Win or Lose, FitzGerald Has His Place in History With AM-Irish Election, Bjt
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Victorious or not in Tuesday’s Irish election, 61-year-old Garret FitzGerald has earned his place in history.
As Taoiseach (prime minister) for the past four years, this rumpled, affable intellectual has tried to come to grips with Ireland’s greatest intractables - the Northern Ireland conflict, the debt-ridden economy and the conflict between Roman Catholic church and liberal democratic state.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement he signed in November 1985 gave the Irish Republic a historic consultative role in Northern Ireland’s affairs and won him international respect.
His pluralist, conciliatory vision of Ireland is rooted in his past - a Catholic father and Protestant mother - and an intellectual sweep rare in Irish politics.
An economist, FitzGerald was elected to Parliament for the Fine Gael party in 1965, became its leader in 1977 and came to power in 1981, having overhauled the party’s archaic machinery.
He lost an election in early 1982 but won in November 1982 and embarked on a crusade to tame double-digit inflation, cool down the Northern Ireland issue and change laws banning divorce and most forms of contraception.
Inflation fell below 4 percent, but the price was high taxes, foreign debt and unemployment. FitzGerald also suffered a severe prestige blow when voters rejected legalized divorce by a 3-2 margin in a June 1986 referendum.
FitzGerald is widely respected as an honest, well-meaning man, devoted to his three children and wife Joan, who is wheelchair-bound with an arthritic illness. A steel will and encyclopedic mind are obscured by a somewhat ungainly outward appearance, complete with occasionally mismatched shoes.
″The Anglo-Irish agreement will give him a very honorable place in the history books, but I don’t think it will translate itself into votes,″ says political commentator John Cooney.
″There is great disillusionment in the Irish public that Dr. FitzGerald, the economic guru, the man with the intellectual dimension in Irish politics, has failed to tackle the economic problems. He hasn’t reduced taxes, borrowing or the national debt.″