Monday 19 November 2018

Dr Garret FitzGerald dies in a Dublin hospital aged 85

Dr. FitzGerald at a photocall for the 'Act now for 2015' campaign in June 2010. Photo: Tom Burke
Irish Prime Minister Garret Fitzgerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher exchange documents after signing an Anglo-Irish agreement. Photo: Reuters
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan chats with Garret Fitzgerald. Photo: Reuters
Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prior to the Anglo Irish summit meeting at Chequers in 1984. Also present from left to right, ministers Peter Barry, Douglas Hurd, Dick Spring and Geoffrey Howe. Photo: Getty Images
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny TD & Former Taoisigh Dr Garret FitzGerald during Fine Gael's final public meeting of their Lisbon Reform Treaty campaign at the Westin Hotel. Photo: Collins Photo Agency
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern , former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald and John Hume, MP, MEP, at a press conference in the Burlington hotel, Dublin where they called for a yes vote in the forthcoming Nice Referendum. Photo: Collins Photo Agency reporters

Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald has died, his family announced this morning. Dr FitzGerald, who turned 85 last February, had been gravely 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.

In a statement, his family paid tribute to the doctors, nurses and staff at the Dublin hospital, where he passed away early this morning.

“They would like to thank the doctors, nurses and staff at The Mater Private hospital for the wonderful care he received during his illness.

He was a much loved and adored father, grandfather and great-grandfather and will be sadly missed by his extended family.

Details of Funeral arrangements will announced later.”

Dr FitzGerald served two terms in office as Taoiseach and continued to play a hugely active role in Irish public life since his retirement from politics in 1992.

A columnist for The Irish Times and prolific author, Dr FitzGerald was a frequent guest on radio and TV. His last appearance was on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show last month and his last radio interview was on Morning Ireland on March 10.

He was elected to the Seanad in 1965 and then to the Dail as a Fine Gael TD in 1969. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1973 to 1977 and leader of the party from 1977 to 1987.

Born in Dublin in 1926, his father Desmond FitzGerald was Minister for External Affairs, while his mother Mabel Washington McConnell was a strong republican of Ulster Protestant descent. His father was on the pro treaty side after the War of Independence.

Dr FitzGerald was educated at Belvedere College, Dublin and at UCD. He met his future political rival Charlie Haughey there and also his late wife Joan (nee O’Farrell) whom he married in 1947.

He worked in Aer Lingus after his marriage until 1959 when he left to lecture in economics at UCD. He was also a qualified barrister.

He was approached by Fianna Fail to join the party in the early 1960s, but found his political home in the liberal wing of Fine Gael. He had a very difficult relationship with the then Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave whose outlook was much more conservative and the two clashed frequently. In a 1972 Fine Gael Ard Fheis Mr Cosgrave referred to the need to root ‘mongrel foxes’ out of the party – a comment many thought was directed at Dr FitzGerald.

After the 1973 election Dr FitzGerald was given the Foreign Affairs portfolio although he had hoped for Finance. When Mr Cosgrave resigned as party leader after the 1977 election defeat, Dr FitzGerald became the new leader and set about modernising the party. His leadership saw a massive increase in support and popularity. Fine Gael won 65 seats in the 1981 General Election and formed a minority coalition government with Labour with Dr FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

A tough budget in January of 1982 saw the government defeated and they were out of government after the General Election of February 1982. However, a third General Election in November 1982 saw Dr FitzGerald returned as Taoiseach. Fine Gael won just five seats less than Fianna Fail and Dr FitzGerald was credited with the party’s success. He brought in bright young TDs including John Bruton, Michael Noonan, Alan Dukes, Ivan Yates and the late Jim Mitchell.

As Taoiseach he liberalised the contraception laws, but his attempt to introduce divorce was defeated in a referendum. He set up the New Ireland Forum in 1983 and signed the Anglo Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985 – the forerunner of the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 and subsequent ceasefires in the North.

The Fine Gael/Labour coalition lasted until 1987 but Fine Gael was heavily defeated in the General Election that year. The newly formed Progressive Democrats won 14 seats – mainly from Fine Gael. Dr FitzGerald retired as leader immediately afterwards and was succeeded by Alan Dukes. He published his autobiography All In A Life in 1991 and retired from politics in 1992. Since then he has been a commentator and sometimes thorn in Fine Gael’s side, disagreeing on policy issues.

However, following Enda Kenny’s elevation as taoiseach, Dr FitzGerald praised him warmly in the Irish Times column he wrote for 50 years.

"I thought Enda Kenny was most impressive — both in the warmth and genuine feeling he conveyed in his two speeches, and also in his brisk handling of his exchanges with Micheál Martin," Dr FitzGerald wrote of Mr Kenny’s Dáil performance on the day he was appointed taoiseach.

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