Thursday, May 19, 2011

Garret FitzGerald

Garret was one of the driving forces behind the first MA in European Studies in UCD in 1966/7. And he set about implementing the new course with gusto. This was well before Ireland joined the EEC. In fact it was more than a year before de Gaulle (again) refused us entry (along with the UK, Denmark and Norway).

Garret had a long and enthusiastic interest in Europe and he was on the European Parliament's mailing list. He used to come into class (there were only about 6 of us, as I recall) with big bundles of EP reports under his arm which had just arrived in his morning post. He plonked these on the table and we sifted through them looking for nuggets on which to base our papers. The system worked well. We got a profusion of reliable sources and he got his reports sorted. A forerunner of distributed computing.

He may also have made history in the Berlaymont (Commission HQ in Brussels) during the same course. He had taken us on a study trip to the Commission and was in full flight at one of our briefings, quizzing the Commission official giving the briefing. The official was waffling all over the place and I figured there was nothing useful to learn from him, so I switched over to the French interpretation. As Garret, whose brain constantly outran his tongue, gushed on, the interpreter faltered and eventually lapsed into silence.

"I am sorry but I cannot keep up with this speaker", she said.

Incidentally, at the end of the session, the Commission official apologised for his disorganised presentation and responses, claiming he had hit his head on the side of the swimming pool when playing with his children over the weekend. We all felt very sorry for him until we later learned that this was a story he rehearsed on a regular basis to excuse his poor performance.

Garret had two great qualities for a teacher: great enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, both of which he shared with his students.

A fault was his assumption that everyone was as interested in minute details as he was himself. And he wasn't the greatest delegator in the world. Very much a hands on manager which, when he was Taoiseach, led to difficulties in his dealings with the Civil Service and to some of the longest Cabinet meetings in the history of the State.

He was a conviction politician and, unlike many of his contemporaries, was conscious of the wider national interest in his dealings both at home and abroad. He will be sadly missed, not only by his family and friends, but by the country, which will be the poorer for his going.

It's a pity he missed his date with the Queen, but it now appears he had a more pressing appointment.


Lying in State

1 comment:

  1. Garret seemed like a good guy amongst a crowd of what we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt were dodgy blokes.
    Must remember that knocked head on side of swimming pool excuse.