Garret FitzGerald dies at 85; former Irish prime minister

Garret FitzGerald, who as Ireland’s prime minister in the 1980s was an early architect for peace in neighboring Northern Ireland, died Thursday at a Dublin hospital, the government and his family announced. He was 85. The cause was not given.

FitzGerald, former leader of Ireland’s perennial No. 2 party, Fine Gael, lived just long enough to see Fine Gael finally overtake its old enemy, Fianna Fail, to claim first place in a national election this year for the first time.

FitzGerald’s closest political colleagues said he also was deeply heartened to see this week’s first-ever trip to Dublin by Queen Elizabeth II, a crowning event of the Northern Ireland peace process that FitzGerald did much to promote during his two terms in office from 1981 to 1987.

FitzGerald’s greatest triumph is the British-Irish agreement of 1985, an achievement shaped by his Dublin upbringing with a northern Protestant mother and southern Catholic father.


After suffering years of rebuffs, in 1985 he persuaded then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — renowned for her coolness to Irish nationalism — that she must concede a role for the Republic of Ireland in managing the north’s affairs.

The treaty infuriated the British territory’s Protestant majority but it created a space where Ireland and the north’s Catholic leaders could begin to engage with both Britain and the north’s Protestants, culminating in the Good Friday peace accord of 1998.

FitzGerald was a unique figure in Irish politics: an intellectual and university economist who turned to parliament in mid-career. His battles with Charles Haughey, Ireland’s dominant politician of the day, were the centerpiece of Irish political life in the 1980s.

FitzGerald was a relative liberal in his conservative Catholic party who sought greater roles for women in public life. He was an enthusiast for the European Union, which Ireland joined soon after Fine Gael came to power in 1973. FitzGerald served as foreign minister in that 1973-77 government.


As prime minister FitzGerald found himself unable to reverse a fiscal and economic crisis bequeathed him by Haughey’s government of the late 1970s.

Fine Gael’s partner in government, union-linked Labour, refused to back FitzGerald’s austerity plans, and the coalition installed in June 1981 collapsed after eight months. Haughey returned to power but only for nine months, and FitzGerald returned in 1982 heading another coalition.

He resigned as Fine Gael leader upon the party’s election defeat in 1987.

FitzGerald was born Feb. 9, 1926, in Dublin. After graduating from University College Dublin, FitzGerald worked for Ireland’s national airline, Aer Lingus.

In 1959 FitzGerald returned to University College Dublin as an economics lecturer and was elected to parliament in 1965.

He also wrote regular columns for Ireland’s newspaper of record, The Irish Times, for 60 years.

FitzGerald’s wife of 52 years, Joan, died in 1999. He is survived by sons John and Mark, daughter Mary and several grandchildren.

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