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Garret FitzGerald

Garret FitzGerald (born February 9, 1926) was the seventh Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, heading two coalition governments, from July 1981 to February 1982, and from December 1982 to June 1987.

FitzGerald was one of the Republic of Ireland's most popular politicians, known to all sides simply as 'Garret'. He served three times as Taoiseach (prime minister) as well as an earlier stint as Minister for Foreign Affairs. His gregarious nature, his notorious ability to talk faster than many thought humanly possible, and his 'absent minded professor' image, made him a major political force in from his entry into Irish politics in the mid 1960s until his retirement in 1992. He now writes a weekly column for The Irish Times.

Garret is the son of Desmond FitzGerald, himself a former Minister for External Affairs (the name by which Foreign Affairs was known before 1972!) in the 1920s. Desmond had been one of the founders of Cumann na nGaedhael, the party created to support the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in 1921 between Britain and Ireland, and which created the Irish Free State. Though a senior figure on the 'pro-treaty' side of Ireland's political divide (which had seen a civil war, fought between pro- and anti-treatyites in 1922 and 1923), Garret's father had remained friendly with anti-treatyites, notably Sean MacEntee[?], a minister in Eamon de Valera's governments. In contrast, Desmond's wife, Mabel, a Protestant, held more republican views and republican sympathies than her husband. It was into this mix of Free State governance and friendships across the political divide that Garret was born.

An intellectually brilliant student (who counted among his classmates in University College Dublin, his future political rival, Charles J. Haughey (who at one stage dated Joan O'Farrell, daughter of a British Army officer and a fellow student who later married Garret)) Garret's mathematical abilities and quick intellect led him to be approached by Fianna Fáil leader Sean Lemass and invited to join the party in the early 1960s. However FitzGerald followed in his father's footsteps by joining the rival Fine Gael party that itself had originated as Cumann na nGaedhael. FitzGerald became a member of Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate) in 1965 before being elected to Dáil Éireann (The House of Representatives) in 1969. Almost immediately, Fine Gael was picked to become a senior party figure. When the party (along with the Labour[?]) won the 1973 general election, many expected that he would be made Minister for Finance.

Instead. new taoiseach Liam Cosgrave chose FitzGerald to be Minister for Foreign Affairs, a particular irony as FitzGerald's father, Desmond had held that post in a government led by Liam Cosgrave's father W.T. Cosgrave forty years earlier! FitzGerald is, by general consensus, regarded as one of Ireland's best Foreign Ministers. The minister's role had changed substantially since his father's day. Ireland no longer was a member of the Commonwealth of Nations but had in 1973 joined the European Economic Community (EEC), now known as the European Union (EU).

In 1977, Fine Gael along with Labour suffered a disastrous electoral defeat. Liam Cosgrave resigned as party leader and FitzGerald was chosen by acclamation to succeed him. Under FitzGerald, Fine Gael experienced a rapid rise in support and popularity. By the November 1982 election, it held only five seats less than Fianna Fáil (there closest ever margin, where sometimes Fianna Fáil was nearly twice as large), with Fine Gael in the Oireachtas (two houses together) bigger than Fianna Fáil, an unprecedented achievement. Part of the success was FitzGerald's doing; 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 J. Haughey. The epic battles between Haughey and FitzGerald (or 'Charlie' and 'Garret' as it was personalised) dominated Irish politics in the 1980s.

Garret first became taoiseach in July 1981, at the head of a minority Fine Gael-Labour government. When they entered office, they found the public finances were in a chaotic state. A draconian mid year budget was introduced almost immediately. However the second budget in January 1982 led to the Government's shock defeat in Dáil Éireann. Viewing his defeat as a Loss of Supply FitzGerald headed to Áras an Uachtaráin, the presidential palace, to request an immediate Dáil dissolution from President Hillery. When 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 J. 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 angrily rejected such pressure, regarding it as gross misconduct, and granted the dissolution. (These events came back to haunt one of the alleged 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.)

FitzGerald narrowly lost that general election, but regained power in a second general election in November 1982. Though a highly successful Minister for Foreign Affairs, Garret was judged a relatively poor taoiseach; his notoriously long cabinet meetings were dreaded by ministers, while differences in policy between Fine Gael and Labour prevented the Government from agreeing an approach to deal with the Irish economic crisis and spiralling government debt.

As taoiseach, he 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, Bunreacht na hÉireann, against FitzGerald's advice, in a national referendum. His most dramatic success was in the introduction of the Anglo-Irish Agreement[?], which provided for a mechanism by which the Republic of Ireland could be consulted by the British Government under Margaret Thatcher and through a mechanism called the 'Anglo-Irish Conference' contribute to, the governance of Northern Ireland.

Fine Gael was defeated heavily in the 1987 general election. FitzGerald resigned immediately from the party leadership. He retired as a TD in the general election in 1992. Since then he has written a popular weekly column every Saturday in The Irish Times. He came out of retirement to campaign for a yes vote in the second Nice referendum, held in 2002.

His wife Joan died in the 1990s, after years of crippling illness.

Preceded by:
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach (1979-1981)
Prime Ministers of Ireland
Taoisigh na hÉireann
Succeeded by:
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach
(Feb-Dec 1982)
Preceded by:
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach (1982)
Prime Ministers of Ireland
Taoisigh na hÉireann
Succeeded by:
Charles Haughey
Taoiseach (1987-1992)



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