FitzGerald 'used Reagan ancestry' to sway Thatcher

Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 01:00

THE LATE taoiseach Garret FitzGerald used what transpired to be a close ancestral connection with US president Ronald Reagan to help sway British prime minister Margaret Thatcher towards the groundbreaking Anglo-Irish Agreement, the inaugural Garret FitzGerald summer school heard in Killarney at the weekend.

Mr Reagan’s “huge” help to Ireland in that period, in the run-up to 1985 and the signing of the agreement, was not fully appreciated, the summer school was told.

The FitzGeralds from Skeheenarinky and the Regans from Ballyporeen came from the same hillside, “3½ miles apart”, in south Tipperary, and the FitzGeralds and the Regans had actually been godparents at each other’s christenings, Mark FitzGerald, Dr FitzGerald’s son, outlined during a presentation on his father’s life at the event organised by Young Fine Gael (YFG).

Dr FitzGerald’s grandfather, Patrick FitzGerald, a labourer, had emigrated to London in the 1850s or 1860s, while Mr Reagan’s great-grandfather had also left for London around this time, and afterwards went to the US. Dr FitzGerald’s father, Desmond, who was minister for external affairs after independence, had been born in London.

It was not widely known how influential Mr Reagan had been in working on his father’s and Ireland’s behalf in persuading Margaret Thatcher, then British prime minister, to come around to the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Mr FitzGerald remarked.

There had been regular telephone calls and consultations between his father and Mr Reagan to help bring about the agreement, which laid the foundations for the Belfast Agreement 13 years later.

“Reagan was a huge help to us in persuading Thatcher to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement. She’d agree to anything Reagan wanted. He helped Ireland in a big way,” Mr FitzGerald said.

His presentation was accompanied by slides of Mr Reagan and Dr FitzGerald together. “Garret loved young people, he loved Fine Gael and loved politics,” Mr FitzGerald said. “But what would Garret say if he were here today,” he asked.

“He would say the most important thing in politics is to have common high standards, while embracing different views. He would say challenge people, be curious. He always said don’t complain – do something.”

Dr FitzGerald, born in 1926, and the third child of Mabel and Desmond, was known in the family as the reconciliation child, as the couple had taken different views on the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he also said.

In 1959, 50 per cent of the people born in 1926, the year Dr FitzGerald was born, were no longer living in Ireland, having emigrated. Today, Garret would “challenge protectionism and the high costs of the public service,” his son said.

Dr FitzGerald had established Young Fine Gael to create an avenue for young people to participate in politics and it was in that spirit the summer school was being named after him, Patrick Molloy, president of YFG, said.