Peter Barry obituary

Peter-Barry-obituary

The Irish politician Peter Barry, who has died aged 88, played a key role in the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985. The former Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister helped shape the model on which relations between Dublin and London would eventually be founded during the peace process years of the 1990s.

As foreign minister in 1982, alongside his boss, the taoiseach and leader of the Fine Gael party in the Irish Republic, Garrett FitzGerald, Barry had become increasingly alarmed over the rise of the Provisional IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin, since the death of 10 prisoners in the 1981 H-block hunger strike. To blunt the edge of rising radical nationalism in Northern Ireland and shore up support for the more moderate Social Democratic and Labour party, FitzGerald and Barry engaged in talks with Margaret Thatcher to persuade her to introduce the 1985 agreement.

In return for more security co-operation on the island (including the extradition of republican suspects to the north), the Fine Gael-Labour government in Dublin were given a more active role in the day-to-day running of Northern Ireland. Irish officials were dispatched to Belfast and soon became embedded into what was known as the bunker, the Irish government’s heavily fortified compound in the east of the city.

Barry and other Irish ministers then used their influence to obtain some changes to British policies, such as the banning of a controversial Orange parade in Portadown, County Armagh, as well as more overall intervention on British decision-making in the province.

The bunker became a focal point of unionist and loyalist protest, and Barry himself a unionist hate figure. In 1986 he found himself uniquely standing in four separate Northern Ireland parliamentary byelections – a candidate called Peter Barry (in fact a unionist activist named Wesley Robert Williamson who had changed his name by deed poll) was put up against a united unionist electoral front in North Antrim, South Antrim, East Derry and Strangford in February of that year.

The unionists regarded the agreement Thatcher signed with FitzGerald as treason, and while Barry was the hate figure, it was Thatcher’s effigy that was burned during a mass rally at Belfast City Hall, during which the Rev Ian Paisley memorably bellowed out, Never, never, never after asking the crowd if Dublin had a right to have a say over the governance of Northern Ireland.

Even the Royal Ulster Constabulary, seen by many nationalists and republicans as a unionist police force, had the Barry label hurled at them during the protests. As the RUC held the line and protected the bunker from mass assaults, as well as upholding the ban on the Portadown march, which led to rioting and the death of one loyalist protester, hardline unionists jibed that the police had become Barry’s boot boys.

Peter was born in the prosperous Cork suburb of Blackrock, when the Irish Free State was only six years old and the wounds of the civil war between those who accepted partition and those who violently opposed it were still bleeding. The son of Anthony, who ran the family business Barry’s Tea, and his wife, Rita (nee Costello), Peter was educated at Christian Brothers’ college, Cork. He followed his father on parallel career paths: both served as lord mayor of Cork and then in the Dáil for Fine Gael, and Peter also became a major importer for and shareholder in the business. He turned it into what is now a multimillion-euro brand. The product, popular throughout Ireland, was inevitably subjected to a unionist boycott in the 80s.

Barry entered the Dáil in 1969 for Cork City South-East. In 1973 he joined Liam Cosgrave’s coalition cabinet as minister for transport and power. He became minister for education in 1976, and, when FitzGerald became leader of Fine Gael three years later, he was elected his deputy. From 1981 to 1982 Barry served as minister for the environment and was then appointed foreign minister, a position he held for five years. For the last couple of months of FitzGerald’s government, he was tánaiste or deputy prime minister. His star was always hitched to the rise of FitzGerald, whom Barry regarded as a hero and mentor, believing that his leader had stepped down too early as head of Fine Gael in 1987 when the party lost 19 seats to its old rival, Fianna Fáil. Barry contended that Fine Gael would have settled down if FitzGerald had stayed in the post, instead of remaining out of power for more than a decade. Barry himself retired in 1997.

His political lineage continues to this day, with one of his daughters, Deirdre Clune, serving as a TD for Cork South Central, and in 2014 as an MEP for Ireland South in the European parliament. Barry’s wife, Margaret (nee O’Mullane), whom he married in 1958, died in 2013. He is survived by their six children, Tony, Deirdre, Donagh, Conor, Peter Jr, and Fiona.

• Peter Barry, politician, born 10 August 1928; died 26 August 2016

News Source TheGuardianNews

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