DUBLIN - Former Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds, a central figure in the Northern Ireland peace process who helped broker the 1994 IRA ceasefire, has died aged 81, Irish broadcaster RTE reported Thursday.
Reynolds served as taoiseach twice, once in 1992 and then again in 1993-94, but had recently been suffering from the last stages of Alzheimer's disease, his son Philip revealed earlier this week.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams paid tribute on Twitter, sending a message of support to Reynolds' family.
"Albert acted on North when it mattered. RIP," he said.
Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, also a member of Sinn Fein, lauded Reynolds' role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
"Very sad to hear that former taoiseach Albert Reynolds has died," he tweeted.
"Deep sympathy to Kathleen and family. Albert was a peacemaker. #Appreciation." A wealthy businessman, Reynolds was first elected to parliament in 1977 for the Longford-Westmeath constituency for the centrist Fianna Fail party.
A biography of Reynolds on the party's website said that "without a doubt his greatest achievement was in Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations, signing the Downing Street Declaration in 1993.
"It was Reynolds' determination that gave impetus to the peace process and the establishment of an IRA ceasefire in 1994, followed shortly afterwards by a loyalist ceasefire.
"Albert Reynolds asked the defining question 'who is afraid of peace?' "His determination brought about what had seemed impossible," added the online biography.
Reputation will 'stand tall'
Former prime minister Bertie Ahern, who succeeded Reynolds as party leader, said he was "deeply saddened" by his predecessor's death and praised his "courage, perseverance and his commitment to democratic politics. " "I was privileged to serve as his minister for finance," he said in a statement.
"Albert Reynolds was an astute political leader who will always be remembered for his stalwart efforts in pursuing peace.
"He was not afraid to take political risks to further the path of reconciliation.
"When the definitive history of this period is written, his name deserves to stand tall." Reynolds signed the Downing Street Declaration with his British counterpart John Major in 1993.
It was followed a few months later by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire and is regarded as a precursor to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, generally seen as the end of the decades old conflict known as The Troubles.
The historic peace deal was signed by Protestant unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic republicans, who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland.
Born 3 November 1932 in the small town of Rooskey in the midwest, Reynolds became a shrewd businessman making his fortune in publishing, pet food and dance halls - leading many to call his supporters in parliament the "country and western wing."
He became the prime minister in February 1992 after his party leader Charlie Haughey stepped down over a phone-tapping scandal and he ruthlessly cleared the cabinet of those loyal to his predecessor.