Garret FitzGerald: Wikis

  
  

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Garret FitzGerald


In office
30 June 1981 – 9 March 1982
President Patrick Hillery
Tánaiste Michael O'Leary
Preceded by Charles Haughey
Succeeded by Charles Haughey
In office
14 December 1982 – 10 March 1987
President Patrick Hillery
Tánaiste Dick Spring
Preceded by Charles Haughey
Succeeded by Charles Haughey

In office
14 March 1973 – 5 July 1977
Preceded by Brian Lenihan
Succeeded by Michael O'Kennedy

In office
18 June 1969 – 25 November 1992
Constituency Dublin South East

Born 9 February 1926 (1926-02-09) (age 83)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party Fine Gael
Spouse(s) Joan O'Farrell
Alma mater University College Dublin
Religion Roman Catholicism

Garret FitzGerald (Irish: Gearóid Mac Gearailt; born 9 February 1926) was Taoiseach of Ireland, serving two terms in office (July 1981 to February 1982; December 1982 to March 1987). FitzGerald was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and was subsequently elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD in 1969. He served as Foreign Affairs Minister from 1973 to 1977. FitzGerald was the leader of Fine Gael between 1977 and 1987. He is the son of Desmond FitzGerald, the first Minister for External Affairs of the nascent Irish state following independence from the United Kingdom in 1922. At present, FitzGerald is the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland and President of the Institute of International and European Affairs. He is widely considered to have been the most successful leader of the modern Fine Gael party.

Contents

Early life

Garret FitzGerald was born in Dublin in 1926 into a very politically active family. His father was the London-born and raised Desmond FitzGerald, the Minister for External Affairs at the time of his son's birth. FitzGerald senior had been active in Sinn Féin during the Irish War of Independence, and had been one of the founders of Cumann na nGaedhael, the party formed to support the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which created the Irish Free State.

Although a senior figure on the 'pro-treaty' side of Ireland's political divide, Desmond FitzGerald had remained friendly with anti-Treaty republicans such as Belfast man Seán MacEntee, a minister in Éamon de Valera's government, and father-in-law of Conor Cruise O'Brien. The families of Patrick McGilligan and Ernest Blythe were also frequent visitors to the FitzGerald household. FitzGerald's mother, the former Mabel Washington McConnell, who, although an ardent nationalist and republican herself, was of Ulster Protestant descent, although some sources indicate that she became a Catholic on her marriage. Her son would later describe his political objective as the creation of a pluralist Ireland where the northern Protestants of his mother’s family tradition and the southern Catholics of his father’s could feel equally at home.

FitzGerald was educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD), from which he graduated with a B.A. degree in 1946, later returning to complete a Ph.D. which he obtained in 1968. He was deeply interested in the politics of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. A bright student who counted among his contemporaries in UCD his future political rival, Charles Haughey, who also knew Joan O'Farrell (a Liverpool-born daughter of a British army officer, Richard O'Farrell) a fellow student, whom Garret Fitzgerald would go on to marry in 1947.

Following his university education he found employment with Aer Lingus, the state airline of Ireland, in 1947 and became an authority on the strategic economic planning of transport. During this time he wrote many newspaper articles and was encouraged to write on National Accounts and economics by the Features Editor in The Irish Times. He remained in Aer Lingus until 1959, when after undertaking a study of the economics of Irish Industry in Trinity College, Dublin, he became a lecturer in economics at UCD.

Early political life

Garret FitzGerald was eager to enter politics, and it was suggested by several members of Fianna Fáil, including Charles Haughey and Michael Yeats, that he should join that party.[1] Ultimately FitzGerald made his entry into party politics under the banner of Fine Gael. He attached himself to the liberal wing of Fine Gael, which rallied around the Just Society programme written by Declan Costello. FitzGerald was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and soon built up his political profile. FitzGerald was elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1969 general election, for the Dublin South East constituency, the same year he obtained his PhD for a thesis later published under the title "Planning in Ireland". He became an important figure almost immediately in the parliamentary party and his liberal ideas were seen as a counterweight to the conservative leader, Liam Cosgrave. Difference in political outlook, and FitzGerald's ambitions for the Fine Gael leadership resulted in profound tensions between the two men. In one speech to Fine Gael members, Cosgrave referred to the 'mongrel foxes' who should be rooted out of the party, a reference seen by many as an attack on FitzGerald's efforts to unseat him as leader.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

