08/21/2014 08:32 EDT | Updated 10/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Albert Reynolds, Irish prime minister who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, dies at 81

DUBLIN - Albert Reynolds, the straight-talking Irish prime minister who played a key role in delivering peace to Northern Ireland but struggled to keep his own governments intact, died Thursday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 81.

His eldest son, Philip, said he died around 3 a.m. at his Dublin home, where in recent years he required 24-hour care.

Reynolds, a renowned deal-maker from rural County Roscommon who made millions running rural dance halls and a pet food company, led two feud-prone coalition governments from 1992 to 1994.

During his turbulent tenure, Reynolds made peace in the neighbouring British territory of Northern Ireland his top priority. Together with then-British Prime Minister John Major he unveiled a plan in 1993, called the Downing Street Declaration, that spelled out the path to peace. He successfully pressed the outlawed Irish Republican Army to call a 1994 cease-fire.

"Everyone told me: You can't talk to the IRA. I figured it was well past time to bend some rules for the cause of peace," Reynolds told The Associated Press in a 1994 interview, when he was being touted as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate.

Yet within months of that peacemaking triumph, Reynolds was forced to quit as leader of Ireland's centrist Fianna Fail party after his coalition partners in the left-wing Labour Party withdrew from the government in protest over his take-it-or-leave-it management style.

Even before becoming prime minister, Reynolds was accused of recklessness while running the commerce department in the late 1980s, where he promoted a state insurance scheme for the country's top beef baron to export cattle to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Taxpayers repaid the beef industry around 225 million euros ($300 million) in losses when Iraq failed to pay.

Reynolds' first coalition government collapsed in 1992 during a state investigation into the ethics of that deal. His second fell apart after he ignored Labour's objections to the promotion of his attorney general, who was accused of suppressing a Northern Ireland extradition warrant for a pedophile priest.

Ireland plans a full state funeral, but details have yet to be announced. Reynolds is survived by his wife and seven children.