John Bruton, Irish leader who played a key role in Northern Ireland’s peace process, dies at 76

LONDON — Former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, who played a key role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, has died at the age of 76.

Bruton’s family said he died Tuesday in a Dublin hospital after a long illness.

“He was a good husband, a good father and a true patriot,” said a family statement released by Bruton’s Fine Gael party.

First elected to Ireland’s parliament, the Dail, aged 22, Bruton led the centrist Fine Gael party between 1990 and 2001.

Bruton was taoiseach, or prime minister, from 1994 to 1997, a period in which Northern Ireland’s rival militant groups were coaxed into peace talks. The often fraught negotiations culminated in the Good Friday peace accord in 1998, by which time Bruton had lost Ireland’s 1997 election to rival party Fianna Fail, led by Bertie Ahern.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins said Bruton’s contribution to the peace process was “very significant.”

“Very open and forthright in his opinions, John had a great sense of humor which was a great help in ensuring a sense of collegiality and that small issues would never be allowed to defeat what was important in relation to the things that mattered most,” Higgins said.

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Former British Prime Minister John Major, who drew up a 1995 framework document with Bruton that helped pave the way for peace, said the Irish leader had been “a brave and talented taoiseach who contributed mightily to the early days of the peace process.

“In testing circumstances, he put peace above political self-interest to progress the path towards the end of violence,” Major said. “He was a formidable servant of the Irish nation and of peace, and I am deeply saddened at his passing.”

After retiring from politics, Bruton served as European Union ambassador to the United States between 2004 and 2009.

Bruton is survived by his wife, Finola, a son, three daughters and extended family.