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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit/Solidarity Politician

Richard Boyd Barrett, Irish People Before Profit/Solidarity politician, is born in Dublin on February 6, 1967. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dún Laoghaire constituency since the 2011 Irish general election.

Boyd Barrett is adopted as a baby and is raised as a Roman Catholic in Glenageary, County Dublin, by his parents, David Boyd Barrett, an accountant, and his wife, Valerie. He attends St. Michael’s College in Dublin. He holds a master’s degree in English literature from University College Dublin (UCD). His birth mother is Sinéad Cusack, with whom he is later reunited in public. Since their reunion, he has had a good relationship with Cusack, her husband Jeremy Irons, and his half-brothers, Sam and Max. In May 2013, he reveals that theatre director Vincent Dowling is his biological father.

Boyd Barrett contests the 2004 Irish local elections for Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council but is not elected. In 2009, he is elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, winning 22.8% of the vote and topping the poll.

Boyd Barrett stands in the Dún Laoghaire constituency at the 2002 Irish general election for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and at the 2007 Irish general election for the People Before Profit. This switch of identification is intended to increase his support from non-socialist voters. He loses to Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party, by 9,910 votes to 7,890 votes on the 10th count.

Boyd Barrett again contests the Dún Laoghaire constituency at the 2011 Irish general election as part of the United Left Alliance. On the ballot paper, he is named a member of People Before Profit, because the United Left Alliance had not yet been registered as a political party. Following a “nail-biting two days” of counting and recounting votes, he is elected on the 10th count without reaching the quota.

As a TD, Boyd Barrett, supports protests against cuts to Dublin Bus services. In Dáil Éireann, he condemns the 2011 murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr as “an utterly brutal action, which leads back down a road which has failed.” Marie O’Halloran in The Irish Times describes his “consistently passionate outrage and opposition to the Government’s handling of the financial and banking crisis.”

Boyd Barrett speaks at the Dublin location of the October 15, 2011 global protests, inspired by the Spanish “Indignants” and the Occupy Wall Street movements. The same month he says Enda Kenny‘s government is engaging in “spin and disingenuity” to cover up its austerity policies, decrying the closure of hospital emergency departments around the country for “health and safety” reasons.

On November 2, 2011, Boyd Barrett leads the United Left Alliance TDs out of the Dáil, in protest against the government’s decision not to hold a debate on the payment of more than €700 million to Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. On December 15, 2011, he helps launch a nationwide campaign against a proposed household charge being brought in as part of the 2012 Irish budget. He is part of an Oireachtas delegation that meets the Bundestag‘s Budgetary and European Affairs committees in Berlin in late January 2012.

On March 10, 2016, at the first sitting of the 32nd Dáil, Boyd Barrett is one of four candidates nominated for the position of Taoiseach, all of whom fail to reach a majority. Ruth Coppinger nominates Boyd Barrett for the role but the nomination is defeated by 9 votes to 111. As well as the six other AAA–PBP TDs, he also has the support of Séamus Healy of the Workers and Unemployed Action, Tommy Broughan of Independents 4 Change, and Independent TD Catherine Connolly.

At the 2020 Irish general election in February 2020, Boyd Barrett is again re-elected, having topped the poll.


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Birth of Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael Politician & Taoiseach

Leo Eric Varadkar, Irish Fine Gael politician who is serving since June 2020 as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is born on January 18, 1979, in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin.

Varadkar is the third child and only son of Ashok and Miriam (née Howell) Varadkar. His father was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and moved to the United Kingdom in the 1960s to work as a doctor. His mother, born in Dungarvan, County Waterford, meets her future husband while working as a nurse in Slough, Berkshire, England. He is educated at the St. Francis Xavier national school in Blanchardstown, Dublin, and then The King’s Hospital, a Church of Ireland secondary school in Palmerstown. During his secondary schooling, he joins Young Fine Gael. He is admitted to Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he briefly reads law before switching to its School of Medicine. At TCD, he is active in the university’s Young Fine Gael branch and serves as Vice-President of the Youth of the European People’s Party, the youth wing of the European People’s Party, of which Fine Gael is a member. He is selected for the Washington Ireland Program for Service and Leadership (WIP), a half-year personal and professional development program in Washington, D.C., for students from Ireland.

