Dublin (AFP) - 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.
Reynolds served twice as taoiseach, or prime minister: once in 1992 and then again in 1993-94.
His son Philip, who announced that Reynolds had died overnight Wednesday, said his father had recently been suffering from the late stages of Alzheimer's disease.
The Irish government said Reynolds would be given a state funeral on Monday, and that all government buildings would fly flags at half mast until the funeral.
The self-made businessman, who accumulated his fortune from publishing, pet food and dance halls, sat in parliament from 1977 to 2002, serving in a number of ministerial posts.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he learnt of the news "with great regret".
He hailed Reynolds' contribution towards peace in Northern Ireland, saying he "played an important part in bringing together differing strands of political opinion".
Irish President Michael D. Higgins, who served in cabinet with Reynolds, said he would be remembered as a dynamic and courageous politician.
"Former taoiseach Reynolds was committed to serving the people of Ireland with all of his energy. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to his significant contribution to our contemporary society," he said in a statement.
In 1993, Reynolds and then British prime minister John Majorsigned the Downing Street Declaration, which affirmed the right to self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland.
The key text 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-long sectarian 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 it to join the Republic of Ireland.
"Our world owes him a profound debt of gratitude," said former US president Bill Clinton.
US Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to Reynolds' "instrumental role in the 1993 Downing Street Declaration ... and his efforts to enact subsequent ceasefires" which he said "paved the way for every major peace agreement for the last twenty years".
Biden urged "today’s leaders to continue advancing the peace process in Northern Ireland, so that all of its citizens can live in the peaceful, prosperous, and shared community that Reynolds envisioned".
- 'Who is afraid of peace?' -
From Sinn Fein, the political wing of the now-defunct IRA, party president Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, both lauded Reynolds' role in bringing about peace.
Unionist politicians said his acceptance of the principle of consent in Northern Ireland, via the Downing Street Declaration, helped sell the peace process to the Protestant majority.
Major, the former British prime minister who worked with Reynolds towards peace, said Reynolds was a statesman who risked his own position to achieve peace.
"Albert Reynolds was at the heart of the success of the Irish peace process," Major said in a statement.
"Without Albert, it may never have started -- or might have stalled at an early stage -- and Ireland, North and South, might still be enduring the violence that scarred daily lives for so long."
Born November 3, 1932 in the small town of Rooskey in Ireland's midwest, Reynolds had numerous business interests before turning to politics as a member of the centrist party Fianna Fail.
"Albert Reynolds asked the defining question 'who is afraid of peace?'," the party said on its website.
"His determination brought about what had seemed impossible."
Former prime minister Bertie Ahern, who succeeded Reynolds as Fianna Fail leader, said he was "deeply saddened" by his predecessor's death.
"When the definitive history of this period is written, his name deserves to stand tall," he said in a statement.
Though both his tenures as prime minister were short, Reynolds is also remembered for pressing for greater European Union integration and negotiating EU funds which arguably paved the wave for the Irish economic boom of the 1990s.