After the 1973 general election Fine Gael came to power in a coalition government with the Labour Party with Liam Cosgrave as Taoiseach. FitzGerald hoped that he would take over as Minister for Finance, particularly after a good performance in a pre-election debate with the actual Minister for Finance, George Colley. However the position went to Richie Ryan, with FitzGerald becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs. It was a case of history repeating itself as FitzGerald's father had held that post in a government led by Liam Cosgrave's father W. T. Cosgrave fifty years earlier. His appointment to Iveagh House (the home of the Department of Foreign Affairs) would have a huge effect on FitzGerald's own career and the future of Fine Gael. Cosgrave was suspicious of FitzGerald's liberal ideas and believed that he had designs on the leadership. By appointing him as Foreign Minister, Cosgrave hoped that FitzGerald would be out of the country and would lose touch with the party. The exact opposite is what happened.

The minister's role had changed substantially since his father's day. Ireland was no longer a member of the Commonwealth of Nations but had in 1973 joined the European Economic Community (EEC), now known as the European Union (EU). FitzGerald, firmly ensconced as Foreign Minister, was free from any blame due to other Ministers mishandling of the economy. If anything his tenure at the Department of Foreign Affairs helped him to achieve the leadership of the party. His innovative views, energy and fluency in French won him — and through him, Ireland — a status in European affairs far exceeding the country’s size and ensured that the first Irish Presidency of the European Council in 1975 was a noted success. His reputation abroad, and that of Ireland, increased his popularity and his affable style helped change the traditional, stereotypical European view of Ireland.

Leader of Fine Gael

In 1977 the National Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour suffered a disastrous electoral defeat in the general election. Liam Cosgrave resigned as party leader and FitzGerald was chosen by acclamation to succeed him. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader he set about modernising and revitalising Fine Gael. He immediately appointed a General-Secretary to oversee all of this, a tactic copied from Fianna Fáil. FitzGerald took a personal tour of every constituency in Ireland in an effort to breathe new life into a demoralised Fine Gael.

Under FitzGerald, Fine Gael experienced a rapid rise in support and popularity. By the November 1982 election, it held only five seats fewer than Fianna Fáil (their closest ever margin; at times Fianna Fáil was nearly twice as large), with Fine Gael in the Oireachtas bigger than Fianna Fáil, an unprecedented achievement. Much of the success was FitzGerald's; he brought in a new generation of brilliant young politicians, including future Taoiseach John Bruton, future party leaders Alan Dukes and Michael Noonan, and other exceptional figures such as Jim Mitchell, Ivan Yates and Gemma Hussey. But Fine Gael's rise was in part a reaction to the controversial nature and unpopularity of his old college rival and now Fianna Fáil leader, Charles Haughey. The epic battles between Haughey and FitzGerald (or 'Charlie' and 'Garret' as it was personalised) dominated Irish politics in the 1980s.

Taoiseach 1981–1982

By the time of the 1981 general election Fine Gael had a party machine that could easily match Fianna Fáil's. The party won 65 seats and formed a minority coalition government with the Labour Party and the support of a number of Independent TDs. FitzGerald was elected Taoiseach on 30 June 1981.

FitzGerald showed an unsuspected toughness in naming a young and innovative Cabinet. Richie Ryan, Richard Burke and Tom O'Donnell, former Fine Gael stalwarts, were all excluded. Two fundamental problems faced FitzGerald during his first period, Northern Ireland and the worsening economic situation. A protest march in support of the H-Block hunger strikers in July 1981 was dealt with by FitzGerald through a combination of firmness and restraint.

The economic crisis was also a lot worse than FitzGerald had feared. Fine Gael had to jettison its plans for tax-cuts in the run-up to the election and a draconian mid-year budget was introduced almost immediately. The July Budget seemed exceptionally austere for a government dependent on Independent TDs support. However, the second budget introduced by John Bruton led to the Government's shock defeat in Dáil Éireann on the evening of 27 January 1982.

