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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Gene Fitzgerald

Minister under two taoisigh and MEP who never lost an election

Gene Fitzgerald who has died aged 75 had the distinction of never losing an election and held a number of ministerial portfolios for Fianna Fail and also served in Europe as an MEP.

In a tribute, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said: "Gene was a true gentleman of Irish politics and he will be sorely missed by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.

"Gene's kindness and unfailing good humour was matched only by his great wisdom and love of his country. Gene was an unassuming decent family man who contributed massively to Irish public life," he said.

Gene Fitzgerald will be remembered for his brief and unsuccessful tenure as minister for finance under Charles Haughey in 1981 -- a time when the country was in the throes of a severe recession.

When Mr Fitzgerald was appointed to Finance, Government borrowing was 145 per cent of GNP and the annual deficit on the balance of payments was more than £700 million -- 9 per cent of GNP.

But with an election looming, Mr Fitzgerald's budget failed to take the tough decisions the country needed to get the public finances back on track.

At the time he argued that swingeing cutbacks would hit jobs and cause hardship, but the impression remained that he allowed Mr Haughey to set the economic agenda.

As a result, the country lurched towards bankruptcy and a few months later an emergency budget had to be rushed through to deal with the perilous deterioration of the national finances.

Gene Fitzgerald was born in Crookstown, Co Cork, in August 1932. He was educated nearby in Cork at the Presentation Brothers College. FitzGerald was first elected to Dail Eireann in a by-election in 1972. He remained as a Fianna Fail TD for the constituency of Cork South Central for 15 years, serving for almost five years as a minister in five portfolios as well as enjoying a successful stint in Brussels.

He stepped down from active politics in 1994 after a career spanning 21 years. At that time he cited family reasons for his decision. "I want to spend more time with my wife, Noreeen, and my family and to enjoy the beautiful countryside of Cork and Kerry. When I was Minister for Labour, I always supported the idea of early retirement and now I'm going to take some of my own advice," he said.

After retiring from representative politics, he continued to serve Fianna Fail as honorary secretary.

Mr Ahern said he wanted to record his appreciation for Mr Fitzgerald's "unbroken lifetime of service to Cork, Fianna Fail and Ireland".

"I also want to acknowledge that Gene was a great source of counsel to me over the years, especially when I served in the Departments of Labour and Finance.

Gene had been around both of these tracks before me and he was always available with a listening ear and a generous word of advice.

"Indeed, in his role as honorary secretary, Gene was in contact with me up until very recently," he said.

Mr Fitzgerald served as a TD in Cork from 1972 until 1987 and was a minister under both Jack Lynch and Charlie Haughey. Mr Ahern described him as an "electoral phenomenon" as "the people of Cork time after time voted in their thousands for Gene Fitzgerald".

"Gene never lost an election, contesting successfully five general elections and two European elections. His record is the envy of any politician," he said.

Although he backed George Colley in the Fianna Fail leadership contest of 1979, prompted by Mr Lynch's resignation, Mr Fitzgerald was retained as a minister by Mr Haughey.

Mr Fitzgerald backed Mr Haughey in the numerous leadership heaves over the intervening years.

Mr Fitzgerald is survived by his wife, Noreen, his children Aileen, Aine, Aindrias, Niamh and Eimear, his sister Mamie and his brother Dan.

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