Country mourns political giant
THE country will say a fond farewell to "national treasure" Garret FitzGerald this weekend when he receives a state funeral.
The 85-year-old former Fine Gael Taoiseach died in hospital yesterday following a respiratory illness. He passed away just hours after Queen Elizabeth made a historic speech that was hailed as a culmination of the Northern Ireland peace process, to which he contributed enormously with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Dr FitzGerald had been invited to the state dinner and there had been an expectation in government circles that he may have been able to attend for part of the event in Dublin Castle.
But his condition deteriorated and he passed away early yesterday.
Announcing his death, Dr FitzGerald's family thanked doctors, nurses and staff at The Mater Private hospital for the "wonderful care" he received.
"He was a much-loved and adored father, grandfather and great-grandfather and will be sadly missed by his extended family," a statement said.
Dr FitzGerald served twice as Taoiseach, heading up Fine Gael--Labour coalition governments from 1981-1982 and 1982-1987.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered his family a state funeral, which was accepted -- but without the usual firing party at the graveside. Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend. Dr FitzGerald will lie in repose in the Mansion House in Dublin tomorrow, where people can pay their last respects.
He will then be removed to his local church in Donnybrook before the funeral on Sunday.
He will be buried alongside his wife Joan, who died in 1999, at Shanganagh cemetery in Shankill.
President Mary McAleese led tributes to the late Taoiseach, describing him as the "Renaissance man of our time" and "one of our national treasures".
"Above all, he was a true public servant. Steeped in the history of the State, he constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people," she said.
On the third day of her state visit, the queen also expressed her sympathies, calling Dr FitzGerald "a true statesman".
Mr Kenny, who had an early-morning meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said Dr FitzGerald's only concern was for the people and the country of Ireland.
"Garret FitzGerald was a remarkable man who made a remarkable contribution to Irish life," he said.
"His towering intellect, his enthusiasm for life, his optimism for politics was always balanced by his humility, his warmth, his bringing to public life a real sense of dignity and integrity, and his interest being focused entirely on his people and on the country."
The highlight of Dr FitzGerald's political career was the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, which granted the Government a role in the North.
Mr Kenny said Dr FitzGerald's commitment to achieving peace and reconciliation on this island, and between Ireland and Britain, reached its fruition this week with the visit of Queen Elizabeth.
Flags flew at half mast on all Government Buildings and the Dail held a minute's silence.
Before the Dail adjourned as a mark of respect, Mr Kenny led the tributes and was joined by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, Independent TD Shane Ross and TDs from his former Dublin South-East constituency.