Garret FitzGerald – Friend of the PSAI

Posted by Gary Murphy – President, Political Studies Association of Ireland.

Garret FitzGerald who passed away on Thursday 19th May was a valued friend of the Political Studies Association of Ireland. He regularly participated at our conferences and events and attended many book launches supported by the association. Much has been written and spoken since his passing about his myriad existences as airline scheduler, economist, academic, politician, newspaper columnist, Europhile and public citizen. Less noted, however, was the fact that he was also a great supporter of the PSAI. The PSAI was founded in 1982 in the midst of the extraordinary electoral battles between Garret FitzGerald and Charles Haughey which then dominated Irish politics. It was established with the purpose of promoting the study of politics both in and ofIreland and Garret FitzGerald paid us the honour of showing up to our conferences to do just that by discussing numerous papers, some of which were even about himself! In doing so he made live the study of Irish politics.

He was generous with his time to numerous members of our association and profession who interviewed him about his life, policies and the tumultuous times he both lived in and helped to shape. He also left valuable and lengthy memoirs and recollections behind him and helped persuade many other politicians to do likewise. These records have been of enormous benefit to scholars of contemporaryIreland. I last met Garret FitzGerald on the Sunday after the recent general election in an RTE radio studio at which Michael Gallagher of TCD was also present. As we were finishing up our stint discussing the extraordinary general election result that had by then made itself clear, Garret FitzGerald turned and said to me in a big booming voice: “I suppose the PSAI will get plenty of mileage out of this”. And while this will no doubt be the case we won’t have the opportunity this October at our conference to hear Garret FitzGerald’s dulcet tones musing on Fine Gael’s 76 seats. The PSAI has lost a true friend.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

5 thoughts on “Garret FitzGerald – Friend of the PSAI

  1. What a comfort to the FitzGerald family to hear such warm and genuine tributes from all sectors of society.

    But what a shame that politics has been so demeaned by politicians that if there are people of the calibre of the likes of Garret, it’s impossible to conceive they couuld ever achieve what he was able to as the system now just wouldn’t allow them.

    If there was a person who can rest in peace safe in the knowledge they made a difference. He can.

  2. Just to add to Gary’s praise, I experienced Garret Fitzgerald from a different point of view, having been a child when he held high office in Ireland.

    However in recent times he was one of the leading advocates of political reform; before it became politically popular to do so. From what I have read and understand, this was typical of the man, who had the foresight to perceive how the nation could change and grow, and the courage to try to lead it in that direction. As a young Irish person, I would like to thank Dr Fitzgerald for his efforts around political and social reform throughout his life, and to extend my condolences to family and friends.

  3. A number of contributors to this blog, myself included, attended a seminar of the Irish parliamentary (former members) Society in the Dáil on political reform in January. As the rapporteur, and in his typical fashion, Garret rigorously took note of all contributions and then concluded the day with a summary and his suggestions for political reform. I was reading back over my notes this morning and I was struck by just how manageable and achievable his ideas for reform were, pointing out that a number of issues don’t require constitutional change and that these should be the priority of the next government. He said that “political reform is now possible, the impetus is there”. We should all take note.

    Rest in Peace Garret. He was a rare breed of politican in his time and his experience and advice is a true loss to us.

  4. This is a long comment arising from Matt’s comment “As a young Irish person, I would like to thank Dr Fitzgerald for his efforts around political and social reform throughout his life,”

    The main point of this post is what can we learn from Dr. FitzGerald’s (and that of his generation) “efforts around political and social reform”. Even with the undoubted success of some of these efforts, he (and his generation!) has left us plenty to do, because of failure in some of the tasks they set themselves. What is our response to the challenge posed by Ivor Kenny (also of Dr. FitzGerald’s generation)
    “How do we construct a state that provides its people with the power of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it?”

