Thursday, 19 May 2011

Garret Fitzgerald 1925 - 2011

Garret Fitzgerald 1925-2011
When I was growing up there were two men who dominated the political scene in the Republic of Ireland Fianna Fáil's Charles Haughey and Fine Gael's Garret Fitzgerald.

Garret was the Taoiseach that set up the New Ireland Forum in 1983 which although rejected outright by Margaret Thatcher led on the path to what would that eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Fitzgerald had previously played a part in the 1970s Sunningdale Agreement as well.

For the formative political awakenings of a Northern Irish born politician like myself these were the events that would separate the course of someone's political future for years to come. One would either as the Unionist MPs did in 1985 resign en masse at the move to a reconciliation across the island of Ireland started it seemed by the Republic, or been seen as a step towards putting the last 60 years of division and tension into a working framework.

Fitzgerald was a second generation senior Irish politician his father Desmond being the first Minister for External Affairs in the newly independent state. Although his father was London-born and raised and his mother Mary Washington McConnell was actually of Ulster Protestant descent, despite being an ardent nationalist and republican herself.

The son would eventually succeed as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 70s before twice serving as Taoiseach in the 80s. He served as an elected Teachta Dála (TD) from 1969-1992, having previously served in the Seannad Éireann from 1965. However, he proved his liberal qualities not just by his response to the Northern Ireland question but also in taking on divorce (he failed to introduce through a referendum defeat) and contraception (where he was successful). However, a Pro-Life Amendment stating 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 via another referendum against his advice.

After his retirement from 'politics' he was involved in both the Treaties of Nice and Lisbon. Wrote a weekly Saturday column for the Irish Times and was on the board on directors of which held the world's first public online election in 2000 for the Arizona Democratic Primary won by Al Gore with voter turnout up 500% on 1996.

He had taken ill earlier this month and was rushed to hospital in Dublin and placed on a ventilator. The fact that the man who set in motion the reconciliation between North and South should die while a UK Sovereign is present on Irish soil, the day after she made her historic speech in Dublin Castle may well have been because his life's work is completed. He always lived in the hope of progressive change, and did what he could to bring it about where he could.

Garret Fitzgerald 9 February 1926 – 19 May 2011

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