Garret FitzGerald

From Academic Kids

Dr. Garret FitzGerald (Irish: Gearóid MacGearailt) (born February 9, 1926) was the seventh Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, serving two terms in office; July 1981 to February 1982, and December 1982 to March 1987. FitzGerald was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and was subsequently elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969. He previously served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1973 to 1977. FitzGerald was the leader of Fine Gael between 1977 and 1987. He is also the son of Desmond FitzGerald who was the first Minister for External Affairs of the new Irish state. At present FitzGerald is the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He is credited as being the most successful leader of the modern Fine Gael party.

An Taoiseach Dr. Garret FitzGerald
Order 7th Taoiseach of Ireland
First Term June 30, 1981 - March 9, 1982
Second Term December 14, 1982 - March 10, 1987
Predecessor Charles J. Haughey
Successor Charles J. Haughey
Date of Birth Tuesday, February 9, 1926
Place of Birth Dublin, Ireland
Political Party Fine Gael
Profession Lawyer, Economist

Early Life

Garret FitzGerald was born in Dublin in 1926 into a very politically active family. His father was Desmond FitzGerald, the Minister for External Affairs at the time of his son's birth and had been one of the founders of Cumann na nGaedhael, the party created to support the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which created the Irish Free State. Though a senior figure on the 'pro-treaty' side of Ireland's political divide FitzGerald senior had remained friendly with anti-treaties such as Seán MacEntee, a minister in Eamon de Valera's governments. The families of Patrick McGilligan and Ernest Blythe were also frequent visitors to the FitzGerald household. FitzGerald's mother, Mabel, who, although an ardent nationalist and republican herself, came of Ulster unionist stock and proved to leave a lasting affect on her son's political philosophy. He would later describe his political objective as the creation of a pluralist Ireland where the Northern Protestants of his mother’s family tradition and the Southern Catholics of his father’s could feel equally at home.

FitzGerald was educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin. He was deeply interested in the politics of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. An intellectually brilliant student who, counted among his classmates in UCD, 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 would later go on to marry FitzGerald). Following his university education he found employment with Aer Lingus, the state airline of Ireland, in 1947 and became an authority on the economics of transport. He remained in that post until 1959 when he became a lecturer in economics at UCD.

Early Political Life

It was in the early sixties that FitzGerald's mathematical abilities and quick intellect led him to be approached by Fianna Fáil leader Sean Lemass who invited him to join the party. FitzGerald declined, choosing instead to follow in his father's footsteps by joining the rival Fine Gael party where he was hugely influenced by the ideas of the TD, Declan Costello. FitzGerald was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and soon built up his political profile. His profile was enhanced further because it was at this time that he became a regular commentator on economic affairs in the Irish, as well as the English media. FitzGerald was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1969, the same year he obtained his PhD for a thesis later published under the title "Planning in Ireland." He became an important figure almost immediately in the parliamentary party and his liberal ideas were seen as a counterweight to the conservative leader, Liam Cosgrave. FitzGerald was soon appointed Fine Gael Spokesperson on Finance, one of the most senior positions in the party.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

In 1973 Fine Gael came to power in a coalition government with the Labour Party with Liam Cosgrave as Taoiseach. FitzGerald was widely tipped to take over as Minister for Finance, particularly after a stunning performance in a pre-election debate with the actual Minister for Finance, George Colley. However the position went to Richie Ryan, with FitzGerald becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs. It was a case of history repeating itself as FitzGerald's father, Desmond had held that post in a government led by Liam Cosgrave's father W.T. Cosgrave fifty years earlier. His appointment to Iveagh House (the home of the Department of Foreign Affairs) would have a huge affect on FitzGerald's own career and the future of Fine Gael as we shall see. Cosgrave was suspicious of FitzGerald's liberal ideas and believed he had designs on the leadership. By appointing him as Foreign Minister Cosgrave hoped that FitzGerald would be out of the country and would lose touch with the party. The exact opposite is what happened.

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). FitzGerald, firmly ensconced as Foreign Minister, was free from any blame due to other Ministers mishandling of the economy. If anything his tenure at the Department of Foreign Affairs helped him to achieve the leadership of the party. His innovative views, energy and fluency in French won him - and through him, Ireland - a status in European affairs far exceeding the country’s size and ensured that the first Irish Presidency of the European Council in 1975 was a noted success. His reputation, and that of Ireland's, abroad increased his popularity and his affable style helped change the traditional, stereotypical European view of Ireland.

Leader of Fine Gael

In 1977 the National Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour suffered a disastrous electoral defeat. Liam Cosgrave resigned as party leader and FitzGerald was chosen by acclamation to succeed him. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader he set about modernising and revitalising Fine Gael. He immediately appointed a General-Secretary to oversee all of this, a tactic copied from Fianna Fáil. FitzGerald took a personal tour of every constituency in Ireland in an effort to breath new life into a demoralised Fine Gael.

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 (their 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. Much of the success was FitzGerald's; 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.

Taoiseach 1981-1982

By the time of the general election in 1981 Fine Gael had a party machine that could easily match Fianna Fáil's. The party won 65 seats and formed a minority coalition government with the Labour Party and the support of a number of Independent TDs. FitzGerald was elected Taoiseach on June 30, 1981.

The government that he led has been described as a better one than is second. FitzGerald showed an unsuspected toughness in naming a young and innovative Cabinet. Richie Ryan, Richard Burke and Tom O'Donnell, former Fine Gael stalwarts were all excluded. Two fundamental problems faced FitzGerald during his first period, Northern Ireland and the worsening economic situation. A protest march in support of the H-Block hunger strikers in July 1981 was dealt with by FitzGerald through a combination of firmness and restraint.

The economic crisis was also a lot worse than FitzGerald had feared. Fine Gael had to jettison its plans for tax-cuts in the run-up to the election and a draconian mid year budget was introduced almost immediately. The July Budget seemed exceptionally austere for a government dependent on Independent TDs support. However the second budget introduced by John Bruton led to the Government's shock defeat in Dáil Éireann on the evening of January 27, 1982.

Viewing his defeat as a Loss of Supply FitzGerald headed to Áras an Uachtaráin to request an immediate Dáil dissolution from President Hillery. When he 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 Barret 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.)

In the subsequent general election Fine Gael lost only two seats and were out of power. However, a third general election withing eighteen months in November 1982 resulted in FitzGerald being returned as Taoiseach for a second time, heading a Fine Gael-Labour coalition with a working majority.

Taoiseach 1982-1987

Deep economic recession dominated FitzGerald's second term as well as his first. The pursuit of ‘fiscal rectitude’ in order to reduce a high national debt required a firmer control of public spending than Labour found easy to accept. The harmonious relationship the Taoiseach developed with Tánaiste, Dick Spring, successfully avoided a collapse of the coalition for more than four years, despite tensions between other ministers, and enabled a rational economic policy to evolve.

Constitutional Reform

As Taoiseach for a second time FitzGerald 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.

Northern Ireland

Perhaps FitzGerald’s most dramatic achievement as Taoiseach was in regard to Northern Ireland. The New Ireland Forum which he set up in 1983 brought together representatives of the constitutional political parties in the Republic and the nationalist SDLP from the North. Although the unionist parties spurned his invitation to join, and the Forum’s conclusions proposing various forms of association between Northern Ireland and the Republic were rejected by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Forum provided the impetus for the resumption of serious negotiations between the Irish and British governments, which culminated in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985. This agreement provided for a mechanism by which the Republic of Ireland could be consulted by the British Government under Margaret Thatcher regarding the governance of Northern Ireland.

While the Agreement was repudiated by Unionists, it became the basis for developing trust and common action between the governments, which in time would bring about the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 and the subsequent Republican and Loyalist cease-fires.