Varadkar graduates in 2003, after completing his internship at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. He then spends several years working as a non-consultant hospital doctor in St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, and Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, before specialising as a general practitioner in 2010.

In 2004, Varadkar joins Fine Gael and becomes a member of Fingal County Council and later serves as Deputy Mayor of Fingal. He is elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time in 2007. During the campaign for the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, he comes out as gay, becoming the first serving Irish minister to do so.

Varadkar is elected a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency in 2007. He serves under Taoiseach Enda Kenny as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport from 2011 to 2014, Minister for Health from 2014 to 2016, and Minister for Social Protection from 2016 to 2017.

In May 2017, Kenny announces that he is planning to resign as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader. Varadkar stands in the leadership election to replace him. Although more party members vote for his opponent, Simon Coveney, he wins by a significant margin among Fine Gael members of the Oireachtas, and is elected leader on June 2. Twelve days later, he is appointed Taoiseach, and at 38 years of age becomes the youngest person to hold the office. He is Ireland’s first, and the world’s fourth, openly gay head of government and the first Taoiseach of Indian heritage.

In 2020, Varadkar calls a general election to be held in February. While polls in 2019 have suggested a favourable result for Fine Gael, they ultimately come in third in terms of seats and votes, behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, with 35 seats, a loss of 15 seats for the party from the previous general election, when it had finished in first position. He resigns and is succeeded by Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. He is subsequently appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment as part of a three-party coalition composed of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.


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Birth of Katherine Zappone, American-Irish Independent Politician

Katherine Zappone, American-Irish independent politician who serves as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs from May 2016 to June 2020, is born in Seattle, Washington, on November 25, 1953. She is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-West constituency from 2016 to 2020. She previously served as a Senator from 2011 to 2016, after being nominated by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

Zappone is educated at Boston College (PhD), the Catholic University of America (MA) and University College Dublin (MBA). She becomes an Irish citizen in 1995. She and her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, found An Cosán which supports individuals and communities to actively engage in the process of social change through transformative education. In Zappone and Gilligan v. Revenue Commissioners (2006), they unsuccessfully seek recognition in the High Court, for their Canadian marriage in Ireland. Zappone is a member of the Irish Human Rights Commission, chief executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and a lecturer in the fields of ethics, theology, and education at Trinity College, Dublin. Though they are already married in Canada, she proposes to Gilligan on air as the positive result in the same-sex marriage referendum becomes known. Gilligan dies in June 2017.

Zappone is nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the 24th Seanad in 2011, having been recommended by Eamon Gilmore, the then leader of Fine Gael‘s coalition partners, the Labour Party. With her Seanad nomination, she becomes the first openly lesbian member of the Oireachtas and the first member in a recognised same-sex relationship.

Zappone is elected to the Dáil for the Dublin South-West constituency at the 2016 Irish general election, becoming the first openly lesbian TD and, by her own reckoning, the world’s 32nd lesbian to be elected to a national parliament. In May 2016, after a delay in government formation, due to prolonged talks, she becomes Ireland’s first openly lesbian government Minister and the first Minister to have been openly gay at the time of appointment to cabinet, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny appoints her as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. She loses her seat at the February 2020 Irish general election and continues to serve as a minister until June 2020 on the election of a new government.

Following the loss of her seat at the 2020 Irish general election, Zappone moves back to Seattle to work as a full-time volunteer for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in the 2020 United States presidential election, then to New York.