Viewing his defeat as a Loss of supply FitzGerald headed to Áras an Uachtaráin to request an immediate Dáil dissolution from the President, Patrick Hillery. When he got there, he was informed that a series of telephone calls had been made by senior opposition figures (and some independent TDs), including Fianna Fáil leader (and ex-Taoiseach) Charles Haughey, Brian Lenihan and Sylvester Barrett demanding that the President, as he could constitutionally do where a Taoiseach had 'ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann', refuse FitzGerald a parliamentary dissolution, forcing his resignation as Taoiseach and enabling the Dáil to nominate someone else for the post. The President is said to have angrily rejected such pressure, regarding it as gross misconduct, and granted the dissolution.[2]

In the subsequent general election in February 1982, Fine Gael lost only two seats and were out of power. However, a third general election within eighteen months in November 1982 resulted in FitzGerald being returned as Taoiseach for a second time, heading a Fine Gael-Labour coalition with a working majority.

Taoiseach 1982–1987

Deep economic recession dominated FitzGerald's second term as well as his first. The pursuit of ‘fiscal rectitude’ in order to reduce a high national debt required a firmer control of public spending than Labour found easy to accept. The harmonious relationship the Taoiseach developed with Tánaiste, Dick Spring, successfully avoided a collapse of the coalition for more than four years, despite tensions between other ministers, and enabled the Government to survive. Fine Gael wanted to revive the economy by controlling public spending and imposing cutbacks in order to reduce the public budget deficit. The measures proposed by FitzGerald's Minister for Finance, Alan Dukes, were completely unacceptable to the Labour Party which was under enormous pressure from its support base to maintain public services. The two parties in Government found themselves in a stalemate position. They stopped the financial crisis from worsening but could not take the decisive action that would generate economic growth. With negligible economic growth and large scale unemployment, the FitzGerald Government was deeply unpopular with the public. The Fianna Fáil opposition added to the woes of the Government by taking a decidedly opportunistic and populist line in opposing every suggested reform and cutback.

Constitutional reform

As Taoiseach for a second time FitzGerald advocated a liberalisation of Irish society, to create what he called the non-sectarian nation of 'Tone and Davis'. His attempt to introduce divorce was defeated in a referendum, though he did liberalise Ireland's contraception laws. A controversial 'Pro-Life Amendment' (anti-abortion clause), which was stated to recognise the 'Right to Life of the Unborn, with due regard to the Equal Right to Life of the Mother' was added to the Irish constitution, against FitzGerald's advice, in a national referendum.

Northern Ireland

FitzGerald set up The New Ireland Forum in 1983, which brought together representatives of the constitutional political parties in the Republic and the nationalist SDLP from the North. Although the Unionist parties spurned his invitation to join, and the Forum’s conclusions proposing various forms of association between Northern Ireland and the Republic were rejected outright by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Forum provided the impetus for the resumption of serious negotiations between the Irish and British governments, which culminated in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985. This agreement provided for a mechanism by which the Republic of Ireland could be consulted by the British Government under Margaret Thatcher regarding the governance of Northern Ireland, and was bitterly opposed by Unionists in Northern Ireland, whose MPs all resigned their seats in the British Parliament in protest. New elections were required to be held, and the unionists lost one seat (Newry and Armagh) to Seamus Mallon of the SDLP.

While the Agreement was repudiated and condemned by Unionists, it became the basis for developing trust and common action between the governments, which in time would ultimately bring about the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, and the subsequent republican and loyalist cease-fires.

In 1986, FitzGerald attempted to reshuffle his cabinet but certain ministers, including notably Barry Desmond refused to move from his Health and Social Welfare portfolio. The eventual outcome of the cabinet changes further undermined FitzGerald's authority. The new Progressive Democrats party was launched at the same time by Desmond O'Malley out of the divisions within Fianna Fáil. Ironically, it struck an immediate chord with many disenchanted Fine Gael supporters who had tired of the failure to fully address the economic crisis and who yearned for a coherent rightwing policy from FitzGerald. Seeing its support base under attack from the right only strengthened the resolve of FitzGerald's Fine Gael colleagues to break with the Labour Party approach, despite their leader's close empathy with that party.

Stymied by economic crisis, FitzGerald tried to rescue some of his ambitions to reform the State and he proposed, in the summer of 1986, a referendum to change the Constitution to allow for divorce. The proposed amendment was mired in controversy and the many accompanying legal changes needed were not clearly presented. Haughey skilfully opposed the referendum along with the Roman Catholic Church and landed interests worried about property rights. The defeat of the referendum sealed the fate of the Government.

