Reynolds was an elected TD for Fianna Fáil in the party's landslide victory in 1977. He became a Minister under Charles Haughey, serving as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (now called Communications), Minister for Industry and Commerce and Minister for Finance. He resigned from Haughey cabinet in 1991, then replaced Haughey as Fianna Fáil's fifth leader in 1992.
He presided over two cabinets;
1992, a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition, which collapsed over comments made by Reynolds in the witness stand during the Hamilton Inquiry into the Beef Industry about PD leader and lonngtime critic of Reynolds, Desmond O'Malley, TD. Fianna Fáil suffered one of its worst ever electoral results in the following general election. They were expected to go into opposition, but ended up to the electorate's surprise back in government, in a coalition arrangement with Labour under Dick Spring.
1992-94: The Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition proved a difficult arrangement. It finally collapsed following Reynolds' decision, in the face of outright Labour opposition, to appoint Attorney-General Harry Whelehan, to become President of the High Court. It was revealed that the Attorney-General's office had mis-handled an attempt to extradite a paedophile Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Brendan Smyth. Reynolds was forced to go before Dáil Éireann and indicate that if he had known 'then' what he "knew now" about the incompetent handling of the case by the AG's office he would not have appointed Whelehan to the judicial post. However it was not enough. Labour resigned from government. Reynolds resigned as party leader and was replaced by his Minister for Finance, Bertie Ahern. But Ahern's attempts to form a new government failed, with Labour joining with two opposition parties, Fine Gael and Democratic Left, to form a new government.
In office, perhaps Reynolds' biggest achievement was in the Northern Peace Process, where he played a crucial role in securing an IRA ceasefire.
In 1997, Reynolds, at the urgings of Ahern (who was now taoiseach) agreed to seek the Fianna Fáil nomination for the presidency, which had become vacant following Mary Robinson's resignation. However Reynolds was humiliatingly beaten for the nomination by the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queens University, Belfast, former Fianna Fáil general election Mary McAleese. McAleese went on to win the 1997 presidential election.
Reynolds retired from Dáil Éireann in the 2002 general election.
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