Death of Garret FitzGerald

In addition to his political career, Garret FitzGerald made a huge contribution to the analysis of the Irish economy over many decades. Deepest condolences to his family.  News article here.

39 replies on “Death of Garret FitzGerald”

In addition to being easily the best statistician that Ireland has ever produced, putting The Celebrity Economists to shame, it was he who got the ball rolling with the peace process back in the 1980s, indeed even before that. While many southern politicians wanted to totally ignore the North, he took an active interest in it, because his mother was a Protestant Republican from Belfast. I met him at Queens University, Belfast, in October 1967 when he came up for a debate, at a time when hardly any southern politicians could be bothered to cross the border, and his brilliance was obvious to everyone. That was the year before The Troubles started, but everyone could see that they were coming. He put forward ideas that night to avert and resolve them, which bear a striking similarity to what has since come to pass. When John Hume launched the talks with Sinn Fein that started the peace process, Garret Fitzgerald supported him, in contrast to certain Dublin 4 academics and journalists who railed against them and predicted Civil War. The fact that the Queen was welcomed at Croke Park yesterday is proof that his judgement was correct and that the others wrong were wrong.

John, if there was anything we learned from the process it was to ignore the embarassing fawning of the Sindo types and others dinosaurs.

While I disagreed with you on many points it was clear that you were a gentleman and true to what you believed.

RIP Garret.

Let us mourn his passing and celebrate a life dedicated to public service and scholarship. And, after that, let those who have the necessary knowledge and the historians assess his contribution. This is not a time for scoring cheap political points.

Long before economics became a branch of entertainment, Dr. FitzGerald presented analyses on economic developments to a general audience.

In the 1970s, he and Conor Cruise O’Brien had the vision to see that the path to reconciliation in the North could only be achieved by working towards ending the siege mentality of Unionism.

It wasn’t easy and by the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, it met the implacable opposition of Haughey and Paisley.

Dr. FitzGearld also deserves credit as head of a mainly conservative party for holding a referendum on divorce.

It was opposed by the unholy trinity of FF, the Catholic Church and the IFA – – the latter fearful of their patrimony being seized by their hired chattels.


The thing about Garret was that he was far better than anyone who followed him. I was watching Biffo and Bertie in the Garden of Remebrance the other day and that was the best we had ?

I’m too young to remember GF as a politician but I always thought that it wouldn’t take many more people of his calibre to make the country a better place.

On the subject of economics,I understand and I may be wrong, that Dr Fitzgerald was offered the Directorshop of the London School of Economics but declined for personal reasons. Also on a personal note he was a member of An Taisce and very generously gave his time to speak at a breakfast fundraiser in the recent past. A true patriot.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis

Interesting that the word ‘integrity’ is being usd by many folk in their perception of GF.Not sure that there are many others within the past and present governing elite of this country – political,administrative,financial,business,professional and institutional – who would receive similar helpings of the ‘integrity’ word and perception…

Maria Farrell has fine tribute GF at Crooked Timber.

@JtO: “…easily the best statistician that Ireland has ever produced….”

If you had said that to his face, Garret Fitzgerald would probably have felt obliged to set you straight with a lecture on the many fine statisticians Ireland has produced, beginning with a particularly famous employee of Arthur Guinness & Co.

@ seafoid

Exactly right. A quick glance at Dr Fitzgeralds successors shows just how highly we should regard him. Throughout the last 3 years of this crisis he has been more and more willing to voice his opinion and add his intellect to whatever discussion might benefit from it. Contrast that with the contribution of albert reynolds and bertie: the square root of f**k all, john bruton: the vested interests of his new employers and now Brian Cowen, I confidently predict we’ll not be hearing from him ever again….. He was a leader with courage, and had an intellect to back it up. We have few enough of them.

JtO wrestles with his conscience, good taste and a wider view and wins. Well done sir
As for GF : Even though I had to leave teh country while he was in charge, he was head shoulders and torso above the ruck. Did I always agree with him? No. Was he always a man whom one felt was a true patriot? Yes.

While I disliked his recent cut at the Celebrity Economists, there was no denying a Great Brain which spent most of its time figuring out how to advance this country. It was enlightening to watch him hold court at the Western Star bar after a debate at the UCC Philosophical Society nine years ago where he was surrounded by students, many of whom would not have been born when he became Taoiseach even the second time around.

