Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Leader who Inspired - Dr Garret Fitgerald, R.I.P.


Dr Garret Fitgerald, Irish and European Statesman
For some reason I am yet again writing about politics, but only because of circumstance, the recent visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama to our shores and the untimely if synchronicitous (if I may be forgiven for coining this adjective from the substantive "synchronicity" as defined by Carl Gustave Jung) death of our former Taoiseach Dr Garret Fitzgerald at the grand old age of 85.

Dr Fitzgerald has been called a "Renaissance man" by our President Mary McAleese and as possessing a "towering intellect and enthusiasm for life" which will be missed by everybody by our present Taoiseach, Enda KennyKenny went on to opine that the former Taoiseach had an eternal optimism for what could be achieved in politics and that no one could shake him from his belief that politics and democracy would work for peace.  Even the Queen and Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr Cameron were unstinting in their praise for Dr Fitzgerald who is credited as one of the architects of the present peace in Northern Ireland.  In response to his death, the Queen said of Fitzgerald, "I was saddened to hear this morning's news of the death of Garret Fitzgerald, a true statesman. He made a lasting contribution to peace and will be greatly missed."

Prime Minister Cameron's remarks upon the demise of our former Taoiseach were precise and perspicacious, and to my mind summed up the political achievement of Dr. Fitzgerald:

Fitzgerald - Chancellor of the N.U.I.

I watched him as a student of politics, rather than someone involved in politics, and he always struck me as someone who was a statesman as well as a politician, someone who was in politics for all the right reasons, and someone who made a huge contribution to the peace process bringing reconciliation for all that had happened in the past. And I think that today of all days with the state visit and the warm relationship between Britain and Ireland that he can see that some of his work has been completed.
Both these comments were made by the Queen and David Cameron, P.M. while in Ireland on the day of Dr Fitzgerald's death, and indeed the dying man was aware of the important visit of both dignitaries to our shore, and it for this reason that I said in my opening words that our former Taoiseach's death was inspirational in the sense of its sheer synchronicity.  It was almost as if he could die in peace now that a new and deeper relationship has been established between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The Celtic Tiger and the Lack of Leadership

It is easy to be wise in hindsight, but many of us here in Ireland did experience a sheer dearth of leadership of a more statesmanlike variety.  The past fifteen or so years under the uninspiring (and one might quite cavalierly and possibly somewhat incorrectly say corrupt, though one would be forgiven for being so harsh given the ineptitude and mismanagement of the economy by these so-called leaders) leadership of Fianna Fáil.  But statesmanship was singularly lacking in the last fifteen years, so much so that the lack has only served to point up the sheer statesmanship of the late Dr. Garret Fitzgerald.  We certainly have had other statesmen in our former taoisigh: Éamon de Valera, Seán Lemass, Jack Lynch, Liam Cosgrave and even John Bruton from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties.  However, the Fianna Fáil leadership, after these great leaders, was transmogrified into something stagnant and uninspirational at best, and misguided and corrupt at worst.  Thankfully, the electorate in the most recent election was swift and sure in its amputation of this rotten, gangrenous and corrupt limb from the body politic.  As I've said, the outpouring of grief, regret and respect for the late great Dr Garret Fitzgerald only served to point up the ineptitude, misguidance and perhaps corruption of more recent leaders who colluded in the financial downfall of our little island state.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, for whom very few commentators had much to say by way of praise, has filled the lamentable gap in the role of leadership experienced in Irish politics in more recent times. Indeed,  Mr Kenny has proved his detractors wrong as he is quite a brilliant leader who commands the respect of his people.  His sheer integrity, authenticity, sincerity and congruity come across in his bearing and carriage on the international political stage.  He is proving himself to be a statesman as well as a politician.  Well done, Mr. Enda Kenny. 

A Personal Note:

The late great Dr Garret Fitgerald was truly a Renaissance man - cultured, erudite, a Doctor of Economics, a skilled Diplomat, an intellectual who loved statistics, a perspicacious commentator on Irish and international politics, a Europhile, a fluent speaker of French, even if he did speak far too fast in both his native English and in this second language.  He was also a keen and accomplished historian and a particularly good researcher.  However, it was his vision of peace for a broken and suffering Northern Ireland that inspired this constitutional nationalist and that is surely his greatest gift and bequest to the people of Ireland both North and South.  This was the man who described his political objective as the creation of a pluralist Ireland where the northern Protestants of his mother's family tradition and the southern Catholics of his father's could feel equally at home.  I'll quote Queen Elizabeth II again and run the risk of boring my readers, but I feel it is our late great Taoiseach's greatest gift to the peoples of these islands:  "I was saddened to hear this morning's news of the death of Garret Fitzgerald, a true statesman. He made a lasting contribution to peace and will be greatly missed."

Dr. Fitzgerald's daughter Dr Mary Fitzgerald lectured me in English back in the late 1970s.  She possesses a mind similar to her father's - erudite, sophisticated, intellectual and ever so widely read.  She spoke at a velocity equal only to that of her father, and initially we were bowled over by the tornado-like delivery.  When we grew accustomed to her pace and diction, we were awed by yet another "towering intellect."  On a personal note I was lucky also to have attended one of Garret and Joan's theological evenings in the company of the still living great Augustinian Liberal theologian Dr. Gabriel Conor Daly.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal dílis.  Leaba i measc na naomh go raibh aige.  Ní bheidh a leitheid arís ann! 

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