Chuir an nuacht gur cailleadh Garret FitzGerald inniu an-bhrón orm go pearsanta.

Polaiteoir, fear léinn agus iriseoir den chéad scoth a bhí ann.

Bhí sé an-tiomanta i leith coincheap na seirbhíse poiblí agus d’fhreastal sé go stuama agus go gnaíúil ar phobal na hÉireann.

Bhí suim ar leith aige i ngnóthaí eachtracha agus Eorpacha.

Rinne sé an t-uafás oibre i dTuaisceart Éireann leis na traidisiúin agus pobail éagsúla ann a thabhairt le chéile.I am deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of Garret FitzGerald.

Garret FitzGerald has made an enormous contribution to Irish politics and to our wider society. 

He has served the Irish people with great intelligence, decency and commitment in a lifetime devoted to public service.

He was a hard-working politician of compassion and ability.

He was a prolific journalist of insight and understanding.

He was a brilliant academic of versatility and knowledge.  

 

Garret Fitzgerald came from a political family.  His parents had both been involved in the independence and Garret’s father, Desmond Fitzgerald, served as a Minister in the first Irish Free State Government.

 

From his parents, Garret learnt about the value of public service and it was a lesson he never forgot.  Garret Fitzgerald’s entire career – indeed his life and times – have been devoted to an overarching commitment to public service. 

 

He is someone who worked night and day for the betterment of our people.  Garret was defined by his huge interest in public affairs. 

 

As a politician, a commentator or an academic, he was always open and generous with his time.  Unlike many intellectuals, he also had the gift of listening.  He was normally right, but he was never obsessed with his own views. 

 

He always made an effort to listen to others and he was tolerant of those he did not agree with so long as they pursued their goals or objectives in an orderly and peaceful manner.

 

In his autobiography, he tells the story of how he was known as the ‘child of reconciliation’.  As I’ve mentioned his father had taken the Free State side in the Civil War, but Garret’s godparents were Sean and Margaret MacEntee, both prominent republicans, and Sean MacEntee of course was a founder of Fianna Fáil. 

 

 

That lack of bitterness, unusual for its time, had an impact on Garret Fitzgerald and he had a great respect for political opponents.  Can I say on a personal level that as a young student in UCC from the late seventies on, I developed a huge interest in politics.  I first canvassed in the elections where Charles Haughey and Garret went head to head.  These were titanic election battles and for those us who remember them – or were involved even if that was only canvassing and delivering leaflets – we will recall Garret always as an iconic figure in Irish politics and a politician that you could not help respecting and admiring.

 

Garret FitzGerald served for two terms as Taoiseach in the 1980s during difficult economic days. 

 

He started his career in politics in Seanad Eireann in 1965 and he was a TD for Dublin South East from 1969-1992.  He was an extraordinary vote-getter.  He topped the poll in his first election to the Dail and would do so in every other election up until and including 1987.

 

He was an immense political organiser.  He took over Fine Gael when the party was at a low ebb following the national coalition.  He built Fine Gael up again, restructuring and growing its organisation, and breathing new vitality and energy into the party.  He took Fine Gael to 70 seats in November 1982 which was, at the time, an unprecedented level of support for the party. This was an immense political achievement from an outstanding politician of his generation.   

 

As Taoiseach and prior to that Minister for Foreign Affairs, Garret FitzGerald was a strong advocate of peace in Northern Ireland. 

 

Northern Ireland and the resolution of its problems was a lifetime passion and inside or outside politics, he did what he could to foster reconciliation.

 

He was an implacable opponent of those who espoused violence as a means to a lasting political solution on this island and he worked sincerely towards building an Ireland free of conflict. 

 

He has the distinction of having being intimately involved in both the Sunningdale and Anglo-Irish Agreements.  The child of reconciliation as he was labelled in the aftermath of the Civil War had become a politician who made an immense and lasting contribution to peace and reconciliation on this island.    

 

He opposed sectarianism opening his autobiography with the story where as an innocent child of four or five, he made a derogatory remark about the religion of his father’s colleague Ernest Blythe.  Garret was shocked to hear his mother reply that she too was a Protestant.  That lesson also stayed with him and in his career he worked assiduously to heal the wounds on this island and bring Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter together.  In this respect, he was a pluralist republican and a patriot.

 

Garret was also a strong supporter of the European Union and he was passionate about the benefits European Union could bring to this country.

 

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.  I remember canvassing with him during the second Nice referendum and his knowledge of the issues was still infallible and immense.  He also brought to campaigning an enthusiasm that was infectious and an energy that left this younger man finding it hard to keep up!

 

I want to recall here today some instructive words spoken by Garret Fitzgerald on his final day as Taoiseach in 1987.  Following Charles Haughey’s election by the Dáil, Garret took quickly to his feet and extended his congratulations to Mr Haughey.  He then said some inspired words that have relevance to us and our times. 

 

“Deputy Haughey will be aware that there exists in this House a clear and decisive majority in favour of decisive action in the economic sphere. I refer to the action necessary to create conditions favouring increased employment and a lasting cut in the tax burden achieved by means which do not add further to the share of public revenue preempted by interest payments which, indeed, it would be desirable to reduce as soon as possible. The action necessary to achieve these objectives will in present circumstances necessarily involve decisions that will not find favour with sections of the community. The new Government will require the necessary support in this House to carry them through.

 

In so far as the incoming Government introduce budgetary measures which correspond to the objectives which I have just mentioned — and I have deliberately avoided being more specific recognising that the Government must take their own decision on the details of the policies required for this purpose — my party will not oppose such measures or legislative action required to implement the necessary budgetary provisions.”

 

These words sowed the seeds for the Tallaght Strategy that was crucial to Ireland getting beyond our last big financial crisis. Garret has not got the credit he deserves for this and for breaking the log-jam of adversarial politics. 

 

Garret’s words were generous and were those of a politician who put the country before politics.  It is this type of sentiment that we should all reflect on today and we need this kind of thinking if Ireland is to surmount today’s challenges.  

 

 

Though my party did not necessarily agree with Garret on every political issue, I great admired his integrity, his abilities and his unfailing politeness and courtesy. 

 

 

He was a person who cared deeply about Ireland and he has given distinguished and patriotic service to our people.

 

Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

 

I want to extend my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil Party to Garret’s family and friends.