Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy


10:30 am

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I was informed earlier this morning of the death of a former colleague and friend, Dr. Garret FitzGerald. As Taoiseach and as leader of the Fine Gael Party, I extend our sympathy to his children John, Mark and Mary and to his extended family.

Dr. Garret FitzGerald was a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland. As Taoiseach, Minister and leader of Fine Gael, he made an unparalleled contribution to public life in Ireland. His towering intellect, his enthusiasm for life and his optimism for politics will be missed by everybody, but particularly by those people in the Fine Gael Party.

Garret was a true patriot; an icon of decency and high honour in public life whose fluency in economics was balanced by the humility, the generosity and the warmth of his personal and family life. A leading academic, Dr. Garret FitzGerald turned his back on private wealth to have not just a career, but a lifetime commitment to public life and to politics here.

His commitment to achieving peace and reconciliation on this island, and between Ireland and Britain, reached its fruition this very week with the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland. I know he had hoped to be present in Dublin Castle yesterday evening, but his illness prevented him from being there. He had a deep understanding of Ireland's capacity to influence international affairs through co-operation and partnership. He was particularly and passionately committed to developing his country's role in the European Union, of which he was an avowed supporter over very many years. His contribution, through his column in The Irish Times for more than 50 years, speaks for itself in respect of the spectrum, the breadth and the quality of the analysis of Irish current affairs.

If there is any consolation, it is that his leave taking was as gentle as his life and the way he lived it. I knew Garret since the mid 1960s as a young lad myself. Speaking from this seat as Taoiseach, he set out his stall for his vision of the equality of recognition of communities here. I know Members will join me in expressing our sympathy and the sympathy of the House to his family, Mark, Mary and John, their children and his grandchildren, and their extended family, on the passing of a truly remarkable man.

A Cheann Comhairle, the House will have an opportunity subsequent to the funeral to make more formal statements. Thank you.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Taoiseach. I call on the Tánaiste.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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A Cheann Comhairle, it was with great sadness that I learned this morning of the death of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, and on behalf of the Labour Party, I join the Taoiseach in expressing our sympathies to John, Mark, Mary and their families.

In the many tributes that will be paid today will be listed the offices of State held by Dr. Garret FitzGerald in a long and distinguished career. He was Senator, Deputy, Minister, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland and twice holder of the office of Taoiseach. Yet, even this list does not do justice to what Dr. FitzGerald became; quite simply, a shining model of citizenship, of service to the nation, of devotion to the ideals of the Republic and to the foundations on which it stands.

Over many decades and in many roles, he relished the role described by his pseudonym used during his first connection with The Irish Times, "Analyst". He was a man driven to understand, to confront problems with evidence, to weigh facts and to reach conclusions. His association with The Irish Times lasted from the 1940s to the present day.

His facility with numbers was legendary. His interests were incredibly broad; from the pattern of the use of the Irish language in 19th century Ireland to the minute detail of election results and local authority elections in the present decade, to the intricacies of public finance. He brought to all these problems the same clarity of thought and the same probing intelligence. However, analysis was never enough. His enormous sense of duty, of service to the Republic, compelled him to turn analysis into action. He sought and was elected to public office, to turn ideas into policy and policy into action.

The problems of economics were only one of his many concerns. From his earliest days in public life, he was determined to address the then festering sore that was Anglo-Irish relations and the deeply troubled relationship between the two traditions on this island. From his book Towards a New Ireland to his role in negotiating the Anglo-Irish Agreement, he showed unequalled qualities of foresight and statesmanship. At the historic gathering last night in Dublin Castle when the Heads of State of these two islands met in friendship and unity, his absence was palpable for it was he more than any other who was the intellectual and political father on the road we have travelled together.

Among his many roles, Dr. FitzGerald was an outstanding Minister for Foreign Affairs. During his time in that office he helped to define the scope and nature of Ireland's engagement with the European Union. He was an architect of our national commitment to exercise national sovereignty in a meaningful way by pooling it with other member states. He was, quite obviously, in his element having been a committed member of the Irish European Movement from its foundation.

As leader of the Labour Party, I too am conscious of the strong relationship that members of my party had with him when he led two coalition Governments, which, though faced with deep economic difficulties, were radical and transformative. Dr. Garret FitzGerald in the eyes of the nation stood for integrity, for service and for a liberal and tolerant Ireland, for reconciliation between the two traditions on the island.

