The Queen has added her voice to tributes paid to former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, describing him as “a true statesman who made a lasting contribution to peace in Ireland”.
The monarch yesterday joined warm words spoken about the 85-year-old Fine Gael politician after he died at the Mater Hospital in Dublin after suffering from pneumonia.
Dr FitzGerald’s death has cast a shadow over the Queen’s historic visit to the Republic.
The Queen called Dr FitzGerald, who served twice as Taoiseach at the head of two coalition governments between 1981 and 1987, a “true statesman” who made a “lasting contribution to peace”.
Dr FitzGerald will be remembered for his instrumental role in the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough in 1985 which paved the way for the tentative first steps that led to the peace process.
He put his signature to it with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Irish President Mary McAleese also spoke highly of the former premier, who she described as a “true public servant”.
“Steeped in the history of the State, he constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people. Garret was a persuasive voice for progressive reform,” she said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Garret FitzGerald was a remarkable man who made a remarkable contribution to Irish life.” Prime Minister David Cameron said he “struck him as someone who was a statesman as well as a politician”.
Andrew Mackinlay, former Labour MP for Thurrock, recalled the self-described “reconciliation baby” and how he enjoyed spending time in Donaghadee, Co Down, with his grandmother, an Ulster Presbyterian.
Mr Mackinlay added: “He would have taken great satisfaction at the success of the Queen’s visit and rejoiced in the new era of agreement and peace in Northern Ireland; a place that he loved and knew so well.”
Former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume said, above all, he was a true public servant, a “moderniser and a reformer”.
He added: “He displayed great intellectual foresight and inner fortitude to develop initiatives such as the New Ireland Forum and the Anglo-Irish Agreement which allowed us to open new chapters in our history and ultimately paved the way to peace and the democratic institutions we enjoy today.”
First Minister Peter Robinson said he met with Dr FitzGerald on a number of occasions in “turbulent times”.
“Dr FitzGerald and I disagreed profoundly on many things, especially the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but he never allowed political difference to become a bar to personal relations.”
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said: “It will take time and historical perspective to fully appreciate the achievements of Garret FitzGerald in Irish public life, but his contribution to the peace process must surely stand out. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was achieved against a background of rising violence and strong political resistance. It was the absolute pivot upon which the later stages of the peace process turned.”
She added: “It is poignant that he has passed away during a Royal visit which, as Seamus Mallon has noted, would simply have been impossible without his contribution to the work of peace. May he rest in the same peace.”
Anglo-Irish deal a high point in a long career
1926: Born in Dublin on February 9 to Desmond FitzGerald, the Republic’s first foreign minister, and Mabel Washington McConnell.
1947: He married Joan O’Farrell, who he had met at University College Dublin. They had three children, Mary, John and Mark. Joan died in 1999.
1965: Elected to Seanad Eireann in 1965.
1969: Elected to the Dail as |Fine Gael TD for Dublin South-East.
1973-77 Minister for foreign affairs in Fine Gael government from 1973 to 1977 and became a leading figure in the Sunningdale Agreement negotiations at the time.
1977: FitzGerald and Margaret Thatcher disagreed on the New Ireland Forum he formed.
1977-87: Leader of Fine Gael.
1981: Formed a short-lived minority coalition government with Labour's Michael O'Leary as Tanaiste.
1982: Returned as Taoiseach at the head of a Fine Gael-Labour coalition.
1983: His proposed constitutional reforms on abortion and divorce were rejected. The New Ireland Forum recommendations on nationalism were rejected at a conference in London by Margaret Thatcher. He found her “out, out, out” comments “gratuitously offensive”.
1985: His legacy will be the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave the Irish government a role in Northern Ireland.
1987: Resigned as Fine Gael leader following difficulties with Labour members of the coalition government.
1992: FitzGerald retired from the Dail, however he took particular interest in the Nice and Lisbon Treaties.