Garret Fitzgerald was one of the few politicians that sparked interest in England.
Interest in Irish politics or history amongst most of my lecturers at the London School of Economics ended with the 1921 Treaty. At that point Ireland had gone its own way and apart from the vexed question of the North/Northern Ireland/Ulster/the Six Counties, there was not much that caught the attention. But for a brief period a quarter of a century ago, there was a spark of interest amongst the academics who taught me. Ireland had three general elections in eighteen months. Like two old heavyweight boxers trying to pound each other into submission, Charles Haughey and Garret Fitzgerald trod streets, and stood on platforms, and made countless speeches. On 24th November 1982, Garret Fitzgerald gained the upper hand and formed a government that was to last until 1987.
The politics lecturer believed part of the instability in those opening years of the 80s was due to the fact that there was no ideological difference between the two main parties, it was an issue of personalities. He recounted a tale from the European Parliament in 1973. At the formation of the new parliament, it was alleged, both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had applied to become members of the Christian Democrat grouping at Strasbourg. The story goes that the Fianna Fail application arrived earlier and was placed in an ‘in tray’, the Fine Gael application was later, and was placed in the ‘in tray’ above that of their opponents. When the letters were opened, the Fine Gael application was considered first and they were admitted to the grouping, leaving Fianna Fail without membership of a significant parliamentary group.
Perhaps its the fact that the battleground is not clear that makes Irish politics so grey. Few people in England could actually now name the Irish prime minister, let alone give his official title.
Not only is the ideological ground unclear, but there is nothing much left to fight over. Most law now originates with the European Union; economic policy is determined by the European Central Bank; foreign policy differences with Europe are hardly possible when you are a small country of four million people. You are left wondering what the government is actually for; most things would run more smoothly if left to a professional civil service.
Lack of issues and lack of powers left us with the lack lustre election campaign last February when spoiling the ballot paper seemed the most attractive choice. The Government of Enda Kenny assumed power to continue the policies of its predecessor; no-one the calibre of Fitzgerald now sits on the Dail benches. There are people of the calibre of Fitzgerald but they see see no point in engaging in Irish politics.
The surrender to the IMF and ECB, the weakness of the Government’s defence of Irish sovereignty, the persistence with economic policies that are exacerbating the situation (check the yields on Irish bonds at the NTMA website), leaves you almost longing for the days of Charles J and Garret the Good, at least a choice of personalities was better than a choice on nothing at all.
One echo remains though, Ian. A FG government takes over the wreckage caused by a corrupt FF administration.
I was wondering whether there was any irony in Garret’s passing – he whose peace efforts prompted the Out, Out, Out from Thatcher – as the Queen arrived on what’s been described as another step to reconciliation.
I wonder if Garret would have even made a politician in England where politics is much more politicized!
Garret made a huge contribution to Irish life in so many ways, political, academic & personal. It is a shame so much of what he held dear has turned so sour.
The Queen’s visit , at least, was a tribute to his work on Irish/British relations.