On this day, too, it is right to remember with fondness his wife Joan, to whom he was so clearly devoted and who enjoyed the affectionate regard of the Irish people. The public man was a devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather and however great our loss, we must think of the loss to his family. A great citizen of our Republic is lost to us. A flame is dimmed, but the example that he offered us, the ideals by which he lived, continue to serve us today.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Do 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 choincheap na seirbhíse poiblí agus d'fhreastal sé go stuama agus go gnaíúil ar son phobal na hÉireann. Bhí suim ar leith aige i ngnóthaí eachtracha agus Eorpacha, agus thuig sé tábhacht na hEorpa maidir le todhchaí na tíre seo. Rinne sé an-chuid oibre chun fadhbanna Thuaisceart na hÉireann a réiteach agus chun na traidisiúin agus na pobail éagsúla ann a thabhairt le chéile.

I am deeply saddened by the death of Dr. Garret FitzGerald. Dr. Garret FitzGerald has made an enormous contribution to Irish politics and to wider society. He 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.

Dr. Garret FitzGerald came from a political family. His parents had been involved in the War of Independence and Garret's father, Mr. 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 did not forget. His entire career – indeed, his life and times – have been devoted to an overarching commitment to public service. He worked night and day for the betterment of our people. Dr. Garret FitzGerald was defined by his enormous and sincere 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 often 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 with whom he did not agree 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". His father had taken the Free State side in the Civil War, but Garret's godparents were Seán and Margaret MacEntee, both prominent republicans, and Seán MacEntee was a founder of Fianna Fáil. That lack of bitterness, unusual for its time, had an impact on Dr. Garret FitzGerald and he had a great respect for political opponents.

On a personal level, as a young student in UCC from the late 1970s on, I developed a huge interest in politics. I first canvassed in the elections where Mr. Charles Haughey and Garret went head to head. These were titanic election battles and for those us who remember them, or who were involved, we will always recall Garret as an iconic figure in Irish politics and a politician whom one could not but help respect and admire.

Dr. Garret FitzGerald served for two terms as Taoiseach in the 1980s during difficult economic days. He started his career in politics in Seanad Éireann in 1965, which, in the context of current debate, we might reflect on, and he was a TD for Dublin South-East from 1969 to 1992. An extraordinary vote-getter, he topped the poll in his first election to the Dáil 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. He built Fine Gael up again, restructuring and growing its organisation, and breathing new vitality and energy into his party. He took it to 70 seats in November 1982, which, at the time, was an unprecedented level of support for the party. That, by any standards, was an immense political achievement from an outstanding politician of his generation.

As Taoiseach, and prior to that as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Garret FitzGerald was a strong advocate of peace in Northern Ireland and the resolution of its problems was a lifetime passion for him. Inside or outside of 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 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 passionately opposed sectarianism, opening his autobiography with the story of 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 surprised 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.

He was 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, although 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 recall also his strong and visionary speech on his final day as Taoiseach in 1987. Following Mr. Charles Haughey's election by the Dáil, Garret quickly came to his feet and extended his congratulations. He said some inspired words that still have relevance to us and our times. That speech, which is on the record, related to the economic and budgetary measures that the incoming Government would have to take and he offered his support for any legislative action required by that Government to implement the appropriate and necessary budgetary provisions. In essence, those words sowed the seeds for the Tallaght Strategy that made an important contribution to Ireland getting beyond our last big financial crisis. He perhaps did not receive the credit he deserved for this and for moving beyond the log-jam of adversarial politics. His 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. We need this kind of thinking if Ireland is to surmount today's challenges.

Although my party did not necessarily agree with Garret on every political issue, I greatly 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 extend my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil Party to his family, to John, Mark and Mary, and to his friends within the Fine Gael Party.

Photo of Gerry AdamsGerry Adams (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a nochtadh le clann Ghearóid Mhic Gearailt, le Pairtí Fhine Gael agus go háirithe leis an Taoiseach. Bhí ról mór ag an Uasal Mac Gearailt sa saol polaitíochta agus bhí sé dícheallach sa tseirbhís phoiblí le blianta fada. Nuair a chuala mé, go luath ar maidin inniu, go raibh sé tar éis bás a fháil bhí mé an-bhrónach.

On behalf of Sinn Féin, I wish to extend sympathy to the family and friends of Dr. Garret FitzGerald. I extend sympathy especially to the Taoiseach and to the Fine Gael Party. As a Taoiseach, Cabinet Minister and long-serving Teachta Dála, Dr. Garret FitzGerald played a very significant role in Irish politics in the 1970s and 1980s.