RIP Dr. Fitzgerald.

Garret was really and truly a great public servant. He had qualities which make him stand out among the couple of generations of Irish office holders which followed Lemass. He had a genuine sense of serving the public, a notion of what public office meant. He also formed and articulated a vision of the republic which looked forward and sought to move it beyond the rarefied and narrow mindset that pervaded Ireland and its elite in the seventies and eighties. And of course he had a brilliant mind.

No doubt he had his flaws – and seemed at times to lack politcal savvy. The debacle with GPA and AIB was embarassing – and costly. But on the whole his contribution to Irish life was enormous. It was magnificent to see his genuine and useful engagement in the national debate more than 20 years after he retired. Some contrast with Bertie Ahern who turned to a tabloid to write about sport. Elder statesman and all that.

Garret for me came across as a learned, avuncular figure who, with his keen intellect and his vocation for public service reminded me of an admixture of the French public intellectual and the American notion of serving the nation in high office.

It indeed depressing to note that these twin qualities that Garret possessed – a keen intellect and a genuine patriotism – were so rare in recent generations of the Irish political leadership. Irish politics in the 80s was dominated by the struggle between Fitzgerald and Haughey. It was no doubt to our detriment that it was Haughey – and more so, Haugheyism – that triumphed. It set the conduct of Irish politics on a path which played no small part in landing us in our current predicament.

One way or another, Garret will be missed. His legacy will not so much be measured in singular achievements – but in the example he set in how to serve your nation.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I am sad to hear of Garret FitzGerald’s passing. He had a long life and used it with passion , intensity and good humour in the interest of Ireland to the very end. His opinions could be challenged on certain issues but at all times he acted with integrity and in the best interest of people in general and, of course , Irish people in particular.

He did his very best for his country and I thank him for that.

May he rest in peace.

I would like to echo Philip with my appreciation for Garret Fitzgerald’s immense contribution to Irish economics. His lifetime’s productivity — and not least the span of that productivity — is an inspiration to us all. His Saturday-morning insights on economic and political affairs are already greatly missed. My deepest sympathies to John and all of Dr. Fitzgerald’s family and friends.

Garret FitzGerald has been the best liked and respected living politician of the last 10 years. His battles with Haughey shaped the political lanscape for a long time. Most of us will probably never again see two such charismatic Irish politicians pitted against each other. (It was tough being on the opposing side to GF for children in Dublin schools at the height of the battle.) The passing of such a well respected Irish figure from the national debate at a time of uncertainty is a real loss for our country. Hopefully, his past work will continue to influence and bear fruit.

The contrast with the two contemporaries FitzGerald and Haughey could be summed up in Garret turning up at an official function as taoiseach with shoes of different colours while Charlie had businessmen funding his handmade Chavret shirts from Paris.

The Dáil debate on Haughey’s appointment as taoiseach was a very bitter affair.

FitzGerald was criticised for saying Haughey had ‘a flawed pedigree’ without being specific; Noel Browne called Haughey ‘a deadly cross between Nixon and Salazar’ and the following day’s Irish Times had a picture of a handwritten sign on a window near D’Olier St., which read: ‘Reichstag Burns, Haughey invades Poland.’

Garret appears to have regretted being negative at the time but it’s a hard call to make when there was so much known in Leinster House that was unknown to the public.

Inspiring to read the stories of GF as a lecturer and someone who engaged students with important debates. Also, whether agreeing or disagreeing him, to see a former Taoiseach earnestly grappling with serious issues at a high intellectual level and debating them in many public forums right into his mid-80s was great to see. I hope he sets an example for young politicans to try to raise the level of Irish political debate and rescue it from meaningless spin and repetition of party mantras.

May he rest in peace and my sympathies to his family.

Delighted for him that he probably had a chance to see the visitation events in his last moments.


@ Michael Hennigan

In the 1970s, he and Conor Cruise O’Brien had the vision to see that the path to reconciliation in the North could only be achieved by working towards ending the siege mentality of Unionism.

This isn’t a day to speak ill of the dead, but the Cruiser’s been in whatever Hell he went to for a while now, and I’m not going to let attempts to paint a halo on him slide by. From Wikipedia:

“An incident was to mar O’Brien’s career as minister and in particular his attitude towards free speech. Bernard Nossitier of the Washington Post interviewed O’Brien in August 1976 regarding the passage of the Emergency Powers Bill. During the course of the interview O’Brien revealed that he had intentions other than those stated in the bill. He claimed that he wished to “cleanse the culture” of republicanism. He stated that he would’ve liked the bill to be used against teachers who glorified Irish revolutionaries and against newspaper editors who published letters in support of Republicans.[10] During the interview he mentioned the Irish Press as a newspaper which he hoped to use this bill against. Nossiter then informed Tim Pat Coogan who was the editor of the Irish Press. Coogan printed the interview and a number of strong editorials attacking the bill. The interview caused huge controversy and a highly modified version of the bill was passed, which dropped the proposal to extend sanctions to newspapers.

O’Brien’s attitude towards Garda brutality in this period has been remarked upon.[11] In his book,[6] he recalls a conversation with a detective who told him how the Gardaí had found out – from a suspect – the location of businessman Tiede Herrema, who had been kidnapped by the IRA in October 1975: “[T]he escort started asking him questions and when at first he refused to answer, they beat the shit out of him. Then he told them where Herrema was.” O’Brien explained, “I refrained from telling this story to Garret [FitzGerald] or Justin [Keating], because I thought it would worry them. It didn’t worry me.” The elements of the Garda Síochána that engaged in beating suspects later became known as the “Heavy Gang”.”


Thought the same when I saw someone commenting that Conor showed vision on the north. As your point shows the cruiser was a thug and a bigot. Lets not forget that his career ended with a minor and extreme unionist faction in the north.

@ wow

No problem. I suspect that the CCO’B mentioon here arose because JtO had mentioned “certain Dublin 4 academics and journalists who railed against them and predicted Civil War” – i.e. the elder headbanger at the Sindo.


George Orwell once said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

I don’t believe in sainthood and frozen mindsets will always find succour from Google.

It’s possible to view Conor Cruise O’Brien’s decision to join a small Unionist party as weird and eccentric but it does not negate the personal courage in challenging a brutal criminal organisation, which for a time in the 1970s threatened the institutions of the State.

It wasn’t easy for FitzGerald and O’Brien to sell arguments on modernising a country with a hypocritical and apparently immutable orthodoxy, which covered-up the extensive abuse of human rights.

It had taken a brave woman from Cork to challenge the ban on the importation of contraceptives, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 1973. It took two decades more of tomfoollery and fears of ‘floodgates’ being opened, to modernise the law.

Cruise O’Brien’s cousin Owen Sheehy-Skeffington had in earlier years been one of the few public torch-bearers for liberal values and the writer Seán Ó Faoláin said on his death that he was “a man undefeated by all the weaklings and the cowards who yapped at him while he laughed and fought them, a man who, in a country and a time not rich in moral courage, never swerved or changed and who kept his youthful spirit to the very end.”

I find myself annoyed and upset at the universal praise GF receives this week. Not because he didn’t deserve it but because I remember very clearly the 80’s and the abuse and sneering he endured. “Garret the Good” was a term of abuse not affection. For far too long, “goodness” was equated to naivety, and intellectuals were elitist. To be truly “clever” and “smart” you did what you had to do to get ahead, pulling any necessary stroke.
I heard Sara Burke say on RTE Radio 1 yesterday that she was relieved that being good had appeared to come back into fashion in recent years and that Garret had lived to see that.
(mind you, he did get a bit crotchety in the last year or so with Karl etc, but we’ll forgive him that).

Here’s to working until we’re 85. Something I’ve always planned to do anyway, even without the pension crisis!


I was watching Biffo and Bertie in the Garden of Remebrance the other day and that was the best we had ?

JTO again:

You forget that Ireland is a small country. You can’t expect it to produce politicians of the high moral fibre, genius and statesmanship of such as Dominique-Strauss-Kahn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Francois Mitterand, John Prescott, Silvio Berlusconi, Chris Hulme, Jacques Chirac, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg et al.

@ All

No matter the achievements and flaws I think some of the comments above (mistakes and all) should be left to another time & another thread.

Evidently he was a much loved husband, father, grandfather, friend and colleague and it should, IMHO, be at this time, left at that.


What a load of Tosh from an Ivory Tower Academic. This has been the problem of this crisis that people like you (there are many) believe that you are superior to the rest of us including Garret and that if we do not produce articles in academic journals that the views of the rest of us are not worthy of consideration. Maybe when you get a bit of courage like Garret you might like to put a real name to yourself so we can judge you like you have Garret and that maybe you are also “Useless” and a utterly incompetent university teacher and not a Scholar. For the record Garret lectured to me on Economic Statistics and with or without notes he got the student’s interest for his time in the classroom.

@Sarah Carey,

“Garret the Good”, “Dublin 4”, and “The National Handlers” were pejorative terms brought into public discourse by journalist John Healy and perpetuated by others like John Waters. They were meant to plant a picture of Garret Fitzgerald as a woolly academic, divorced from the reality of “real” Irish people – who seemed to be all rural, Catholic and living in small towns in the West of Ireland. Those terms were also a part of the conunterbalancing myth of the hard-nosed, practical financial wizardry of that horny-handed son of the soil, Charles J. Haughey.

“Fitzgerald runs an economy, but Haughey runs a country” was another piece of faux-wisdom from those witless Solons.

That “Garret the Good” is now used as a true description is only another example of how irony can home to roost and rebound against it originators. Garret the Good it will truly be from now on.

Garret Fitzgerald stands head and shoulders over all Irish politicians since Sean Lemass, with maybe John Hume as the only exeption. We will be lucky to see his like again.

@ Michael Hennigan

I don’t believe in sainthood and frozen mindsets will always find succour from Google.

Before you start congratulating yourself on your cleverness and turn of phrase, I’ll point out that that “Finfacts” is also ‘on Google’ in a similar manner. Are you saying that what is written (and referenced, mind you) in the Wikipedia page is incorrect? If so, I’m sure that you can do us all a service here.

And comparing an educated thug like CCO’B with his illustrious pacifist cousin (murdered by the British in 1916) takes balls, even for you.

For me Garret Fitzgerald was one of only two inspirational Irish political leaders over the past 50 years (the other being John Hume).
I knew him as an economics lecturer,economic journalist and politician and his ability to inspire with ideas and challenge existing dogma was wonderful. And all the time he was a man of humility and integrity with a warm and positive attitude to people and life in general.
My deepest sympathy to his family.

There is no doubt that our difficulties would have been hugely less if his advice had been followed in the years before our economic collapse. Would that our leaders in recent times had possessed his sense of responsibility.

He showed great strength of character in courageously leading the country in a more liberal direction.

His approach to the troubles is the one that lead to a peaceful settlement.

In full flight as a commentator he was, especially on the radio, as unique a voice and as great a national treasure as Micheal O’Muircheartaigh.

RIP and condolences to the family.

I had great admiration for Garret Fitzgerald all of my adult life and particularly the past twenty years. A true patriot.
The Yeats line of “Nor the best labourer dead and all the sheaves to bind” would be fitting particularly at this time.


And comparing an educated thug like CCO’B with his illustrious pacifist cousin (murdered by the British in 1916) takes balls, even for you.

I don’t wish to promote more bilious outbursts from you; on the facts, I referred above to Senator Owen Sheehy-Skeffington who died in 1970, not his father Francis.

@Sarah Carey

I wouldn’t make a big deal of the criticism of Garret during his time in politics.

It was mild in comparison with the recent election in Canada, where the leader of the opposition, Michael Ignatieff, late of Harvard and Oxford, was tarred as an academic carpetbagger, and suffered the humiliation of his constituents rejecting him.

@ All

Desmond O’Malley says in the Irish Times today: “He boasted to me once that he thought he was the only private individual who had a full set of all the Irish national statistics since the 1920s. That he felt this to be a valuable possession was a measure of the man.”

It’s great to have positive enthusiasms into old age; too many wait around for the grim reaper from 60.

@ Hennigan

I give you that – wrong Sheehy-Skeffington. Still, I notice you running away very hard from defending your assertions on the sainted CCO’B right now.

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