Outspoken politician, architect and champion of ‘Bungalow Bliss’

Jack Fitzsimons: April 26th, 1930 – November 4th, 2014

 

Jack Fitzsimons, who has died aged 84, was a colourful and outspoken politician, architect and writer.

He was a Fianna Fáil senator, later bidding a bitter farewell to the party and its then leader, Charles Haughey, and he was the author of a number of books, most notably Bungalow Bliss. The best-selling book, which featured low-cost designs at a time when architects’ fees were high, drew the ire of conservationists who believed the countryside was being blighted by one-off housing.

Fitzsimons, who lived in Kells, Co Meath, was first elected to the Seanad in 1983 on the Industrial and Commercial panel and was re-elected in 1987. He was an articulate and frequent contributor to debates, bringing his experience as an architect to bear on issues such as amending the National Monuments Bill.

His resignation from Fianna Fáil came within hours of his defeat in the 1989 Seanad election. Insisting his decision did not represent “sour grapes’’, he called for Haughey’s resignation, arguing that he had made “too many serious blunders’’.

Haughey leadership

In a letter to the then Fianna Fáil general secretary, Frank Wall, he referred to his “unpopular stance’’ within the parliamentary party in challenging Haughey’s leadership on a number of occasions.

“Party loyalty demands unswerving discipline which I have always accepted, but there is a limit,’’ he added. “There is no substitute for common or garden sense and, when that is thrown out the window, it would be foolhardy to disembark.’’

He said his criticism of Haughey was on the grounds that there was “no ideology, no consistency, no positive approach’’ within Fianna Fáil, and that debate was stifled.

The then Fianna Fáil chief whip, Vincent Brady, hit back, remarking it was “a matter of some disappointment that he should make his announcement in the aftermath of his losing his seat to another member of the Fianna Fáil party’’.

Books

Away from the political arena, he continued to produce books, from his desktop in Kells, including Democracy be Damned, an indictment of what he considered to be the machinations of his former party. He wrote books on Meath’s heritage and on the county’s thatched cottages with photographs taken by himself.

He hit out at the critics of bungalow-building in the countryside in Bungalow Bashing, with one chapter headlined “Bungalow Bliss Policy is Best’’. He also claimed he met a very unsympathetic response from a minister when he sought special grants to preserve thatched houses.

The minister, he said, told him “these shacks are a health hazard’’, should be bulldozed and the people who lived in such “primitive conditions’’ brought into civilisation.

He is survived by his wife, Anne, children Cora, Lana, Lloyd, Emla and Ken.