued his passion for the European concept when he served as EU Ambassador to the United States.

621File Photo John Bruton Has Died_90698677 File Photo: John Bruton (L) in his office with Press Secretary Shane Kenny in 1995.

John will forever be associated with the budget that caused the Government to collapse on the taxing of children’s shoes, but I believe he received too little kudos for the progressive legislation enacted during the Rainbow Government. He would also have little tolerance for the populism so widespread now in politics since the fragmentation that followed the financial crash.

I extend my condolences to Finola and his family. He was a thoughtful and substantial politician who majored in the economy, promoted the European ideal and was a lead advocate on the necessity to recognise the unionist tradition on the Island before it became mainstream. May he rest in peace. 

Pat Rabbitte is the former leader of the Labour Party and former Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications of Ireland.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel