I don’t want to say a word about Garret FitzGerald’s political career or his political perspective, his journalism or his other writing. I hardly knew him and became an acquaintance only after he retired. You see, I began bumping into him at all sorts of gatherings but what these gatherings had in common was political conversation. This was when I began to appreciate Citizen Garret.
Here was a former Taoiseach who turned up and stayed for hours. He didn’t need to be invited, didn’t need to be THE speaker. He was a far cry from a typical star political attraction who breezed in on time, delivered an anodyne speech, took polite applause and left. No, Garret took citizenship seriously.
He wanted to take a full part in national debates and “full” meant listening as well as speaking. He was looking for a persuasive argument and willing to change if he heard one. He disagreed and he required that you disagree with him.
Two little stories from the fairly recent past:
Tom Garvin was speaking in one of the large lecture theatres in UCD. Garret was in the audience. I heard a man in front of me whisper to his friend, “Poor Garret is lookin’ shook; he’s nodding off.” A couple of seconds later Garret looked up, “Tom, have you considered …?” Citizen Garret was very much on the ball!
On another occasion at a smaller gathering (It might have been the one at which I realised I was on nodding terms with Garret.) I was talking to two young women, students. They noticed Garret and one told me of a question she’d love to ask him. I advised her to go ask him but she was young and in awe, and anyway he was deep in conversation. Then he moved off in search of a seat. I gestured encouragement and over they went. They must have addressed him as Dr. because I heard him say “Garret”. All three sat and conversation began. They were still at it when I waved them goodnight.
Garret showed that Active Citizenship is the highest rank in society.