Leaders pay tribute to former taoiseach


Tributes have paid by senior figures in Irish society to former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald who died this morning.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Dr FitzGerald was "a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland".

Mr Kenny said the former Fine Gael leader with "his towering intellect and enthusiasm for life" will be missed by everybody.

“He had an eternal optimism for what could be achieved in politics. You could not tire him out and his belief that politics and democracy would work for peace,” said Mr Kenny.

Former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader John Bruton said Dr FitzGerald would "stand out as a man who changed Ireland". He said Dr FitzGerald "changed attitudes" to the Northern question and to Europe and saw that "Ireland could do best in Europe if it contributed creatively to goals and ambitions of other members".

Extending his sympathy to Dr FitzGerald's family, Mr Bruton said: "Ireland , and the world, have lost a great citizen."

Former president Mary Robinson said Dr Fitzgerald was "a moral as well as a political leader of great integrity".

"A deeply spiritual man he lived his values and gave of his time and boundless energies in high political office. Later, he continued as a guide and mentor to this country he loved so much through his writing, broadcasting and public speaking here and around the world."

Mrs Robinson said the former taoiseach had "a great capacity for love and friendship, of his wife Joan and his large immediate family but also of a wide circle of friends, including children who delighted in his company.

"The life of service and scholarship he lived and the way he committed himself to so many activities long past usual retirement age endeared him to Irish people, young and old. Nick and I and our entire family will miss him dearly. May he rest in peace."

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said Dr FitzGerald was a man "driven to understand, to confront problems with evidence, to weight facts and to reach conclusions".

"A great citizen of our Republic is lost to us. A flame is dimmed. But the example that he offered us, the ideals that he lived by, continue to serve us today, he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr FitzGerald, whom he said had served the Irish people with "great intelligence, decency and commitment".

Mr Martin said Dr FitzGerald had given "distinguished and patriotic service to our people". "Even in recent years, though he had long stepped out of the arena of party politics, Garret took to the campaign trail with vigour and determination to help ensure the passing of EU referenda.

"Though my party did not necessarily agree with Garret on every political issue, I greatly admired his integrity, his abilities and his unfailing politeness and courtesy," added Mr Martin.

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen said expressed his sympathies to the family of Dr. Garret FitzGerald and described him as "a much loved and respected figure in Irish public life".

"He was always gracious, friendly and courteous. In our many conversations over the years, Garret was engaging and affable and could be depended upon to articulate intelligent viewpoints.

"Garret FitzGerald was a person who never sat on the sidelines, and he was always willing to take the risks and sacrifice that go with an active life in politics and decision making in public affairs", Mr Cowen said.

"He was an excellent and decent politician who sought to improve the standing of our country in all that he did."

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Dr FitzGerald "was never partisan or tribal". He said he "truly did put people before politics".

"Fine Gael were his party, but he recognised that no group individual had a monopoly of wisdom", he added.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn described Dr FitzGerald as "a man of great integrity and powerful intellect".

"Garret was passionate about Europe and Ireland’s place in it, and I worked closely with him on a number of European referenda. He was a great force for modernisation and tolerance in Ireland.

"Nowhere is this clearer than in his role in the peace process in Northern Ireland – probably his finest political achievement. He can be credited with leading Ireland on the path of rapprochement with Britain and truly paving the way for the Anglo Irish Agreement," Mr Quinn added.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, former ministerial colleague Gemma Hussey described Dr Fitzgerald as "a wonderful man and above all, a patriot". She said people on both sides of the Border recognised his "utter integrity and sincerity".

Former EU commissioner and attorney general Peter Sutherland said Dr FitzGerald had an openness to new ideas and relationships that defined his life. "He was a man who will be a giant in the historical recollections of the Irish people for centuries."

Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin offered his sincere sympathies to the family of Dr FitzGerald, describing him as a "unique figure in the political life of this State and of Ireland over many years".

He said that irrespective of the differences he had with Dr FitzGerald over the years, like many other Republicans he would have respected the former taoiseach's integrity.

Green Party leader, John Gormley extended his sympathies. "He will be remembered as a modernising taoiseach, who managed to change the nationalist mindset towards Northern Ireland and integrated Ireland more into the evolving European Union. The Anglo-Irish agreement and his constitutional crusades laid the foundation for a more pluralist and accommodating republic", he said.

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, who bitterly opposed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, led the tributes in Northern Ireland.

Mr Robinson said: “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 president and Nobel Laureate John Hume, a close friend, said Dr FitzGerald was an unswerving supporter of peace and the democratic politics of his party.

He said: “A moderniser and reformer, Garret helped change the face of Irish politics for the better and he enthusiastically embraced Europe and the opportunities it afforded our island.

“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.

“His skills and abilities that marked him out as an outstanding Irish politician of his generation also distinguished him as a journalist and an academic.” Alliance Party leader David Ford said he would be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest statesmen.

He added: “He was very courageous when he led the Republic of Ireland at a very difficult time.”

Labour Party president Michael D Higgins also extended his sympathies to Dr FitzGerald's family, and to the Fine Gael party.

"Dr Fitzgerald was a firm believer that ethics, honour and honesty should

be at the core of politics and was one of those people in public life, who drove that agenda," he said.

"He brought a rare intellectual rigour to public discourse, and raised the level of political interaction, both here in Ireland and beyond. His passing marks a sad day for this Republic."

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, extended his "deepest condolences" to Dr FitzGerald's family.

"It is a remarkable coincidence that Dr FitzGerald's death this morning occurred during these historic days for our country which have resulted in no small part from his efforts to promote peace and reconciliation between Ireland and Britain throughout his lifetime."

Describing Dr FitzGerald as "a committed statesman", he said the former taoiseach had "built on the legacy of generous service established by his father Desmond FitzGerald, the first Minister for External Affairs following the independence of this State".

"As a cabinet minister and Taoiseach he was a reforming politician. He will be remembered for a profound commitment to social justice issues and in particular for his support for the New Ireland Forum and the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

"Dr FitzGerald's independence of thought, his services to higher education, and his ongoing efforts to fostering links with Europe are examples of his dedicated and thoughtful service to our country."

The head of the Church of Ireland, Alan Harper, and Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, said Dr FitzGerald had a unique and inspirational spirit for public service.

Concern Worldwide chief executive Tom Arnold also extended his condolences to the family and friends of the former taoiseach, describing him as "a true statesman, leader and gentleman".

He said throughout his political career, Dr FitzGerald had remained committed to social justice at national and international level. "He will be sadly missed in Ireland and in many other lands."