Interview with Garret Fitzgerald

The following are extracts from an interview with Garret FitzGerald on some of the key issues in Irish politics.

Civil Liberties: I do not agree that the Coalition Government's record on this was discreditable, although certainly we mishandled the presentation of some of our measures. For instance, the emergency powers package should have been introduced much quicker after the British ambassador's murder, when public acceptance of such measures would have been greater. 

Garda Brutality: I was concerned about the allegations but there was a genuine difficulty in enquiring into them, as the present Government is now experiencing. The difficulty is how do you set up such an enquiry that does not infringe the sub-judice rules, or interfere with the way in which the courts operate? I'm not sure how this can be done without damaging the judicial process. However, I do agree there should be safeguards built into the police systems to cope with allegations of misconduct and I await with interest the publication of the report of the recently appointed commission on this matter. 

Prison conditions: I was satisfied that the allegations made about them were false and were merely part of a propaganda campaign by the Provisional IRA. I can see however that there would have been political advantage to be gained from opening the prisons to the press in the way the present Government has done. 

Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution: lt is desirable that they be changed with the general consent of all political parties but a problem has clearly arisen as to when and in what circumstances they should be changed in view of the present Government's negative attitude on the issue. I wouldn't like to commit myself 'to any unilateral changes in Articles 2 and 3 in the event of us, as a Government, failing to get agreement. But if a power-sharing arrangement were worked out in the North and the parties there asked for such a change, then I think we should give serious consideration to making the changes irrespective of the attitude of Fianna Fáil. 

Divorce: I'm in favour of removing the constitutional ban on divorce, and I welcome the results of the Magill poll which shows that there is a clear majority in favour of such a change. The question then is what provision should be made on nullity and dissolution of marriage and this is a matter which must be decided by politicians after careful consideration of the common good. In this connection, it is worth noting that the Catholic Church itself dissolves marriages in certain circumstances e.g, in marriages of two non-believers when one of them wants to marry a Catholic. 

Re-distribution of wealth: This cannot conceivably be regarded as completed in the light of the fact that at least 20% of our population lives in poverty. This means that a significant proportion of future increments of wealth must be distributed to alleviate poverty. But we have to face the reluctance of a majority of the people to accept a reduction of living standards in favour of the minority. This reluctance is most evident in a no growth period, as during the recent world crisis, whereas when prosperity is increasing, it is easier to win acceptance for redistributive measures. 

Real incomes increased by one-third during the 1967 - 73 period of world boom. Even if half of that increase had been applied to alleviate poverty this would be a very different country today. This would have meant the redistribution of about £700 million during that period. 

Can Fine Gael be the vehicle for a radical redistribution of wealth? People can be led to act generously and to forego increases in their living standards to help the less well off. The whole history of politics both here and in Britain over the last seventy years is evidence of that. 

Blueshirts: It was most unfortunate that the need for such a movement arose in order to protect freedom of speech by political parties. It is noteworthy that when the movement under O'Duffy's leadership showed signs of creating a danger for democracy, the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party asserted itself, with the result that the danger of fascism was eliminated once and for all in Ireland at such a very early stage. 

The North: There were four preconditions for a solution to the Northern situation. The first was that the minority there face the fact that North Ireland was going to remain in existence for the foreseeable future and that they must demand their rights within that state and accept the responsibilities of citizenship within it. This was achieved by the civil rights movement and the SDLP. 

The second condition has been that the Republic should cease to seem to be a threat to Northern Unionists, so that they be freed from their fears and allowed to work out a just governmental system with the minority. This objective we substantially achieved while in power, by the stand we took on the re-unification issue and in the quality and quantity of contacts we made with all shades of opinion in the North. As a result we have largely succeeded in taking the southern issue out of Northern politics. 

The third and fourth pre-conditions are that the British should once and for all establish that they will not negotiate with the IRA and establish unequivocally that they will not permit a return of majority rule. These last two conditions are still in the process of gradual fulfillment and when finalised the conditions will be created for an eventual solution. 


As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Garret FitzGerald met several of the world's statesmen. 

President Giscard d 'Estaing: very able, normally completely in command of a situation while exuding an air of great authority. But he is a very much less warm personality then Helmut Schmidt. 

Helmut Schmidt: warm, almost passionate personality. Extremely conservative economic views deriving from Germany's historical experience of innflation in the 1920's. 

James Callaghan: genial manner concealing great toughness. He may have surprised himself as well as others with the extraordinary gusto and skill with which he tackled the job as Prime Minister. 

Harold Wilson: never warmed to him. Sometimes had the eerie feeling that he was Mike Yarwood's impersonation of himself. 

Henry Kissinger: always enjoyed discussions with him, especially when there was controversy. I felt he didn't quite understand the European scene and that he found the European community difficult to deal with. At one time it presented itself as nine different states and at another as a single confederation. His genius was for relations between super powers.