In July 2021, it is announced that Zappone is to be appointed to the newly created position of Special Envoy to the UN for Freedom of Opinion and Expression. It subsequently emerges that the proposed appointment had not been flagged in advance of the Cabinet meeting where it was proposed by Minister Simon Coveney, raising the concerns of the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin. However, he does not block the appointment, attracting criticism from within government, the opposition and the public, with Sinn Féin describing the appointment as “cronyism.”

In the following days it is reported that Zappone had lobbied for the creation of and appointment to the part-time position, which was not openly advertised or subject to a competition. Further controversy arises when it is reported that shortly prior to the announcement of her appointment, she had hosted a party for 50 guests, including politicians such as Leo Varadkar, at the Merrion Hotel, while the COVID-19 pandemic in the Republic of Ireland was ongoing. Comparisons are made between the party and the Oireachtas Golf Society scandal from earlier in the pandemic. On August 4, 2021, she announces that she will not take up the envoy role, saying “While I am honoured to have been appointed by the Government to be the Special Envoy on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, it is clear that criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself. It is my conviction that a Special Envoy role can only be of real value to Ireland and to the global community if the appointment is acceptable to all parties.”

In September 2021, Zappone is invited to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, but chooses not to attend. As a U.S. citizen and resident, the committee has no power to compel her attendance.


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Queen Elizabeth II Visits Cork

Queen Elizabeth II spends the last of her four days in Ireland visiting Cork on May 20, 2011, where she once again is greeted warmly. Despite initial concerns about security, the visit proves to be a huge success for both countries. The Queen’s apology at Dublin Castle for the treatment her government meted out to Ireland over many years is received with enormous positive, emotional response.

Large crowds line the streets in Cork city centre and the Queen is given a tour of the city’s English Market by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terry Shannon. She meets some stall owners and speaks to members of the public after she leaves the market. There is a carnival atmosphere on the streets of Cork and the visit is more relaxed than many engagements in Dublin.

The Queen and Prince Philip also visit the Tyndall Institute, which is run by University College Cork. While at the institute, they meet twins Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf and their mother Angie. Earlier, they visit the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary and pay a private visit to Coolmore Stud.

The Queen indicates she would like to return to Ireland for another visit. Taoiseach Enda Kenny says he invited her to return as she boarded her flight at Cork Airport. Kenny says the Queen told him she and the royal party enjoyed the visit. He pays tribute to everyone involved in the State visit. He says Ireland responded magnificently to the visit, from the President right down to ordinary people, who showed restraint and understanding.

Kenny says the Queen had received a real Irish welcome, which he says demonstrates the importance of a new beginning for both islands. He says that Ireland has measured up to the highest global standards and the county can be proud.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore says the visit has enhanced Ireland’s reputation abroad at a time when there are only negative headlines. He says that, because of the visit, the world is finally getting a picture of a country that does things well and that is working through its difficulties.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams says that, while expressing concerns about Queen Elizabeth’s visit, he also hopes some good will come from it.

At Cork Airport she walks to her plane passing an army guard of honour and Taoiseach Enda Kenny is there to bid her farewell. The plane departs bringing an end to her four-day State visit.

(From: “Queen Elizabeth II concludes Irish visit,” RTÉ.ie, the website of Raidió Teilifís Éireann, May 20, 2011)


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Taoiseach Enda Kenny Resigns Following Dáil Vote

Taoiseach Enda Kenny conveys his resignation to President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin on March 10, 2016 after failing to get re-elected to the position in a Dáil vote, becoming acting Taoiseach as the Dáil adjourns until March 22. “It’s not the outcome that I personally would have liked to see but I respect the verdict of the people,” Kenny says. The vote for the former Taoiseach stands at: For 57, Against 94, Abstain 5.

Kenny, the Mayo TD, says the Cabinet will continue its work while the various parties try to form a government. A government statement issued in the evening reads, “The Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, T.D., has this evening conveyed to the President his resignation from office. In accordance with the Constitution, the Government and the Taoiseach will continue to carry on their duties until successors have been appointed.”

