When I sat down to write about the passing of Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, I wanted to avoid the usual Great Statesman/Patriot stuff. Yes, he was both those things, but on a personal level, to so many of us in politics, he was just Garret. I met him a few times, but only really had a conversation with him once, where we discussed the different aspects of electoral systems, and he told me that he, just for fun, had run the last Irish general election in his study at ward level using different electoral systems to see what would happen. If anyone else had said that to me, I would have thought they were crackers, but even as I write this I’m smiling and can feel the tears well up, because that was Garret.
I fought in elections against his party, but I never regarded myself as being against Garret, and I know that was a feeling shared by so many of us from parties other than FG. We all had a gut instinct for the values Garret stood for, a modern, progressive, forward-looking, tolerant, liberal and pro-European Ireland. Garret was the best in Irish politics, and those of us on the centre-right and centre-left of progressive politics were Generation Garret.
He wasn’t always right, and it’s fair to say that his time as Taoiseach was mixed. Yet he kept Haughey away from power for five years, and that alone merits his inclusion in the pantheon of great Irish leaders. But his values were ahead of their time and were vindicated to be right. From extremist Catholics to extremist nationalists, all telling him that his ideas were alien to Ireland: He was proven right. They were proven wrong. And Ireland is better for it.
I really hope we do something to remember him by, like maybe naming Dublin Airport after him, or erecting a statue of him in Terminal 2: I like the idea of Irish people rubbing one of his odd shoes (my Irish readers know what I mean by that) for luck before flying out into the world, taking with them just a little bit of Garret and what he meant to be Irish with them.
So farewell then. You have played your part, and left us better people for having known you. Onto a well earned rest, and no doubt an eternity of columns in the Saturday edition of The Heaven Times on interesting historical nuggets about harps and imaginative solutions to the pressing problems of cloud congestion. You actually have done the state some service.