SDLP Leader Margaret Ritchie expressed her deep sadness on the passing of former Taoiseach and Foreign Minister Garret Fitzgerald (1926-2011) describing him as a “peacemaker, statesman, moderniser and patriot.”
She said, “It will take time and historical perspective to fully appreciate the achievements of Garret Fitzgerald in Irish public life, but his contribution to the peace process must surely stand out. He learned the hard lessons of the Sunningdale collapse and when he became Taoiseach he applied himself to seeking explicit British commitment to seeking solutions in partnership with the Irish government.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement which instituted this partnership was achieved against a background of rising violence and strong political resistance both in Dublin and London. It was the absolute pivot upon which the later stages of the peace process turned.
“Garret Fitzgerald was a statesman who took political risks and suffered political disadvantage in pursuit of peace, because he was a patriot with a vision of what Ireland could be. Above all he was a moderniser who wanted Ireland to find its proper place in the world of today unhampered by the conflicts of yesterday. On leaving political office he moved swiftly into the role of social and economic commentator, journalist and broadcaster, and to all these fields he brought the same qualities of honesty and deep scholarship.
“It is poignant that he has passed away during a royal visit which, as Seamus Mallon has noted, would simply have been impossible without his contribution to the work of peace. May he rest in the same peace.”
Tributes have been flowing into the Irish media following his death on Thursday.
The Fine Gael TD Garret Fitzgerald had been at the fore front of Irish politics for over 20 years. He served as Taoiseach from 1981-82 and 1982-87 in two governments, and was elected to the Seanad Éireann in 1965. Fitzgerald was also Foreign Affairs Minister from 1973 to 1977 at a key time when the European Community was expanding. He also was leader of the Fine Gael party from 1977 and 1987.
Active to the last, Fitzgerald had a column in the Irish Times and occasionally appeared on TV. He was also the current president of the Institute of International and European Affairs.