I am watching the oration of President Obama on CNN. He is speaking outside the Bank of Ireland building on College Green. It was he who broke the news – as I heard it – that Garret FitzGerald has died.
Nihil nisi bonum… Well I do not believe that. However, in this case an elegy to the good doctor is richly deserved. He was a man of intellectual attainments, a restrained campaigner, a man of reasonable views, an honourable man and a fine leader. He was more statesman than politician.
I have read his autobiography.
I had a chance to meet him – have tea with him in about 2001 and I forgot! It shall be to my eternal regret. I have stayed in the guesthouse on St Michael’s Street where he used to stay.
This is not an encomium. I must own that despite all his qualities he was not very successful as Taoiseach. In the 1980s when he dominated the political scene there was high unemployment, half the youth emigrated. Crime was rising as drug abuse spread. He did his best to calm the Ulster conflict. He signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This was a commendable thing to do and he had to do it in the teeth of opposition from hardline nationalists. He espoused a very moderate and honourable edition of Irish nationalism. He stood up to pressures to exacerbate the Ulster conflict. He eschewed irresponsible tub thumping rhetoric. That took moral courage.
He contributed to debate and academe after he retired from politics. He will be missed.