    A recent IPA Research Paper on public sector reform pointed out “Clearly we have now reached that point where significant adaptation to meet radically changed circumstances is required.” (

    First the unqualified successes, which I summarise in two points.
    1) Economic Development.
    Until the late 1950s, protectionist economic policies were in effect in Ireland. The 1950s crisis here (with the resulting high emigration) killed off that policy – for the traded sectors of the economy. As one author put it, “Economic nationalism was politically exhausted….During 1956-58, there was a serious balance of payments crisis which was exacerbated by fiscal orthodoxy”,

    Dr. FitzGerald was among those who worked to draw up and implement a new paradigm for economic policy. This was achieved in a series of steps eg. the 1958 repeal of the Control of Manufacturers Act, the 1966 Anglo-Irish Free-Trade Agreement and in 1973, joining the then 6 member-state EEC, which has now become a 27 member-state EU.

    One result of this policy is that Irish multinationals now employ nearly as many people in the US as US multinationals employ here. Other Irish-developed multinationals span a whole range of activities eg. Ryanair, Paddy Power, FEXCO, music.
    Becoming an EEC member had considerable impact on areas other than economy. One example is that until then women, on marriage, had to resign from the Civil Service. However, the initial rejection by referendum of the Nice and Lisbon Treaties indicates that even this achievement cannot be taken for granted. The French and Dutch rejections of the EU Constitutional Treaty (after Luxembourg and Spain has passed it in referenda) suggests we in Ireland are not alone in our view of the current state of the EU project.
    2) Anglo-Irish relations.
    Dr. FitzGerald’s work on this has been much commented on. IMO, the 1998 referendum , following the Good Friday agreement, formalises a paradigm shift on how the nationalist project (of Dr. FitzGerald’s parents’ generation) will now work here. It was the first time since 1918 that there was a vote by all the people on this island on the same basic text.

    Second, there is one major area of reform in which Dr. FitzGerald was actively involved, both as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Taoiseach but which is seriously incomplete. ie. . Public Service Reform.

    Twice in his Ministerial career, Dr. FitzGerald took ad-hoc action to add to the capacity of the Public Service. During the 1970s, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, he caused a special open competition to be held for First Secretaries. Then, during the 1980s, as Taoiseach, he did the same in respect of recruiting economists to the Department of Finance. Despite this, Dan O’Brien Irish Times Economics Correspondent pointed out that there was a unique lack of foresight of political and administrative classes, because “the politicians quickly forgot the fiscal fiasco of the 1977-1987 period”, see here Irish Times 28 June 2010

    Then as Taoiseach, in 1985, Dr. FitzGerald’s government did publish a White Paper on public service reform “Serving the Country Better”. Among the new and different things that were done then was the introduction of the Top Level Appointments Commission (TLAC) for posts Assistant Secretary and above in the Civil Service, excluding Foreign Affairs.

    I suggest that the success of the earlier reforms on Economic Development have been seriously undermined by the slippage and limited success of his generation’s efforts to reform public services, in particular central government into which all other government has now been centralised.

    As evidence of such slippage and failure, I point to the following:
    1) The reconstitution of An Bord Snip Nua, 20 years after a similar exercise was done during the late 1980s. What had been learnt and implemented from Dr. FitzGerald’s ad hoc effort to improve the capacity of the Dept of Finance?
    Very little, judging by the title of the recent report on the Department of Finance “Strengthening the capacity of the Department of Finance”. See here
    This is telling in terms of the failure of Dr. FitzGerald’s generation to make public sector reform stick.

    2) In 1985, during Dr. FitzGerald’s time as Taoiseach, the Government organised the rescue of AIB from its own bad management of an investment in the ICI insurance company.
    In 1997, Patrick Honohan and Jane Kelly (both then in ESRI) in a review of this rescue, pointed out
    “….The emerging conventional wisdom on financial crises stresses the need for thorough prudential supervision on a consolidated basis of financial conglomerates. It seeks to ensure that the methods chosen to allocate the cost of failures does not destabilize confidence in the financial system, but is not such as to induce carelessness on the part of management, owners or customers of financial institutions. The ICI affair revealed a lack of administrative preparedness and several mistakes were made…..”
    (The Insurance Corporation Collapse: Resolving Ireland’s Worst Financial Crash Administration, vol. 45, no. 3 Autumn 1997, 67-77)

    The current banking crisis suggests that lessons from this crisis (and also the 1980s PMPA crash) were not learnt to the extent of being ready for another banking crisis.
    As part of a review of Irish economic policy in 1999, IMF Directors commented
    “In light of the rapid growth in credit and strong housing price increases, a number of Directors expressed concern about the risks of an asset price bubble and the potential vulnerability of the banking system. Directors stressed the need to enhance the forward-looking aspects of regulatory policy and, in this regard, welcomed the supervisory authorities’ recent initiative to assess the financial system’s vulnerability to specified macroeconomic shocks. They felt that a peer review, particularly by supervisors from a country that had undergone a real estate boom, might be helpful.”

