A Tribute to Dr Garret Fitzgerald (9 February 1926 – 19 May 2011)

1947: Garret Fitzgerald and his wife Joan O'Farrell on their wedding day - October 10th 1947

Prominent International figures have paid tribute to Dr Garret Fitzgerald who sadly passed away this morning at the Mater private hospital in Dublin this morning following a short illness.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said it was with “great sadness” that he learned of the death of Dr Garret Fitzgerald.  In a message to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mr Barroso described the former Taoiseach as “a great leader of the Irish people and a committed and outstanding European”.  Mr Barroso said “Throughout his life Dr Fitzgerald was a passionate advocate of Ireland’s active membership of the European Union.  We will remember him for the central role he played both in Ireland and in Irish-European relations, but also for his convictions, his brilliance, his energy and his friendliness.  On behalf of the European Commission and on my own behalf, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to his family and friends and to the people of Ireland on the loss of this eminent statesman.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

Political figures from both Ireland and Britain have paid tribute to the former Taoiseach.

President Mary McAleese said she was ‘deeply saddened by the death of Dr Garret Fitzgerald’, she said he was ‘the Renaissance man of our time.’  ‘His thoughtful writing, distinctive voice and probing intellect all combined to make him one of our national treasures’.

1985: Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald with Margaret Tatcher at the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

Taoiseach Enda Kenny who had an early morning meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Dublin, said Dr Fitzgerald’s only concern was for the people and country of Ireland, “Garret Fitzgerald was a remarkable man who made a remarkable contribution to Irish life”, the Taoiseach said.  Taoiseach Enda Kenny went on to say, “His towering intellect, his enthusiasm for life, his optimism for politics was always balanced by his humility, his warmth, his bringing to public life of a real sense of dignity and integrity, and his interesting being focused entirely on his people and on the country.  He will be judged as being a true republican who was an icon of decency and high honour in public life.  The fluency of his economics was always balanced by the humility and generosity and warmth of his personal and family life.  He had an eternal optimism for what could be achieved in politics.  You could not tire him out and his beliefs that politics and democracy would work for peace.  Mr Kenny also said that his former Fine Gael party leader would have been happy to hear the Queen address Ireland last night as part of her state visit, “To see the work that he had done over very many years, and indeed his father (Desmond) before him, have played their part in putting the jigsaw of peace together.”

The Queen of England said she was ‘saddened to hear this morning’s news of the death of Garret Fitzgerald.  A true statesman, he made a lasting contribution to peace and will be greatly missed.’

Garett Fitzgerald, 'A commited and outstanding European.'

The British Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the Queen’s speech at a state dinner in Dublin Castle last night, said he watched Dr Fitzgerald when he was a student of politics, rather than someone involved in politics.  Mr Cameron said ‘He always struck me as someone who was a statesman, as well as a politician, someone who was in politics for all the right reasons and someone who made a huge contribution to the peace process and bringing reconciliation for all that had happened in the past.’  Mr Cameron went on to say ‘I hope today of all days, with the state visit and the warm relationship between Britain and Ireland that he can see, that some of his work has been completed.’

Dr Fitzgerald, who turned 85 last February, had been seriously ill for some weeks.  He was predeceased by his wife Joan and is survived by his three children, Mark, John and Mary and his ten grandchildren.  Referred to as “Garret the Good” by colleagues and opponents alike, his death was announced in a short family statement from his children John, Mark and Mary.  ‘The family of Dr Garret Fitzgerald are sad to announce that he has passed away this morning after a short illness,’ it said, in the statement the family paid tribute to the doctors, nurses and staff at the Dublin hospital.  Dr Fitzgerald had been undergoing treatment in the Mater private hospital for some weeks.

A State Funeral will take place this weekend for the former Taoiseach.  The remains of Dr Fitzgerald will lie in repose at the Mansion House in Dublin from 11am until 7pm.  Members of the public will have an oppurtunity to file past the coffin and sign a book of condolences before Dr Garret Fitzgerald’s remains will be taken to the Sacred Heart Church in Donybrook, Dublin.  Following a service there at 8pm on Saturday evening, there will be a further oppurtunity for members of the public to file past the coffin and offer their condolences to the family until 10.30pm.  The funeral mass takes place at 2.30pm on Sunday, with burial afterwards at Shanganagh Cemetery.  The cortege is expected to arrive at the cemetry around 4.30pm.

