Monday 24 July 2017

Review: Biography: Just Garret by Garret Fitzgerald

Liberties Press,€17.99

I was having a good old bitch about how utterly hopeless, venal, stupid, reckless and appalling our politicians were, and are, when the paperback edition of Garret FitzGerald's last tome arrived from Liberties Press and promptly shut me up. My cynicism (temporarily) disappeared. Garret the Good was one politician who was different.

The book came out in hardback in 2010, before Garret's death in May this year at the age of 85. The additions for this paperback -- many new photographs, a beautiful In Memoriam by his daughter Mary with whom he lived after his wife Joan's death, his own eulogy for Christopher Ewart Biggs, Fr Enda McDonagh's funeral oration -- could usefully make a small book of their own.

But it is the pictures that make this book so special. Garret in blue jim jams cuddling his great-grandson Andres has to be up there with the goodest great-grandads of all time.

There are other photos -- Garret as tousled-haired blonde cherub in early family black and whites; his handsome dad, Desmond FitzGerald (a one time Fine Gael minister for foreign affairs), his Northern Irish, Protestant mum; and his lean and sporty, sun-tanned brothers (he was the youngest by six years of three brothers).

These are snapshots of a big, privileged Irish Catholic family -- with the twist that mum was from 'the other side', the spur, he claimed, to his spending so much time on Northern Ireland, culminating in the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 which almost brought peace, and was definitely the blueprint for the process that came so many painful years later.

There are also pictures of Garret as globetrotting Taoiseach, Garret and Jimmy Carter, Garret and Ronald Reagan, Garret and Margaret Thatcher, Garret and Hillary Clinton, Garret and Nelson Mandela. And in all of them he looks relaxed, unhurried, alert, equal.

One blogger put it well after his death: "As someone born in the Celtic Tiger era it's impossible to imagine that Ireland (once) had a leader who combined courage and honesty with intellectual acumen."

Not that Garret was perfect. His intentions were always good but his actions sometimes were misguided. There was, for example, his extraordinary treatment of the hunger strikers' families when they came down south for help; he didn't like what they said, called the gardaí and had them removed from Leinster House. People whose sons were dying. Not his most glorious moment.

And there was the business with AIB and Ansbacher who wrote off debts of his of almost £200,000 in the early 1990s; he was in financial difficulty because of the collapse of the aircraft leasing company, GPA, in which he was a shareholder. And to be fair, he did sell the family home to try and repay his debts.

This is a comprehensive and honest account, with unforgettable pictures. One for the Christmas list, for a Fine Gael friend, perhaps.

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