Robinson leads tributes from the North
Published 19/05/2011 | 12:00
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, who bitterly opposed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, has led the tributes to former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald in Northern Ireland.
Dr FitzGerald had been a dominant figure in politics for more than 20 years, he said. They met on a number of occasions in turbulent times, although the encounters were always conducted on a friendly and courteous basis.
Mr Robinson said: "Dr FitzGerald and I disagreed profoundly on many things, especially the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but he never allowed political difference to become a bar to personal relations."
SDLP president and Nobel Laureate John Hume, a close friend, said Dr FitzGerald was an unswerving supporter of peace and the democratic politics of his party.
He said: "A moderniser and reformer Garret helped change the face of Irish politics for the better and he enthusiastically embraced Europe and the opportunities it afforded our island.
"He displayed great intellectual foresight and inner fortitude to develop initiatives such as the New Ireland Forum and the Anglo-Irish Agreement which allowed us to open new chapters in our history and ultimately paved the way to peace and the democratic institutions we enjoy today.
"His skills and abilities that marked him out as an outstanding Irish politician of his generation also distinguished him as a journalist and an academic."
Alliance Party leader David Ford said he would be remembered as one of Ireland's greatest statesmen.
He added: "He was very courageous when he led the Republic of Ireland at a very difficult time."
The head of the Church of Ireland, Alan Harper and Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland said Dr Fitzgerald had a unique and inspirational spirit for public service.
In a joint statement the churchmen said: "He took significant steps in many aspects of political life. He invested much of his energy and intellect in establishing the New Ireland Forum and the Anglo Irish Agreement. He was also an adept polemicist.
"He showed integrity and sincerity in all aspects of his long career. His passion for peace and his towering intellect were lived out in a humble and accessible personality."
The former SDLP leader and Foyle MP Mark Durkan said he was a great man with a great mind and a huge heart - a man of principle and of purpose, with a passion for change and improvement. He made an absolutely pivotal contribution to political development.
He said: "He endured Thatcher's 'gratuitously offensive' outburst of "Out! Out! Out!" and stuck with engagement when a lot of popular and media advice was calling for a more dramatic response.
"He could ignore the impulses because he could identify the prospects that could come from a formal agreement between Britain and Ireland."
Mr Durkan added: "Garret FitzGerald was someone who was as ready to challenge himself as anyone else and was always trying to open up thought and test ideas. He had a huge range of attributes and interests, a deep sense of honour and an impish sense of humour."