Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald dies aged 85

Thursday 19 May 2011 22.56
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Garret FitzGerald - Political career spanned many years
Garret FitzGerald - Political career spanned many years
Desmond Fitzgerald - Served as Minister for External Affairs in the State's first government
Desmond Fitzgerald - Served as Minister for External Affairs in the State's first government

Former Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald has died in hospital in Dublin after a short illness.

Dr FitzGerald, who was 85, served twice as Taoiseach between 1981 and 1987 at the head of Fine Gael/Labour coalition governments.

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In a statement, his family paid tribute to the doctors, nurses and staff at the Mater Private hospital.

'They would like to thank the doctors, nurses and staff at The Mater Private Hospital for the wonderful care he received during his illness.

'He was a much loved and adored father, grandfather and great-grandfather and will be sadly missed by his extended family.'

Details of Dr FitzGerald's funeral have been announced this evening. He will lie in repose at the Mansion House on Saturday from 11am to 7pm.

The public will be able to file past the coffin and sign a book of condolence.

The coffin will then be moved to the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook and will be on public view from 8pm to 10.30pm.

Dr FitzGerald's funeral mass will take place in the same church on Sunday at 2.30pm before burial at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill.

Born in 1926, both of Dr FitzGerald's parents had been involved in Sinn Féin during the War of Independence.

His father, Desmond, later served as Minister for External Affairs in the State's first government.

In later life, Dr FitzGerald often spoke of his desire to bring together the southern Catholic tradition of his father with the northern Protestant tradition of his mother, Mabel.

He met his wife Joan at UCD. They were to have a famously close relationship. The couple had three children.

Dr FitzGerald worked for Aer Lingus for some years before becoming an economic consultant and academic, and then a politician.

He was elected to the Seanad in 1965 and the Dáil in 1969, where he quickly made his mark, particularly in the debates on the arms crisis.

A supporter of the liberal wing of the party, known as The Just Society, he campaigned strongly in favour of Ireland joining the EEC in the 1972 Referendum.

When Fine Gael entered Government in 1973, he became Minister for Foreign Affairs, playing a leading role during Ireland's first Presidency of the EEC.

He was also a key figure in negotiating the Sunningdale Agreement, which set up a short-lived power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

He succeeded Liam Cosgrave as Fine Gael leader after the 1977 election defeat, encouraging the party in a more liberal direction while rebuilding the organisation from the ground up.

In 1981, he formed a minority coalition government with Labour's Michael O'Leary as Tánaiste, and announced his desire for a constitutional crusade to create a more pluralist Irish society.

But the coalition fell the following February when Budget proposals to extend VAT to children's clothing and footwear were defeated.

Dr FitzGerald's great rival, Charles Haughey, returned to power at the head of a short-lived minority government before, in November 1982, Fine Gael achieved its best result in over half a century by coming within five seats of Fianna Fáil.

A difficult economic situation led to tough and unpopular medicine, while in 1983 the electorate voted against Dr FitzGerald's advice to amend the Constitution to protect the life of the unborn, and three years later rejected the introduction of divorce.

On Northern Ireland, the New Ireland Forum aimed to unite constitutional nationalists but its recommendations were rejected by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Despite the setback, Dr FitzGerald kept working, signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, which gave the Irish Government a role in Northern Ireland and marked the high point of his political career.

But the economic situation remained dire and at the beginning of 1987 the Labour ministers walked out of government.

Mr Haughey returned to office, with Dr FitzGerald offering conditional support in the Dáil, foreshadowing Fine Gael's Tallaght Strategy.

The next day, Dr FitzGerald resigned from the Fine Gael leadership.

Although he retired from the Dáil in 1992, he still took part in some political campaigns, particularly in the referenda on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties.

He also served as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland for 12 years, from 1997 to 2009, during which time he presided over the NUI's Centenary in 2008.

He wrote books and newspaper articles, lectured and travelled widely, and appeared on many radio and television programmes, including election coverage, most recently last February.

The political career of former Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald in pictures