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Former Irish leaders remember John Bruton as an ‘icon’ with extraordinary career

Former Irish premiers have paid tribute to their predecessor John Bruton as a man brimming with ideas and who worked “extremely hard” for his country.

Enda Kenny, who served as taoiseach from 2011-2017, said his Fine Gael colleague John Bruton’s death marks the passing of “a political icon in Co Meath and in Ireland”.

Former taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern, who won the 1997 Irish election that would deny John Bruton a second term in government, said the former premier had an “extraordinary career”.

John Bruton funeral
The coffin of former taoiseach John Bruton is carried on a gun carriage following his state funeral (Brian Lawless/PA)

Current taoiseach Leo Varadkar said during the graveside oration that he looked to him for guidance, and asked him recently “how it was possible to lead a three-party government successfully and to keep it together?”.

Mr Bruton was taoiseach during the “rainbow coalition” government from 1994-1997, comprising his Fine Gael party, Labour and the Democratic Left.

Mr Kenny and Mr Ahern were among the politicians and dignitaries in attendance at the State funeral for Mr Bruton, held in Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in Dunboyne, Co Meath on Saturday.

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen was also in attendance at the funeral mass.

Mr Ahern said Mr Bruton was a “decent” guy who he had worked with to reform the Irish parliament’s lower house (the Dail) in the early 1980s.

He said that during Brexit debates at Westminster, the two leaders represented Ireland “against the Brexiteers”.

“I served with John for over 40 years in one form or another, from being in the Dail and out of the Dail,” Mr Ahern told reporters.

“He was a good guy, a decent person, a good politician, he worked extremely hard and served the country well.”

John Bruton funeral
John Brunton’s wife Finola and daughter Mary Elizabeth following his state funeral (Brian Lawless/PA)

“In recent years, when we were over in the House of Commons during the Brexit debates, (his wife Finola would) always be there and she’d sit through the boring debates that John and myself would have with Brexiteers.

“I think he served us so well, and I think he did so many jobs at home and abroad, I had a lot of dealings with him when I was taoiseach, when he was EU ambassador to Washington and he worked incredibly hard.”

Former taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Bruton “loved his family, he loved his politics, he loved his country”.

“Nobody could question his integrity and his motivations and intentions in politics were all for the right reasons: take action, sort it out, make the lives of the people better.

“And if the fundamental question for any politician is ‘did you leave your country in a better shape than you found it?’ He did.

John Bruton funeral
Former taoiseach Enda Kenny said John Brunton’s death marks the passing of an era

“He had the greatest and deepest respect for his office and was a person with a restless mind, was always wanting to try new concepts and make decisions about new issues in a changing Ireland and he was very conscious of that,” Mr Kenny told reporters.

“A friend of mine for 50 years, I feel that deeply, but for Finola, and his family, it’s the passing of an era.

“It is an emotional day. I see his face, I hear his voice. I know his mind – you’d certainly know that John Bruton was in a room when you were with him.

“And from that point of view, it’s a passing of an era here in Dunboyne, the passing of a political icon in Co Meath and in Ireland.”