Fitzgerald was an early architect of peace in Northern Ireland.  He negotiated a 1985 treaty with Britain that gave Ireland a role in the affairs of the northern British six counties for the first time.  Fitzgerald was a unique figure in Irish politics:  an intellectual and university economist who turned to parliament halfway through his career.  His polished manners and soft-spoken wit offered a polar opposite to Ireland’s dominant politician of the day.  Dr Fitzgerald served twice as Taoiseach between 1981 and 1987 at the head of Fine Gael/Labour coalition governments.

Shoulder to Shoulder, Dr Garret Fitzgerald with Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Born in 1926, both of Dr Fitzgerald’s parents were involved in Sinn Féin during the War of Independence.  His father, Desmond, later served as minister for external affairs in the State’s first government.  In later life, Dr Fitzgerald often spoke of his desire to bring together the southern Catholic tradition of his father with the northern Protestant tradition of his mother, Mabel.  Fitzgerald went to lecture at UCD where he met his wife Joan, they were to have a famously close relationship, and later had three children together.  Dr Fitzgerald worked for Aer Lingus for some years before becoming an economic consultant and academic, and then a politician.

He was elected to the Seanad in 1965 and the Dáil in 1969, where he quickly made his mark, particularly in the debates on the arms crisis.  A supporter of the liberal wing of the party, known as The Just Society, he campaigned strongly in favour of Ireland joining the EEC in the 1972 Referendum.  When Fine Gael entered Government in 1973, he became Minister for Foreign Affairs, playing a leading role during Ireland’s first Presidency of the EEC.  He was also a key figure in negotiating the Sunningdale Agreement, which set up a short-lived power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.  He succeeded Liam Cosgrave as Fine Gael leader after the 1977 election defeat, encouraging the party in a more liberal direction while rebuilding the organisation from the ground up.

Dr Fitzgerald formed a minority coalition government with Labour’s Michael O’Leary as Tánaiste in 1981.  He desired a constitutional crusade to create a more pluralist Irish society.  But the coalition fell the following February when Budget proposals to extend VAT to children’s clothing and footwear were defeated.  Dr FitzGerald’s great rival, Charles Haughey, returned to power at the head of a short-lived minority government before, in November 1982, Fine Gael achieved its best result in over half a century by coming within five seats of Fianna Fáil.

A difficult economic situation led to tough and unpopular medicine, while in 1983 the electorate voted against Dr FitzGerald’s advice to amend the Constitution to protect the life of the unborn, and three years later rejected the introduction of divorce.

On Northern Ireland, the New Ireland Forum aimed to unite constitutional nationalists but its recommendations was rejected by the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Despite this setback, Dr FitzGerald kept working, signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, which gave Ireland a role in the northern British six counties and marked the high point of his political career.  But the economic situation remained dire and at the beginning of 1987 the Labour ministers walked out of government.

Mr Haughey returned to office, with Dr FitzGerald offering conditional support in the Dáil, foreshadowing Fine Gael’s Tallaght Strategy.  The next day, Dr FitzGerald resigned from the Fine Gael leadership.

Although he retired from the Dáil in 1992, he still took part in some political campaigns, particularly in the referenda on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties.  Dr Fitzgerald also served as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland for 12 years, from 1997 to 2009, during which time he presided over the NUI’s Centenary in 2008.  He wrote books and newspaper articles, lectured and travelled widely, and appeared on many radio and television programmes, including election coverage, most recently last February.

Dr Garret Fitzgerald’s interest in politics never waned – the former Taoiseach spent the day at the RDS, as Fine Gael triumphed in the recent General Election.

Dr Garett Fitzgerald, (9 - February 1926 - 19 May 2011), May He Rest in Peace.

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