A SENIOR MINISTER from the second cabinet of the late Dr Garret FitzGerald has shared his belief that the former taoiseach stepped down from the leadership of Fine Gael too quickly after the 1987 general election.
Speaking from his home in Cork this afternoon, former Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry – who served as Tánaiste for the final months of FitzGerald’s tenure as Taoiseach – told TheJournal.ie that the late taoiseach still had plenty to offer his party.
“He certainly left the leadership of the party too early,” Barry said, arguing that the party “would have settled down” from the tumult it was experiencing in the aftermath of the 1987 election, in which his party lost 19 seats to cede power to Fianna Fáil.
Having served as foreign minister during a period in which Ireland held a presidency of the European Economic Community, as well as the successful negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Barry said FitzGerald’s approach had always been to see what Ireland could offer, and not receive.
“Garret never wanted a ransom from Europe,” Barry explained. “He always wanted to see how Ireland could contribute. When he became the first Minister for Foreign Affairs [of Ireland's EEC membership], his enthusiasm brought him many friendships.
The respect he earned from the other countries in the EU, I think, still brings benefits today.
Barry added that FitzGerald had found such success in negotiating the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 – winning, for the first time, a say for the Republic in the affairs of Northern Ireland – because of a series of unique attributes.
“I think what it needed was a sense of persuasion, which Garret had; a friendly attitude, which Garret had, and somebody who was able to earn the thrust of Mrs [Margaret] Thatcher.
“A major contribution to what he achieved, too, was the work done by the public servants in both Britain and Ireland in the intervening time, which oiled the lock, so to speak.”
FitzGerald was a patriotic Irishman “who badly wanted to do the best for his country – and for that to be done in peaceful means.
He hadn’t a partitionist mind: he knew the country was divided politically, but that the real division was within the people.
“His brilliance was that he didn’t want people who disagreed with him to necessarily come around to his point of view, but to a point of view on which they could both agree.”
Barry – the father of current Fine Gael senator Deirdre Clune – added that FitzGerald, a constant “ball of energy”, “approached every campaign with the intention of winning”.
That trait was one which the late taoiseach had brought to campaigns even after his active political retirement.