Obviously, Sinn Féin profoundly disagreed with him on key and fundamental issues, particularly around the issue of partition, the role of the British Government in Ireland, political censorship and the treatment of republican prisoners. However, these differences are widely known and there is no need to dwell on them this morning. His views were genuinely held and he liked a good debate.

We did agree on other issues, especially on social matters and Garret played a very positive role in seeking to set aside deeply conservative social legislation in this State, such as the denial of the right to divorce. He was clearly and deeply committed to public life, public service and citizenship, something which is widely recognised across the political spectrum and is to be commended. He set a great example of the role older people can play in public affairs and how we should respect and uphold their right to do so and shape our society so we cherish and actively promote the rights of our senior citizens. I believe Dr. Garret FitzGerald would be pleased with that.

The death of a public figure is always greeted with public comments and reflections but the real loss is private and personal. To the Taoiseach and to Garret's friends and colleagues in Fine Gael I extend our commiserations and solidarity, and also to his family because aside from the public man there is the private person, the husband, father, the daideo, the gar-dhaideo, the very personal figure that all of have in our personal lives. Especially to his friends, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, his sons and daughter I extend our warmest and kindest solidarity, commiserations and condolences. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin South, Independent)
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On behalf of the Technical Group I wish to join in the sympathy expressed by all parties to the family of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, especially to John, Mark and Mary. I should state the first day I was in the Seanad, Dr. Garret FitzGerald was Taoiseach and he brought his constitutional crusade to the Seanad on that day. That was the initial move in a crusade the culmination of which we saw last night in Dublin Castle and which we have been seeing all week. Dr. Garret Fitzgerald above anybody else initiated the movement for tolerance, an end to sectarianism, non-violence, equality and respect for minorities, North and South in this country. He started that procedure in 1981 and he lighted a fire which, with various setbacks, has climaxed this week. In that sense we should be very proud of him as a Taoiseach who is responsible for what happened in recent days.

Constitutional changes followed, some controversial, but they had the common ingredient that they challenged the dominance of great institutions in this country which needed to be challenged. He tackled those taboos which for so long had been the curse of Ireland and he is responsible for that.

On economic policy, perhaps he was not quite so successful but he was above all a conviction politician. At a time of great cynicism in Irish politics, Dr. Garret FitzGerald followed his convictions, often to his own cost. His first Government fell on a political conviction on which many would have given way but he did not, to his cost. He was prepared at one stage, and the Fine Gael Party will be conscious of this, to take a hit in his constituency where he almost lost his seat in his effort to deliver two seats to the party. Thankfully, he did not lose his seat but he was prepared to make that sacrifice and take that risk, a risk which many other politicians for obvious reasons would not be prepared to take.

Above all, as the Taoiseach, Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Adams have mentioned, he must be remembered for his contribution to Anglo-Irish relations. The Anglo-Irish Agreement, while controversial in its time was a great achievement in his own terms. His contribution to Anglo-Irish relations was not without setbacks. We heard this morning on the radio once again that very famous outburst from the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, when she said "out, out, out". That was a major setback for his crusade for Anglo-Irish relations, but he took triumph and disaster fairly comfortably and treated those two imposters just the same.

He was, above all, a person who was not subject to knee-jerk reaction to political events and he was a human being who was not entranced or enchanted by the trappings of office. I think it was Conor Cruise O'Brien, who was a friend and opponent of his in many political spats, who wrote of him that Dr. Garret FitzGerald was as nice a person as you can find in politics but no nicer. What he meant by that was that he was a real human being, which is difficult to be in political terms, but he also had around him a ring of steel and he was prepared to take tough political decisions which were not in his own interest.

The general consensus in the House and the message which is going out today is that Dr. Garret FitzGerald was above all a human being, an intellectual but with a hugely important human side. There are many anecdotal stories of his devotion to his invalid wife, of him going home and cooking her lunch. There are many stories about his own idiosyncrasies, and the one about him wearing odd shoes is one which will live for a long time in the minds of many people who hold him in such great affection.

The manner of his departure and its timing this week is something about which he and many of us can be in a strange way very content because he must have been, if he was aware of it, very happy to see that this week, the mission which he embarked upon so courageously in 1981 was almost completed.

