The YP comment (August 22): A statesman ahead of time

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THE CONTRAST could not be greater between the former taoiseach Albert Reynolds and today’s leaders as they struggle to come to terms with the brutal and barbaric jihadists fanning the flames of hatred across the Middle East.

Mr Reynolds, who has died at the age of 81, was a statesman ahead of his time, a fact evidenced by the political partnership he forged with Sir John Major which paved the way for the Northern Ireland peace process.

He will be remembered as a courageous peacemaker who took immense political risks to begin a dialogue with IRA intermediaries that led to the 1993 Downing Street Declaration and a subsequent ceasefire by the terrorist organisation.

His rapport with Mr Major, who persevered with the peace process while his government was falling apart at the seams, helped to halt decades of bloodshed.

This was reflected in the warmth of the tributes yesterday from both sides of the religious divide in Ireland – and from both sides of the Irish Sea. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams spoke of the “down-to-earthness” of Mr Reynolds, while Mr Major referred to the risks that were taken to “deliver a future that many thought was impossible”.

Compare this with the response to the on-screen beheading of journalist James Foley by a British-speaking member of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the revulsion that this caused. President Obama wore an open-necked shirt when he gave his response – he did not have the courtesy to wear a tie – while David Cameron looked bewildered as he returned to Downing Street.

As for George W Bush and Tony Blair, the former was pictured taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge video craze when the gruesome pictures of Mr Foley’s last moments were being transmitted on the internet while the latter was enjoying the hospitality of a wealthy industrialist off Sicily.

Perhaps the death of Mr Reynolds will prick their consciences and remind them that the definition of a statesman is “a political leader whose wisdom and integrity wins great respect”. Yes, the taoiseach’s reputation did become besmirched by scandal – but his role in changing Anglo-Irish relations for the better should never be forgotten.

The test of time

this year’s GCSE results were always going to divide opinion because they were a test of Michael Gove’s controversial reforms as well as the academic abilities of the pupils concerned. They did not disappoint. While the number of students gaining upper end passes increased, the pass-rate in English dropped significantly, prompting a debate about whether this could be attributed to greater rigor, like strict new rules on resits, or a fair reflection of this particular cohort.

It is a conundrum that will only be reconciled if this Government, and future administrations, is now prepared to afford Mr Gove’s well-intended reforms the chance to pass the test of time – it is a source of regret that the exam system has been allowed to become so politicised. If pupils have done exceedingly well, why should they be denied an A* grade because of the whims of policy-makers?

At first glance, there are two other lessons that need to be gleaned from this year’s results once the initial euphoria has worn off. First, the importance of modern languages needs to be reflected in the school curriculum. Second, the CBI makes an important point when the business organisation says schools should in future be judged not only on their position in the league tables, but how well-prepared young people are for life beyond the classroom.

Racing certainty

BLINK and you will miss it. Even though the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’s day three highlight, will be over in less than a minute, it will not detract from the spectacle of Yorkshire’s premier race meeting of the year which continues to grow in stature under the astute stewardship of William Derby and his team.

His formula is a winning one – top-class sport, with spectator facilities to match, does pull the crowds and York’s record prize fund of £3.5m helped to persuade connections to run dual Derby winner Australia, one of Flat racing’s greats, on the Knavesmire this week. York’s prestige has also contributed to horse racing’s upsurge in Yorkshire, eight of the 15 runners in today’s big race are locally-trained.

Picking the winner will still be challenging but there is one racing certainty – a combination of top-class racing, fine fashion and warm hospitality is an unbeatable treble which should not be missed.