Type of entity
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Other form(s) of name
- FitzGerald, Garret Desmond
- Fitzgerald, Garrett
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Dates of existence
Dr Garrett FitzGerald, economist, politician and Taoiseach, was born in Dublin on 9 February 1926, fourth and youngest son of Desmond FitzGerald, cabinet minister, and his wife Mabel (née McConnell). He was educated at St Brigid’s School, Bray, Co. Wicklow and at Belvedere College, Dublin. In 1950 he assumed responsibility for economic planning and transport scheduling within Aer Lingus. This led to his becoming one of the foremost experts on the Irish economy and to a part-time academic position at University College Dublin. Between 1959 and 1973 FitzGerald lectured in economics at UCD, and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1969, with his dissertation being published by the IPA as a book, Planning in Ireland.
FitzGerald stood for the Seanad as a Fine Gael candidate on the industrial and commercial panel (although he only formally became a party member some time after his election). In 1969 he became TD for Dublin South-East and opposition front bench spokesman on education. In 1971 FitzGerald became Fine Gael spokesman on finance. He took a leading role in the campaign for Irish membership of the EEC, touring the country with the Labour Party spokesman, Justin Keating.
Once the 1973 general election result made it clear that a Fine Gael–Labour coalition government would be formed, FitzGerald was widely expected to become minister for finance; he began planning his first budget and visited the Department of Social Welfare to obtain detailed information about its working. To general surprise, on the day the government took office Cosgrave appointed FitzGerald to the Foreign Affairs ministry while sending Richie Ryan to the Department of Finance.
After Cosgrave resigned following Fine Gael’s electoral defeat in the June 1977 general election, FitzGerald was elected unanimously as leader on 1 July 1977. His first concern was to reorganise and professionalise the party organisation. new candidates were recruited including a number of high-profile women activists such as Nuala Fennell, Gemma Hussey, and Monica Barnes, and a youth wing (Young Fine Gael) was established. The 1979 local elections produced a crop of new councillors, some of whom went on to become TDs. This process was fortuitously assisted when the new commission established to revise constituencies increased the number of TDs from 144 to 166, making it possible to accommodate new TDs without necessarily displacing older members.
At the June 1981 general election Fine Gael gained sixty-five seats (compared with forty-three in 1977) and formed a minority coalition government with Labour (fifteen seats), and FitzGerald was elected Taoiseach, on 30 June 1981. At the subsequent November 1982 general election Fianna Fáil was reduced to seventy-five seats; Fine Gael secured seventy and Labour under Dick Spring sixteen, with the highest Fine Gael vote ever recorded (39.2 per cent). Labour reversed a recent conference decision not to enter coalition, and a second FitzGerald government was formed, but the need to placate Labour contributed to its limitations. Perhaps FitzGerald’s largest contribution to the subsequent Irish economic recovery came on the European level, with his significant role in insisting that the renewal of the European integration process under Commission President Jacques Delors, embodied in the 1987 Single European Act and paving the way for subsequent integration measures, must be accompanied by increased development funds to promote economic cohesion by developing the economies of the poorer member states. FitzGerald also negotiated favourable quotas for Irish agricultural produce despite pressure for European subsidy reductions.
In 1985 the Insurance Corporation of Ireland, a subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks (AIB), collapsed on a scale which endangered AIB’s banking business. The government bailed out the business in order to safeguard policyholders, at a total cost to the taxpayer of £400 million (though FitzGerald claimed this was repaid over time by AIB). FitzGerald was severely criticised in retrospect, however, for not requiring some recompense from AIB (such as a significant state shareholding, though at the time state ownership of banks was seen as an impractical left-wing nostrum); the bank continued to pay dividends at the same level.
The coalition government fell in January 1987, having lost its majority through the defections of individual Fine Gael and Labour TDs, when Labour ministers refused to support proposed budgetary cuts which the Dáil was unlikely to ratify. FitzGerald resigned as Fine Gael leader shortly after the election in March 1987 of a minority Fianna Fáil government led by Haughey, having stated in the Dáil that Fine Gael would support government measures necessary for economic recovery. FitzGerald left the Dáil at the 1992 election, supporting himself by journalism and consultancy work. Garret FitzGerald died of pneumonia on 19 May 2011 in the Mater Hospital, Dublin after a short illness. His research on primary education in early nineteenth-century Ireland was published posthumously in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.
Source: Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography (2021), https://doi.org/10.3318/dib.010020.v1
Functions, occupations and activities
26th Dáil: 1989 - 1992
25th Dáil: 1987 - 1989
24th Dáil: 1982 - 1987
Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism (1983 - 1983)
Taoiseach (1982 - 1987)
23rd Dáil: 1982 - 1982
22nd Dáil: 1981 - 1982
Taoiseach (1981 - 1982)
21st Dáil: 1977 - 1981
20th Dáil: 1973 - 1977
Minister for Foreign Affairs (1973 - 1977)
19th Dáil: 1969 - 1973
1965 - 1969
Industrial and Commercial Panel
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Dictionary of Irish Biography (2021), https://doi.org/10.3318/dib.010020.v1