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My mentor, ally, friend and a political father for 19 years

MY first memory of meeting Garret was sitting on the floor of the living room of his house on Eglinton Road, Donnybrook, in 1968.

I was surrounded by other UCD radical students who had crowded into his hospitable home to plan how we would take forward our demands for the reform of UCD.

It was noisy, boisterous, serious and full of youthful energy. After I had made a forceful intervention, a loud question was asked by his wife, Joan, enquiring who I was!

Garret, and a number of other junior lecturers, sided with the broad coalition of radical students who wanted to transform the college, on our way to changing the world.

What has stayed with me ever since was his enthusiasm, energy and conviction that he was nearly always right. When challenged with a different opinion, he would absorb the bit with which he agreed, which he then owned, and proceed down his own path.

My generation of UCD students changed the way the college functioned and Garret was a key ally. In 1969, I asked him for a reference as I left the school of architecture. It was highly complimentary.

I still have it and read it out to the large group of friends and supporters gathered at his 75th birthday celebrations.

Dick Spring promoted me into the cabinet in 1983 and as labour minister I worked closely with Garret and others. Unlike now, there was little public understanding of our economic difficulties.

One Christmas, Con Howard and Bob Ryan reintroduced the rural Wren Boys on St Stephen's Day into urban Dublin and we departed from the Triangle in Ranelagh around the sedate streets of that suburb.

A startled garda, on duty outside the Taoiseach's house, did not recognise the labour minister in disguise looking for a penny for the wren. Garret was typically hospitable, and brought me in to give Season's Greetings to a bedridden Joan.

While drink was readily offered, the disorganised Garret could not find any change.

The serious, earnest, statistically obsessed public persona of the man never revealed the sense of fun and good humour he possessed.

Liz and I were unable to take up his offers to go on a group holiday with a wide range of friends, drawn from across all spectrums to spend August in his beloved France.

His constant intellectual curiosity was infectious and it explains the diversity and popularity of his Saturday newspaper column.

It is incredible to me how he continued to write it every week until quite recently, despite his many other demanding engagements.

Gemma Hussey rightly described how his cabinet seldom, if ever, was divided by voting as his long, sometimes shambolic, meetings went on and on.

But I have reason to be grateful for his support. I had brought forward a proposal to government to ban the importation of fruit from apartheid South Africa, which was a cause celebre in Ireland because of the Dunnes' workers strike.

The cabinet was divided evenly, along party lines, until his casting vote carried the day, and the strike was over.

Garret always had time to talk, was full of a new enthusiasm, and equally concerned about what I was doing. Naturally, we differed on many things, but on most -- like the North, Europe, pluralism and a social market economy -- we fundamentally agreed.

He was a kind of political father to me in the constituency which we shared for 19 years in the Dail. I loved him dearly and will miss him greatly.

Irish Independent