President and Taoiseach lead tributes to 'icon of decency'
President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Enda Kenny today led tributes to the late Dr Garret FitzGerald.
Mrs McAleese said she was deeply saddened by the death of Dr FitzGerald, adding he "lived his life with total integrity, unrelenting purpose and an unquenchable concern for the welfare of Ireland and its citizens".
"As a public representative in the Seanad and Dáil, Garret was a persuasive voice for progressive reform; as Minister for Foreign Affairs, he anchored Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe and enhanced our national reputation in the world; and, as Taoiseach, he courageously led the debate for a more tolerant and inclusive Ireland," she said.
"His crowning achievement in politics was his negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which was a key milestone on the road to peace and partnership politics in Northern Ireland," she said.
Mr Kenny extended sympathy on behalf of the people of Ireland to his family, especially his children, Mark, John and Mary.
He said the former Taoiseach was a unique figure who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland and he referred to Dr FitzGerald’s towering intellect, enthusiasm for life and optimism for politics which he said they he would be missed by everyone, especially Fine Gael.
Describing him as a true Republican, and an icon of decency in public life, Mr Kenny said he was also a man of humility, generosity and warmth. “He would have been very happy to hear the words of her Majesty on the state visit last night,” he said.
Acknowledging the part he played in the peace process, and his father before him, Mr Kenny said he had last spoken to him a month ago. “He had an eternal optimism for what could be achieved through politics,” he said.
Former Education Minister Gemma Hussey said that Dr FitzGerald was a man of utter integrity and sincerity whom she had known since the late 1960s. She had once had the privilege of going on holidays with his family in France and referred to his appetite for mushy peas. “One of his obsessions was to make Ireland a more pluralist society and he had a natural feminism. He attracted people like me into politics and we were never disappointed,” she said.
“He loved young people and had an intense love for young people in his family, his children and his grandchildren. He loved new thinking, fresh thinking,” she said.
Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds recalled: “We used to meet regularly. He would have been there last night at Dublin Castle if he was free to go. Everyone would have loved to see him there.”
Former Fine Gael TD, Ivan Yates recalled the late Taoiseach’s work ethic: “You could have no better towering role model. His personal standards of integrity and ethics and his attitude to public service were exemplary. When he left Aer Lingus in the 1960s he was replaced by four people and two computers. He lived his life for statistics.”
Close friend, former Tánaiste and leader of Progressive Democrats, Michael McDowell commented: “He was a towering man in Irish politics and a very good friend and decent honourable and upright man. He was devoted to his late wife Joan who suffered ill health. He went back to the house every day when he was Taoiseach to have lunch with her.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Dr FitzGerald had served the Irish people with "great intelligence, decency and commitment" and given "distinguished and patriotic service to our people".
"Even in recent years, though he had long stepped out of the arena of party politics, Garret took to the campaign trail with vigour and determination to help ensure the passing of EU referenda.
"Though my party did not necessarily agree with Garret on every political issue, I greatly admired his integrity, his abilities and his unfailing politeness and courtesy”. He recalled how Dr Fitzgerald had travelled to Cork two years ago to campaign in the second referendum on the Nice Treaty.
Former Fine Gael TD and Senator, Maurice Manning, a good friend of Dr Fitzgerald, described the former Taioiseach as somebody with a “huge sense of fun. He loved partying”, Mr Manning told Newstalk. “He loved socialising. He was a great host.
“He loved butter and mushy peas and plenty of salt and cream and all the unhealthy things. He knew how to give a party”
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn described the peace process in Northern Ireland as probably Garret FitzGerald’s finest political achievement. “He can be credited with leading Ireland on the path of rapprochement with Britain and truly paving the way for the Anglo Irish Agreement”
Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the former Taoiseach was a "unique figure in the political life of this State and of Ireland over many years".
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.
"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," he said.
"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."