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28 May 2024  

Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lecture 2012


Garret FitzGerald and Irish Foreign Policy by Seán Donlon

As a memorial to its former Chancellor, NUI has established the Dr Garret FitzGerald Memorial Lectures, an annual series of lectures by distinguished speakers on topics of national or international importance. In the second lecture given on Friday night (21 Sept) in the Aula Maxima, University College Cork, Dr Seán Donlon’s theme was Garret FitzGerald and Irish Foreign Policy.

On European participation, Seán Donlon commented that ‘Particularly in the 70s, he succeeded in putting a unique and very Irish, indeed a very Garret stamp on our participation in Europe. His active involvement in every aspect, including aspects that were of no direct interest to Ireland, marked us out from the beginning as “good Europeans”. Any doubts that our fellow-members might have had - and there were doubts given our history of military neutrality, our complex relationship with the UK, our low level of economic development and our small size – were removed. This was especially clear after our successful management of Ireland’s first EC Presidency in 1975’.

Dr Donlon highlighted two aspects of Garret’s Northern Ireland agenda viz. the role of the US and the role of the Holy See. Referring to the period following the collapse of the Sunningdale Agreement, when ‘Relations between Dublin and London went through a long rocky phase’, he noted that ‘It was against that background that Garret decided that relations with the U.S. should be intensified with particular reference to Northern Ireland. Already there were concerns in Dublin about financial, arms and political support for the Provisionals in the U.S. That had to be confronted. But it was also becoming clear that Dublin alone would not succeed in shifting British policy. Not for the first time – Parnell, Pearse, de Valera and McBride had all tried – we sought to involve the U.S. in the search for a solution.’
Noting that ‘Garret, working closely with John Hume, intensified contacts with Irish-American members of Congress’, Dr Donlon referred to the emergence of the ‘Four Horsemen’, Tip O’Neill, Edward Kennedy, Hugh Carey and Daniel Moynihan. He said that ‘the breakthrough in Washington came in August 1977 shortly after Garret had left office in June but most of the groundwork had been done beforehand’. He mentioned that ‘On August 30 that year, President Carter issued a statement calling for the establishment in Northern Ireland of a government which would command widespread acceptance and for a just solution which would involve the Irish Government. In addition, Carter pledged that in the event of a settlement, the U.S. would join with others to encourage job creating investment.’
Dealing with Dr FitzGerald’s role as Taoiseach during the 1980s, Dr Donlon referred to the influence of Ronald Reagan in securing the resumption of the Anglo-Irish negotiations which had broken down following Margaret Thatcher’s infamous “out, out, out” remarks of November 1984. ‘The US intervention had the desired result. The Anglo-Irish talks resumed’ leading to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November, 1985
Dr Donlon noted to the complementary role of Peter Barry who was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1982 to 1987.
Dr Donlon referred to Dr FitzGerald’s difficult relationship with the Catholic Church, in the areas of social policy and Northern Ireland affairs. He expressed the view that ‘in the conduct of foreign affairs, the most unsatisfactory relationship Garret dealt with in all his time in office was that involving the Catholic Church’.
Mentioning the establishment of Irish Aid within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Dr Donlon noted that ‘No listing of Garret’s foreign policy achievements would be complete without referring to his commitment to the Third World’.

A formal response was given by Mr Dick Spring, who was Tánaiste from 1982/87 when Garret FitzGerald was Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs 1993/97.

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