Dr Garrett Fitzgerald who has passed away had his political enemies and was not universally loved and was not always right but as a human being and an intellectual I admired much about about him. Quite often the little things in life are much more impacting than the big events. Fine Gael with other parties were fighting a by- election in Donegal. My wife and I were holidaying in a local Hotel appropriately holed up in a room with our babies where we were feeding one of them. The next thing the door flung open and Garrett Fitzgerald and his entourage swept into the room. We had not been informed that Fine Gael had actually booked the room for a meeting. To this day Garrett Fitzgerald’s name is recalled in our house with affection by my wife. There he was on point of turning on his heel to leave the room profusely apologising for disturbing the children. He was a man of good manners and good grace. He had another strong characteristic. He was a good listener. He genuinely wanted to hear the journalist’s take on the situation in Northern Ireland unlike former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson who called Ken Reid and myself and a number of others to his room in Castle Buildings on his arrival here ‘ to sound us out’ on Republican thinking. He chose to tell us about Republicanism.
My closest contact with the former Taoiseach was around the time of John Hume’s New Ireland Forum ’83/84 and then at the time of the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985.
I was in Dublin on the day of the publication of the New Ireland Forum Report which was an attempt by all political parties to work out a common position for nationalism on the road to trying to find a solution to end the so called Troubles in Northern Ireland. The main findings ‘ a unitary state, ‘a federal/ confederal state of Northern Ireland and Ireland and finally joint authority. He was clearly annoyed when Charles J Haughey took issue with the thrust of the report apart from the unitary state concept. The follow-up in London was one of those extraordinary events in my coverage of Irish affairs.
Dr Fitzgerald made his presentation to Margaret Thatcher behind closed doors but Mrs Thatcher put the cat among the pigeons when she unilaterally and without informing the Taoiseach at a separate press conference spurned all three findings of the New Ireland Forum Report. He deemed Mrs Thatcher’s brutal utterance “out, out out” response to the report “gratuitously insulting” according to insiders at the time. He was shattered and couldn’t conceal his shock when Vincent Brown, I do believe, tossed this English ‘out out out’ grenade into his lap. He was not defeated and clawed his way back to eventually convince Margaret Thatcher of the worthiness of the Anglo Irish Agreement. He had to repel many of her crazy security recommendations like ‘look out towers’ on the Southern side of the border and talk of ‘hot pursuit’ for the security services in each direction across the border. There is no doubt the Anglo Irish Agreement had a very considerable impact on the IRA at the time. In fact the IRA put second and third line leadership in place in the aftermath fearing that the British and Irish governments might move to crush them in a pincer operation on a cross border basis. The actual signing of the AIA at Hillsborough was another one of those moments in history. Dr Fitzgerald later recounted Margaret Thatcher’s abhorrence at his support for the establishment of the The International Fund for Ireland. Isolated in a room in the Castle she reportedly said “Garrett, more money for these people. Have you seen their roads. Have you seen their schools?” He was not deflected this time either. He eventually walked away from politics but retained an intense interest in all aspects of life on this island. The last time I met him was in the company of his beautiful teenage grand-daughter in the National Gallery. He didn’t have to be in the company of Socrates! Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
There was absolutely nothing “crazy about demanding increased border security in the very place that allowed IRA terrorism to thrive.
There is also no way Dublin could have been ” insulted” if they came out with three such obviously stupid proposals in their report.