John Bruton

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John Gerard Bruton

Prime Minister of Ireland John Bruton (born 1947), who served in parliament since 1969, has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense, forthright leader. One of Bruton's goals is to establish peace between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its opposition, mainly Britain and Southern Ireland.

The 1990s has seen much change in Ireland—from a cultural and economic upturn to the overtures of peace, after nearly three decades of turmoil. Into this wellspring of hope came Ireland's newly elected prime minister, John Bruton.

A Fresh Perspective

Bruton has served in the Irish parliament since 1969. With his election to the highest governing office in the land (there is a president of Ireland, but that position serves primarily as head of state), Bruton, head of the Fine Gael party, served notice of a fresh perspective. For one thing, Bruton is no "media-driven politician," as one associate was quoted as saying in a National Review article by Conor Cruise O'Brien. Indeed, added O'Brien, "the Irish media don't like him and have consistently underestimated him." Conor points to Bruton's sometimes brusque manner in delivering policy, especially noticeable on television, which thrives on more upbeat personalities. But to those who run the parliament, Bruton represents "a person whose word is his bond."

The Bruton government, O'Brien went on to say, "has a lot going for it." High on the prime minister's agenda is the prospect of establishing and maintaining peaceful relations between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its opposition—mainly, Britian and Southern Ireland. In a 1995 St. Patrick's Day speech, U.S. President Bill Clinton himself praised Bruton "for his tireless efforts for peace and for continuing the work of his predecessor [former Prime Minister Albert Reynolds] in completing the Joint Framework Document for Northern Ireland" along with British Prime Minister John Major. Bruton, for his part, thanked Clinton for instilling in the IRA "the sense of confidence in itself and a glimpse of the political dividend that was there for them by pursuing a peaceful rather than a violent path."

Tried to Maintain a Delicate Balance

But tragic bombings in the metropolitan London area in the Spring of 1996 underscored the fragile nature of cease-fire efforts promoted by Bruton and by Gerry Adams, head of the IRA's political party, Sinn Fein. After one of the bombings, Bruton delivered a parliamentary speech denouncing the radical actions, but added that his government's door was open to Sinn Fein. In stating this, Bruton demonstrated that his approach was complementary to United States policy on Irish politics. (President Clinton's granting of a visa to Gerry Adams in 1995 is considered an important step in promoting peace.)

A former Deputy Leader of the Fine Gael party, Bruton, trained in law, served on numerous parliamentary committees, chiefly on topics of finance, industry and agriculture. A graduate of the University College, Dublin, Bruton married Finola Gill in 1981; the couple have four children.

Further Reading

National Review, January 23, 1995, p. 22.

U.S. Department of State Dispatch, March 27, 1995, p. 234. □

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John Bruton (brōō´tən), 1947–, Irish politician, b. Dublin. A lawyer and farm owner, he is a member of the centrist Fine Gael party. Bruton was first elected to the Irish parliament in 1969 and during the 1970s served as a junior minister. In Fine Gael cabinets during the 1980s, he was minister for industry, trade, commerce, and tourism (1982–83) and finance minister (1981–82; 1986–87). He became party leader in 1990 and was subsequently prime minister (1994–97), heading a three-party left-right coalition. As prime minister, Bruton promoted peace in Northern Ireland. Firmly opposed to the IRA, he suggested that only a majority vote by Ulster could lead to its incorporation into Ireland. In 1995, Bruton successfully campaigned for constitutional changes allowing divorce in the Irish Republic. He lost his party leadership post in 2001.

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Bruton, John Gerard (1947– ) Irish prime minister (1995–97). Bruton was elected to the Dáil in 1969. A member of Fine Gael, he rose steadily through the ministerial ranks, earning a reputation as a right-winger. He became leader of Fine Gael in 1990, and succeeded Albert Reynolds as prime minister. Bruton was succeeded by Bertie Ahern.