Kenny, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and Richard Boyd Barrett of Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) are all nominated for the position of Taoiseach but fail to secure enough votes.

Kenny cites the upcoming commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising and his Saint Patrick’s Day visit to Washington, D.C. as two items that he will continue to take part in. In the medium term he says a government is necessary to deal with the impending Brexit referendum in the UK and issues such as climate change.

Kenny says when Fine Gael and the Labour Party entered government five years earlier “our very survival was in doubt.” He adds, “The Government had to face unprecedented sets of difficulties. Many believed the situation was hopeless. The country is in a different place now.”

The outgoing Taoiseach says he is “fully committed” to working with other parties and independents to form a new government. He adds that “a substantial number of people do not want to serve in government.” Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin says the situation is not unprecedented and people should put aside the notion that “speed” is an issue in forming a government. “Ireland is relatively unusual in how fast it carries out the formation of government,” he says.

A total of 50 Fine Gael TDs are re-elected to the 32nd Dáil. The five abstentions in the Enda Kenny vote are TDs Michael Harty, Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten, Michael Collins and Mattie McGrath. They say they will abstain on each vote for Taoiseach in an indication they are willing to hold further coalition talks.

The vote for the other nominees are:
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: For 43, Against 108, 5 Abstain.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams: For 24, Against 116.
AAA-PBP candidate Richard Boyd Barrett: For 9, Against 111.

(From: “Enda Kenny resigns as Taoiseach after failing to get re-elected as leader” by Kevin Doyle and Niall O’Connor, http://www.independent.ie, March 10, 2016)


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Remembrance Sunday Ceremonies 2016

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Northern Ireland on November 13, 2016, while a cross commemorating Irish soldiers in World War I is dedicated at Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery.

Kenny, who has taken part in the ceremony every year since 2012, lays a wreath of green laurels alongside the many red poppies at the war memorial in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, also attends the event.

Although there are no discussions between the pair, Kenny confirms he will meet with Foster in Dublin on Tuesday, November 15. The pair are also due to meet in Armagh on Friday, November 18 for a North/South ministerial meeting, where Brexit-related issues are expected to dominate the agenda.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald travels to Belfast, where she lays a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at city hall. Fitzgerald is joined at the ceremony by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire.

Speaking afterwards, Fitzgerald, whose grandfather served as a soldier in the British army and whose father was a colonel in the Irish Army, says it has been an important engagement. “So many people across the island lost their lives; 50,000 families affected by loss of a loved one during the First World War. We have had a government minister here since 2012 and I think it is really important to come together, to remember together and to look at our shared histories.”

In England, British Prime Minister Theresa May is among those who gather at the Cenotaph in London for a commemoration ceremony.

Meanwhile, Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, dedicates the France-Ireland Memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery. Humphreys is joined by the French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance at the Ministry of Defence Jean-Marc Todeschini for the ceremony. The memorial is a gift to Ireland from France in recognition of Irish sacrifices made “in the defence and freedom of France, particularly in the First World War.”

(From: “Taoiseach, Tánaiste attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies,” Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), http://www.rte.ie, November 13, 2016 | Pictured: Taoiseach Enda Kenny lays a wreath of green laurels in Enniskillen)


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The Funeral of Liam Cosgrave

The funeral of Liam Cosgrave, Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977, takes place in Dublin on October 7, 2017. In accordance with the wishes of the Cosgrave family, it is not a state funeral. The Requiem Mass takes place at the Church of the Annunciation in Rathfarnham with burial afterwards at Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore, Dublin. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, members of the Government, and former Taoisigh are in attendance at the ceremony in Rathfarnham. Cosgrave died on October 4, 2017 at the age of 97.

Born on April 13, 1920, Cosgrave has a 40-year political career and is part of the government which sees Ireland become a Republic in 1949. He also oversees Ireland joining the United Nations, addresses the United States Congress in 1976 and signs the Sunningdale Agreement in Northern Ireland which leads to a short-lived power-sharing executive in Belfast in 1972.