In January 1987, the Labour Party members of the government withdrew from the government over disagreements due to budget proposals. FitzGerald continued as Taoiseach heading a minority Fine Gael government and proposed the stringent budgetary cutbacks that Labour had blocked for some four years. The Progressive Democrats won some 14 seats and prevented Haughey achieving his overall majority once more. Fianna Fáil returned to power in March 1987, after Fine Gael were heavily defeated in the 1987 general election.

Post-Taoiseach period

Garret FitzGerald (centre) speaking with Peter Sutherland (left) and Will Hutton (right), at the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin in 2006.

FitzGerald retired as leader of Fine Gael immediately after the election by the Dáil of Charles Haughey as Taoiseach, to be replaced by Alan Dukes. His autobiography, "All in a Life," appeared in 1991, immediately becoming a best-seller. He retired completely from politics at the 1992 general election. His wife, Joan, died in 1999 after many years of a crippling illness. Since then he has written a popular weekly column every Saturday in The Irish Times, and lectures widely at home and abroad on public affairs. He came out of retirement to campaign for a yes vote in the second Nice referendum, held in 2002. He held the post of Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1997 to 2009. In March 2000, Fitzgerald was on the Board of Directors of Election.com, when it conducted the world's first public election ever held over the Internet, which was the Arizona Democratic Primary, which was won by Al Gore; in that primary, voter turnout increased more than 500% over the 1996 primary. [3]

FitzGerald and his finances

In early 1999 it was revealed that some six years earlier, AIB and Ansbacher banks wrote off debts of almost IR£200,000 owed by FitzGerald following the collapse of the aircraft leasing company, Guinness Peat Aviation, in which he was a shareholder.[4] Chairman of AIB at the time, Peter Sutherland, was also a former director of GPA and had served as Attorney General under FitzGerald, prior to FitzGerald appointing him as Ireland's member of the European Commission.

The Moriarity Tribunal investigated this matter, and compared the treatment by AIB of FitzGerald with their treatment of Charles Haughey. They found no evidence of any wrongdoing, indeed the Tribunal heard evidence as to the considerable hardship that FitzGerald went to - to the extent of selling of his family home - to repay the debt to the best of his ability.

The Tribunal concluded in their report:

In summary it would appear that in compromising his indebtedness with the Bank, Dr. Fitzgerald disposed of his only substantial asset, namely, his family home at Palmerston Road, a property which would now be worth a considerable sum of money. As in Mr. Haughey’s case, there was a substantial discounting or forbearance shown in Dr. Fitzgerald’s case. However in contrast with Mr. Haughey’s case, Dr. Fitzgerald’s case involved the effective exhaustion of his assets in order to achieve a settlement whereas Mr. Haughey’s assets were retained virtually intact.

Governments

The following governments were led by FitzGerald:

Footnotes

  1. ^ Stated by him on an Interview with Ursuala Halligan on The Political Party, TV3.
  2. ^ These events came back to haunt one of the callers, Brian Lenihan, when his differing accounts of his role that night led to his dismissal from Haughey's cabinet in 1990 during his own unsuccessful presidential election campaign.
  3. ^ http://www.thefreelibrary.com/[2]+Arizona+Democratic+Party+Selects+Votation.com+to+Hold+World's...-a058487613
  4. ^ AIB and Ansbacher wrote off Fitzgerald's £200,000 debtRTÉ News, 17 February 1999.

External links

Oireachtas
Preceded by
John A. Costello
(Fine Gael)
Fine Gael Teachta Dála for Dublin South East
1969–1992
Succeeded by
Frances Fitzgerald
(Fine Gael)
Political offices
Preceded by
Brian Lenihan
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1973–1977
Succeeded by
Michael O'Kennedy
Preceded by
Jack Lynch
Leader of the Opposition
1977–1981
Succeeded by
Charles Haughey
Preceded by
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach
1981–1982
Succeeded by
Charles Haughey
Preceded by
Charles Haughey
Leader of the Opposition
March 1982–December 1982
Succeeded by
Charles Haughey
Preceded by
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach
1982–1987
Succeeded by
Charles Haughey
Preceded by
T. K. Whitaker
Chancellor of the National University of Ireland
1997–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Liam Cosgrave
Leader of the Fine Gael Party
1977–1987
Succeeded by
Alan Dukes







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