In January 1987 the Labour Party members of the government withdrew from the government over disagreements due to budget proposals. FitzGerald continued as Taoiseach heading a minority Fine Gael government until Fianna Fáil returned to power in March 1987, after Fine Gael were heavily defeated. FitzGerald took the extraordinary step of announcing that Fine Gael would support Fianna Fáil in government if they adopted sensible economic policies.

Post-Taoiseach Period

FitzGerald retired as leader of Fine Gael immediately after the general election to be replaced by Alan Dukes. His wife, Joan, died in 1990 after many years of a crippling illness and his autobiography, "All in a Life," appeared in 1991, immediately becoming a best-seller. He retired completely from politics in 1992. Since then he has written a popular weekly column every Saturday in The Irish Times, and lectures widely at home and abroad on public affairs. He came out of retirement to campaign for a yes vote in the second Nice referendum, held in 2002.


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.

However, FitzGerald was one of the Republic of Ireland's most popular politicians, known to all sides simply as 'Garret'. 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 from his entry into Irish politics in the mid 1960s until his retirement in 1992.

FitzGerald's First Government, June 1981-March 1982


  • August 21, 1981: The Department of Energy changes its title to the Department of Industry & Energy. On the same day the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism changes to the Department of Trade,Commerce and Tourism.
  • October 21, 1981: Senator James Dooge joins the Cabinet as Minister for Foreign Affairs, taking over from John Kelly.

FitzGerald's Second Government, December 1982-March 1987


  • December 8, 1983: Garret FitzGerald takes over the Trade, Commerce & Tourism portfolio on a temporary basis, following the resignation of Frank Cluskey.
  • December 12, 1983: The Department of Industry & Energy changes its name to the Department of Energy. On the same day the Department of Trade, Commerce & Tourism changes its name to the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism.
  • December 13, 1983: A Cabinet re-shuffle takes place. Dick Spring becomes the new Minister for Energy, John Bruton is appointed Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism, Liam Kavanagh becomes Minister for the Environment and Ruairi Quinn joins the Cabinet as Minister for Labour.
  • January 2, 1984: The abolition of the Department of Transport, Posts & Telegraphs sees Jim Mitchell becoming the first Minister for Communications.
  • February 14, 1986: A major Cabinet re-shuffle takes place. Liam Kavanagh becomes the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries & Forestry, Patrick Cooney is appointed Minister for Education, John Boland takes over as Minister for the Environment, Paddy O'Toole takes on two portfolios as Minister for Defence & the Gaeltacht, Alan Dukes moves to the position of Minister for Justice, Barry Desmond remains as Minister for Health but the Social Welfare portfolio now goes to Gemma Hussey, Michael Noonan becomes the new Minister for Industry & Commerce and Ruairi Quinn takes on the Public Service portfolio while remaining as Minister for Labour.
  • February 19, 1986: The Department of Fisheries & Forestry changes its name to the Department of Tourism, Fisheries & Forestry. On the same day the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism changes to the Department of to Industry and Commerce.
  • January 20, 1987: The Labour Party members, Dick Spring, Barry Desmond, Liam Kavanagh and Ruairi Quinn, resign from the government. No new members join the Cabinet and their portfolios are redistributed as follows. Peter Barry takes over as Tánaiste, John Bruton takes over the Public Service portfolio, Paddy O'Toole receives the Tourism, Fisheries & forestry portfolio, John Boland takes over the Health portfolio, the Energy portfolio is added to Michael Noonan's brief and Gemma Hussey receives the Labour portfolio.

Preceded by:
Brian Lenihan
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by:
Michael O'Kennedy
Preceded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Leader of the Fine Gael Party
Succeeded by:
Alan Dukes

Template:Succession box two to two

Preceded by:
T.K. Whitaker
Chancellor of the National University of Ireland
Succeeded by:
Current Incumbent

Template:End box

Template:Taoisigh na hÉireannga:Gearóid Mac Gearailt gd:Garret FitzGerald


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