    Regardless of what was done in response to this IMF recommendation, the result is that the domestic banking sector is now effectively nationalised and no longer multinational in its reach. It is proving very costly to the rest of us.

    3) For some time, the practice of having outsiders on TLAC ceased. Why?
    To what extent has this slippage led to what one investigator termed “The only reasonable conclusion, at this time, is one of overall systemic corporate responsibility and failure within the Department of Health and Children at the highest levels over more than 28 years.” see John Travers 2005 report on

    Given that our Government institutions had sufficient powers to stop the property-fuelled construction bubble of the mid-2000s, it is now clear that John Travers comments apply to far more central government institutions than the Dept of Health and Children.

    4) Others have now admitted that the “overall systemic corporate responsibility and failure” has undermined much of what Dr. FitzGerald’s generation achieved with Irish entry to the EU.
    “In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency.“
    Press Release from National Economic and Social Council (NESC) on a report “The Euro: an Irish
    Perspective” 17th August 2010. NESC is 30-person social partnership body made up of representatives of
    government, business, trade unions, agriculture, community and environment. The Secretary General
    of the Government chairs NESC. Among the seven Government nominees are the Secretaries-General
    of five Government Departments.

    Click to access The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

    5) Commenting on the FitzGerald government 1985 White Paper “Serving the Country Better”, Ray MacSharry observed that “It is true that many of the problems affecting our society at present – reflecting the trend across Europe – stem from our failure to carry through decisions on institutional modernisation. In turn, this is often the result of over-reliance on modes of thinking – which have become obsolete” see “The White Paper ‘Serving the Country Better’ – a step in the right direction.”
    Seirbhís Phoiblí (Department of Finance) 7, no. 1 (March 1986): 3-6.

    6) The title of a recent IPA Research Report says it all “Fit for Purpose? Challenges for Irish Public Administration and Priorities for Public Service Reform” It seems that obsolete modes of thinking still prevail in critical parts of central government.
    In that report Richard Boyle and Muiris MacCarthaigh point out that “However the OECD review also noted that ‘despite the reforms, the overall political and managerial systems in Ireland are still based on a compliance culture that emphasises controlling inputs and following rules’ (OECD, 2008a: 170) and went on to recommend that future reform ‘is not about changing structures and systems, but is primarily about getting people to think and work outside of institutional boundaries’ (2008a: 267).

    Click to access Fit_For_Purpose_New_Report.pdf

    As we work to rebuild the state’s political, administrative and financial institutions, we should bear in mind the insight of another of Dr. FitzGerald’s generation .
    “There may be change in the criteria of decision-making at the top;change in social habits at the bottom. But unless these two are bridged by the mutual education of the democratic process, communication between the top and the bottom may cease. And in Ireland, where the stimulus to change is external, something 1ike this may infact be happening…But if decision-makers respond more quickly to the challenge of change than the masses, the continuing vitality of democracy turns essentially upon their capacity to communicate their convictions to society. If these new convictions are not sufficiently strongly held and rationally understood in the key areas of party political power and administrative authority, or if the mass of people, largely deprived of secondary, technical, and university education and congenitally sceptical of their political masters, turns a jaundiced ear to the new rhetoric, democracy in that society…wanes in political apathy. If the study of change in Ireland over the last fifteen years adduces evidence of a single pitfall, it is surely that. It is not enough for leaders to know what to do and have the courage to do it. They must be able to persuade the electorate of the necessity of what they are doing. This, if anywhere, is where leadership that is otherwise good has failed in Ireland.”
    David Thornley. Ireland – the end of an era? Dublin.
    Tuairim. 1965. P.11-12

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