Dr Garret Fitzgerald and Dr Leo Varadkar

Garret FitzGerald has been one of Ireland’s finest men. He electrified Fine Gael and became a magnet for politically progressive people in Ireland in the 1960s, 1970 and 1908s. Nuala Fennell, Monica Barnes, Alan Dukes, Mary Flaherty, Gemma Hussey, Alan Gillis, Michael Noonan and a whole cast of notables of substance were part of Fine Gael at the time of Garret. He was a refreshing contrast to Charlie Haughey and the backwoodsmen in Fianna Fail at that time. Despite a Catholic outlook in the Jesuitical mode, Garret looked at most things from a liberal perspective. He is probably the greatest Leader that Social Democracy ever had in Ireland. Like us all, Garret makes mistakes. For me, the most shocking thing he did was to advocate a vote for the PDs in 1989 over Dick Spring’s Labour Party that included me. Those were fractious times. The 1981 75% budget by Gene FitzGerald was part of the picture.

Before Leo Varadkar TD exposes his prejudices too explicitly with regard to Garret, he should realise that nobodies like Bill Tormey will not ignore such comments. He should examine the numeracy of his own comments recently on public sector pay where he offered workers a mechanism to work towards restoration of the cuts.

Dr Varadkar is a very clever fellow as a cursory perusal of his website and record on small business policy will confirm. So Leo, gratuitous slapdowns of Garret Fitzgerald as taoiseach are not free shots for those of us who supported and liked Garret. Remember McSharry campaigned to oppose Health Cuts that Hurt the Old, the Poor and the Handicapped in 1987 (Huge Posters) and then proceeded to cut like crazy when in office.

Then as now, Fine Gael did not fly on one wing. It had Brendan McGahon, Austin Deasy, Alice Glenn, Tom O’Donnell, Dick Burke, Liam Cosgrave and many other conservatives. Labour had social democrats, socialists, communists, Trotskyists, rural independents, conservatives, an array of characters like Emmet Stagg in his pomp, Joe Higgins and various Trade Unionists who were cripto Fianna Failers.

The political culture of Ireland is complex because of the political width of the main parties. Dr Varadkar should remember that the PDs have been given the order of the boot by the Irish public. They failed on a grand scale – the paragons of economic virtue could not even read OECD reports on the economy. Michael McDowell was so sure of his tax base that he wanted to abolish Stamp Duty as an unnecessary tax on wealth. Spending the bubble taxes was what got him into power.

Garret can be wrong – on NAMA for example or on Eoin Ryan who is in the Fine Gael wing of Fianna Fail. I would still prefer if Garret and Dick Spring were leading us out of this economic chasm for 1 year, backed by the current FG and Lab TDs. Enda Kenny’s attribute and contribution will be to make sensible balanced choices in government to dig the country out of the economic black pit Ireland now occupies. That is why I support him now. He is honest, not corrupt and is a good listener. He also has a palpable decency. He needs assistance from skeptics and non-sycophants.

Fine Gael could do worse than inveigle Ivan Yates to return and invite Vincent Browne into the Senate to be made Minister for Equality and Poverty Elimination.

Meanwhile Garret’s analyses published weekly in the Irish Times are often enlightening and objective. If you (Leo) bother to peruse both Garret in the Times and Ivan in the Examiner, I have no doubt you will learn from both.