11:00 am

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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As the senior Deputy for Dublin South-East, I wish to extend first and foremost my sympathy to the family and the Fine Gael Party, and to tell the House that I first met Dr. Garret FitzGerald in the 1960s when he was a junior lecturer in the economic section and I was a probably fairly obnoxious architectural student in UCD. The first occupation of a university on this island took place in UCD on the grounds of the pursuit of excellence in that we were dissatisfied with the academic standards for which we had paid and the instruction which we were receiving. We confronted the university authorities with the inadequacy of their own institution and he supported us in that particular struggle even though one of his family was intimately involved in the other side.

As was said, Dr. Garret FitzGerald was an intellectual, a politician, a feminist, a liberal, a European and an Irishman and it was my privilege to have served in government with him, as I did with the Ceann Comhairle and other members of this Cabinet. I loved him dearly and I regret his passing.

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
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As a Deputy for Dublin South-East, perhaps not as senior as the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, I join my Taoiseach and colleagues in expressing my sorrow and extending my sincere sympathy to the FitzGerald family, to John, Mark and Mary, and to the extended family on their sad loss.

Dr. Garret FitzGerald inspired me as a young person to become involved and to take an interest in politics. His integrity, his very obvious sincerity and his unparalleled deep belief in genuine public service convinced me that politics is a noble profession. If anybody personified high standards in high places, it was Dr. Garret FitzGerald. In the not too distant past when I came under some pressure for comments I made, he took the time to approach me to say, "Lucinda, never ever waiver, always follow your convictions and always stand up for what you believe in." I will carry those words with me in political life and as long as I am a Member of this House.

Three issues marked him out, some of which have already been alluded to. In regard to Northern Ireland, Dr. FitzGerald had vision and courage which marked him out from the rest. His foresight in mainstreaming the concept of consensus and consent in Northern politics was inspired and visionary. His commitment to democracy, as espoused by the Anglo Irish Agreement, showed that he was most definitely ahead of his time. It took others many years to catch up with him. Unlike the many who did not subscribe to his view of consensus in the North, Dr. FitzGerald actually came from a family steeped in the republican tradition, as Deputy Martin pointed out. As a result of that, he knew and genuinely understood the importance of consensus rather than division in politics on this island.

For me, what really marked Dr. FitzGerald out was his commitment and devotion to the European project. It was not an unquestioning and blind commitment to the European project but one which was, nonetheless, deeply supportive of the common European cause. I remember meeting him during the Nice treaty and Lisbon treaty campaigns when despite his years, he was sprightly, energetic and enthusiastic and, most important, he brought young people with him in selling the European ideal on this island. He also brought Fine Gael into the Christian Democratic family in Europe and of that I am deeply proud.

His task of making Fine Gael the most professionally organised party on the island was a goal he fulfilled. He was much more than an academic. He knew Fine Gael, its branch structure and every corner of every consistency in an encyclopedic fashion and from which we can all learn. While Fine Gael today is very proud to have such a strong leader in Deputy Enda Kenny, we can all acknowledge that Dr. Garret FitzGerald will continue to be a spiritual leader for the party.

The FitzGerald family and the island of Ireland has lost a true and inspiring statesman, a genuine political leader and somebody who I was very proud to know and to call a friend. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Today Ireland has lost a great patriot. I was deeply saddened this morning when I heard on "Morning Ireland" that the former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, had passed away. I extend my sympathy and that of Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who is away on Government business today, to his family and friends. Like many of the previous speakers, we practised our trade in the shadow of a great politician and a great leader.

His legacy lives on this week in the Queen's first state visit to Ireland. It is a potent reminder of Garret's political courage in the Sunningdale and Anglo Irish Agreements and it is probably apt that he is remembered to today. He was always willing to engage in debate and he had a profound interest in the affairs of our country. He campaigned in European referendums and often led the debate domestically in his The Irish Times column.

Like many, I was amazed to see him in February tallying the votes following the general election, which he enjoyed doing. He said to me that he would not miss it for the world. Having tallied the votes, he told me at an early stage that he would be calling me "Deputy" the next time he saw me. That was very important. On the first sitting day of the 31st Dáil, he was on RTE imparting his knowledge and in conversation with Mr. Dick Spring on "Today with Pat Kenny". One could see how enlivened he was by the democratic institutions.

Today we have lost a great patriot. The people of Dublin South-East will greatly miss him and will be deeply saddened. We should also mention the late Mr. Joe Doyle who was a great friend and colleague during the many years he represented the area. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak and I hope his family will be encouraged and heartened by the sentiments expressed today.

Members rose.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].