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Posted 18 May 2011

UCD mourns the death of Garret FitzGerald, one of Ireland’s most significant statesmen and intellectuals

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Dr Garret FitzGerald.  With a career that spanned six decades, Garret was a great statesman, leading this country twice as Taoiseach between 1981 and 1987, advancing the Northern Ireland peace process through the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, which he signed with then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and consistently promoting the value of Europe to Ireland’s economic progress.  Garret was an intellectual colossus, with enormous commitment to academia and learning.   His invaluable public commentary continued to make an impact to this present day.  Generations of UCD students reaped the benefit of his dedication to their holistic development and Ireland, as a nation, is a better place as a result of his boundless energy and optimism.

Garret had very close connections with UCD, graduating in 1946 with honours in History and French and Spanish.  In 1968 he was awarded a Ph.D. for a study of contemporary Irish economic planning, which was published the following year by the IPA and PEP, entitled Planning in Ireland.  As a lecturer in economics from 1959 until 1973, when he became Minister for Foreign Affairs, he introduced thousands of UCD students to the mysteries of Irish economic statistics, the contemporary Irish economy and the workings of what was then known as the EEC, now the European Union.  His enthusiasm for the European movement was infectious, and he persuaded many students to support this cause.   It is fitting that his final lecture to students, as a member of the UCD staff, given after he had taken up the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs,  discussed the operations of the European Council of Ministers:  he explained that they were ‘somewhat different’ from what he had described in his lectures.

Although his lectures were renowned for their detail, he was universally popular with students, because he was accessible and interested in them.  Garret and his wife Joan, who was his contemporary at UCD, hosted groups of students in their Donnybrook home on Sunday evenings. 

He was elected to the UCD Governing Body in 1965, on a ‘reform’ ticket.  At the time junior faculty had insecure temporary contracts, employed from year to year, and he championed their interests.  He was a founding member of the Academic Staff Association, and he worked closely with academics in Trinity College to establish the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT).  When proposals were announced for a merger of Trinity and UCD, Garret was to the fore in academic discussions; he made many close friends in TCD during this time.   He was a strong supporter of student demands for better library services – the cause that triggered the ‘Gentle Revolution’ in 1969.  During that time Garret worked assiduously to promote discussions between students and the UCD authorities, and to prevent the Academic Council from imposing punitive penalties on those who took part in the disturbances.  He kept student needs to the fore during the complex transfer of Arts and Commerce to Belfield in the early 1970s.  

Although Garret FitzGerald’s formal links with UCD ended in 1973 he made countless return visits, as Chancellor of the NUI (1997-2009), speaking at debates of the L&H and Law Soc; giving seminars to graduate students on the EU, or the decline of the Irish language in the 19th century, or bringing the European message to students in referendum campaigns. 

His personal papers are held in the UCD Archives.

UCD links with Garret FitzGerald continue as many of his family are also graduates and on behalf of the UCD community I wish to extend our sincere condolences on their loss. 
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

(updated: 20 May 2011)

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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UCD mourns the death of Garret FitzGerald, one of Ireland’s most significant statesmen and intellectuals
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