Following tributes from across the political spectrum in Ireland, the Cosgrave family, his three children, Mary, Liam and Ciaran, are offered a state funeral. At their request the funeral Mass and burial has some trappings of state but it is a private service. His wife Vera died in 2016.

Ten military policemen carry the coffin of Cosgrave as his funeral begins in Dublin. Current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his predecessors Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern are among those who attend the funeral Mass at the Church of the Annunciation in Rathfarnham. Members of the judiciary, Army and police also pay their respects.

Cosgrave is buried in Goldenbridge Cemetery, Inchicore, beside his father W.T. Cosgrave, a key figure in the foundation of the Irish Free State and an officer in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Cosgrave is Taoiseach from 1973-1977, some of the most turbulent years of the Northern Ireland Troubles. He has been described as a consistent and courageous voice against terrorism. He is at the head of government on the worst day of atrocities in the Troubles – the Dublin and Monaghan bombings on May 17, 1974 when loyalists kill 33 people, including a pregnant woman at full term.


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The Founding of Fine Gael

fine-gael-logoFine Gael, a liberal-conservative political party in Ireland, is founded on September 8, 1933 following the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard, popularly known as the “Blueshirts.” The party’s origins lie in the struggle for Irish independence and the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War. Michael Collins, in particular, is often identified as the founder of the movement.

Fine Gael is currently the third-largest party in Ireland in terms of members of Dáil Éireann and largest in terms of Irish members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of 21,000 in 2017. Leo Varadkar succeeds Enda Kenny as party leader on June 2, 2017 and as Taoiseach on June 14. Kenny had been leader since 2002, and Taoiseach since 2011.

Fine Gael is generally considered to be more of a proponent of market liberalism than its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil. Apart from brief minority governments, Fine Gael has rarely governed Ireland without a coalition that also includes the Labour Party, a social-democratic, centre-left party. Fine Gael describes itself as a “party of the progressive centre” which it defines as acting “in a way that is right for Ireland, regardless of dogma or ideology.” The party lists its core values as “equality of opportunity, free enterprise and reward, security, integrity and hope.”

In international politics, Fine Gael is highly supportive of the European Union, along with generally supporting strengthened relations with the United Kingdom and opposition to physical force Irish republicanism. The party’s youth wing, Young Fine Gael, is formed in 1977, and has approximately four thousand members. Fine Gael is a founding member of the European People’s Party.

Having governed in coalition with the Labour Party between 2011 and 2016, and in a minority government along with Independent TDs from 2016 to 2020, Fine Gael currently forms part of an historic coalition government with its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party. On June 27, 2020, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil is appointed as Taoiseach and forms a new government. Leo Varadkar serves as Tánaiste with both parties agreeing that in December 2022, Varadkar will serve again as Taoiseach.


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Garrett FitzGerald Becomes 8th Taoiseach of Ireland

garret-fitzgeraldGarret FitzGerald succeeds Charles Haughey to become the eighth Taoiseach of Ireland on June 30, 1981. He serves in the position from June 1981 to March 1982 and December 1982 to March 1987.

FitzGerald is born into a very politically active family in Ballsbridge, Dublin on February 9, 1926, during the infancy of the Irish Free State. His father, Desmond FitzGerald, is the free state’s first Minister for External Affairs. He is educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College, University College Dublin and King’s Inns, Dublin, and qualifies as a barrister. Instead of practicing law, however, in 1959 he becomes an economics lecturer in the department of political economy at University College, Dublin, and a journalist.

FitzGerald joins Fine Gael, attaching himself to the liberal wing of the party. and in 1969 is elected to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. He later gives up his university lectureship to become Minister for Foreign Affairs in the coalition government of Liam Cosgrave (1973–1977). When the coalition government is resoundingly defeated in the 1977 Irish general election, Cosgrave yields leadership of Fine Gael to FitzGerald. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader, he proceeds to modernize and strengthen the party at the grass roots. He briefly loses power in 1982 when political instability triggers two snap elections.

