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Fitzgerald, Garret (Ireland)

Reference work entry

Introduction

Garret FitzGerald was twice Prime Minister (Taoiseach), from 1981–82 and 1982–87, heading Fine Gael–Labour Party coalitions. He attempted, with limited success, to introduce several liberalizing reforms but his tenure is best remembered for the 1985 Anglo–Irish Agreement. An accord between the British and Irish governments, it allowed for Ireland to have more involvement in the affairs of the North and was regarded as a key stage in the peace process.

Early Life

FitzGerald was born in Dublin on 9 Feb. 1926. Although his mother was a Protestant from Ulster, his family were nationalists who had participated in the 1916 Easter Rising. His father had been minister of external affairs and defence during the era of the Irish Free State. FitzGerald was educated at University College, Dublin and King’s Inns, Dublin. He then held a number of jobs in planning, journalism and lecturing.

In 1965 he entered Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate). Election to the Dáil followed 4 years later as member for Dublin South East. In 1973, under the administration of Liam Cosgrave, FitzGerald was appointed foreign minister. In this capacity he was instrumental in formulating the Sunningdale Agreement, signed in Dec. 1973, which provided for limited power-sharing via a Council of Ireland. The deal, however, fell apart the following year after intense unionist opposition. He also did much to strengthen Ireland’s standing within the European Community. FitzGerald remained foreign minister until 1977 when, as leader of Fine Gael, he set about modernizing and restructuring the party.

Career Peak

Prime Minister from June 1981, he admitted that the sectarianization of Irish society posed great problems for Northern Irish Protestants. FitzGerald’s administration collapsed in Feb. 1982 when he lost support over new VAT charges. Charles Haughey replaced him as Prime Minister.

Haughey’s tenure as Prime Minister was troubled and short-lived. FitzGerald returned as Prime Minister in Dec. 1982 to undertake a ‘constitutional crusade’ to improve relations between Catholics and Protestants through legislative reform. Up against sectarian intransigence, he was also defeated in attempts to liberalize laws on abortion (1983) and divorce (1986).

In May 1983 FitzGerald established the New Ireland Forum which advocated ‘a united Ireland in the form of a sovereign independent state’, although it proposed confederation or joint authority as alternatives. Though Margaret Thatcher’s UK government rejected the findings out of hand, it provided a basis for the 1985 Anglo-Irish (Hillsborough) Agreement and gave impetus to the peace process. FitzGerald led Fine Gael to election defeat in 1987 and subsequently resigned as party leader.

Later Life

After publishing his biography in 1991 FitzGerald retired from the political scene. He has continued to write on Irish politics, for publications in Ireland and Britain, is a director of RTE (the Irish broadcaster) and is Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. In 1999 in the course of the Moriarty Tribunal (set up to investigate irregular payments to various Irish political figures) it emerged that FitzGerald had debts of £200,000 written off by two private banks after his retirement from politics. He strenuously denied any wrong-doing. He died aged 85 on 19 May 2011.

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