By the time of the 1981 Irish general election, Fine Gael has a party machine that can easily match Fianna Fáil. The party wins 65 seats and forms a minority coalition government with the Labour Party and the support of a number of Independent TDs. FitzGerald is elected Taoiseach on June 30, 1981. To the surprise of many FitzGerald excluded Richie Ryan, Richard Burke and Tom O’Donnell, former Fine Gael stalwarts, from the cabinet.

In his prime ministry, FitzGerald pushes for liberalization of Irish laws on divorce, abortion, and contraception and also strives to build bridges to the Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1985, during his second term, he and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sign the Anglo-Irish (Hillsborough) Agreement, giving Ireland a consultative role in the governing of Northern Ireland. After his party loses in the 1987 Irish general election, he resigns as its leader and subsequently retires in 1992.

On May 5, 2011, it is reported that FitzGerald is seriously ill in a Dublin hospital. Newly-elected Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny sends his regards and calls him an “institution.” On May 6 he is put on a ventilator. On May 19, after suffering from pneumonia, he dies at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin at the age of 85.

In a statement, Irish President Mary McAleese hails FitzGerald as “a man steeped in the history of the State who constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny pays homage to “a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland.” Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State, who serves as an opposite number to FitzGerald in the 1970s, recalls “an intelligent and amusing man who was dedicated to his country.”

FitzGerald’s death occurs on the third day of Queen Elizabeth II‘s state visit to the Republic of Ireland, an event designed to mark the completion of the Northern Ireland peace process that had been “built on the foundations” of FitzGerald’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985. In a personal message, the Queen offers her sympathies and says she is “saddened” to learn of FitzGerald’s death.

On his visit to Dublin, United States President Barack Obama offers condolences on FitzGerald’s death. He speaks of him as “someone who believed in the power of education; someone who believed in the potential of youth; most of all, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realised.”

FitzGerald is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, Dublin.

FitzGerald is the author of a number of books, including Planning in Ireland (1968), Towards a New Ireland (1972), Unequal Partners (1979), All in a Life: An Autobiography (1991), and Reflections on the Irish State (2003).


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Michael D. Higgins Meets Pope Francis in Rome

michael-higgins-and-pope-francisPresident Michael D. Higgins discusses a range of issues including climate change, migration and the need to achieve social cohesion during a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome on May 22, 2017.

The meeting comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, where the potential for disagreement is high as Trump has clashed with the pontiff on migrants and expressed skepticism about man-made impact on the environment. The meeting with President Higgins, however, is much more congenial as both leaders are very much on the same page.

Higgins is given the traditional welcome for visiting heads of state to the Vatican. He is walked through the frescoed rooms of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace by men dressed in white tie and is then introduced to Pope Francis for their meeting, which lasts fifteen minutes.

Higgins’ visit comes six months after outgoing Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a papal audience after which he confirmed the Pope would be coming to Ireland in 2018. While their discussions take place behind closed doors, it is likely that Higgins once again extends the invitation for Pope Francis to visit the country. The Pope ultimately visits Ireland August 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families 2018.

At the end of a seemingly warm and friendly encounter, Higgins presents the Pope a “climate bell” designed by renowned citizen-artist Vivienne Roche and is meant to represent a call to action on protecting the planet. “This is a very important symbol” the president tells the Pope before briefly ringing the bell.

For his part, the Pope presents Higgins with his landmark encyclical on climate change, Laudato si’, and his two apostolic exhortations, Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia. He also presents the President with a medallion designed to represent the saying from Isaiah 32:15 which states “the desert will become a fertile ground.”

The audience takes place inside the Vatican Library with the use of an interpreter. Higgins, who has spent some time living in Latin America, concludes the meeting in the Pope’s native language, saying “muchos gracias.”