Fitzpatrick, Thomas Joseph ('Tom') (1918–2006), politician and solicitor, was born 14 February 1918 in Scotshouse, Co. Monaghan, youngest among at least four children (three sons and one daughter) of John Fitzpatrick, farmer, and his wife Jennie (née Markey); he appears to have had a half-brother and half-sister by his father's previous marriage. After attending Scotshouse national school, and St Macartan's College, Monaghan town, he received higher education in Dublin at the Incorporated Law Society and UCD, and qualified as a solicitor in 1939 after taking second place in Ireland in his final examinations, and winning the gold medal for oratory and silver medal for legal debate from the Solicitors' Apprentices Debating Society. After working in a solicitor's firm in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim (1939–40), he practised for many years in Cavan town (1940–85), becoming principal of the highly successful firm of T. J. Fitzpatrick and Co. A member from 1939 of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, he was a council member (1962–73), and vice-president (1972–3).
Though active politically from an early age in Fine Gael – he was a personation agent for James Dillon (qv) in the Monaghan constituency in the 1938 general election – in 1943 he was election agent for Patrick O'Reilly (1927–94), of Murmod, Virginia, who was elected TD for Cavan for the agrarian party Clann na Talmhan. In 1950 Fitzpatrick was instrumental in organising the first Fine Gael branch in Cavan town. Serving on Cavan urban district council (1950–73, 1979–82), he was the body's chairman (1960–73, 1979–80). A major priority of his early years in local government was addressing a severe housing shortage; he worked to expand and upgrade the town's housing stock. He served on Co. Cavan VEC (1955–73; chairman, 1960–73).
Fitzpatrick entered national politics when elected on the administrative panel to Seanad Éireann (1961–5). Selected as running mate for O'Reilly (now a Fine Gael TD) in the 1965 general election, he captured the second of the constituency's three seats at O'Reilly's expense, commencing a twenty-four-year tenure in Dáil Éireann as TD for Cavan (1965–77) and for Cavan–Monaghan (1977–89). A powerful platform orator and consistent vote-getter, he never lost a dáil election. Topping the poll in both 1969 and 1973, in the former year he brought in O'Reilly to the third seat. Though returned on the first count over quota in 1973, he failed to bring in O'Reilly, as, bucking the national trend, Fianna Fáil took the remaining two seats.
On entering Dáil Éireann in 1965, Fitzpatrick was named by party leader Liam Cosgrave to the Fine Gael frontbench as spokesman on defence. Over the next eight years in opposition he also held frontbench briefs in local government, justice, and social welfare. In the early years of this period he was one of the few Fine Gael frontbenchers who subscribed to the 'just society' agenda drafted by Declan Costello (1927–2011). As spokesman on local government, in November 1968 he vigorously led opposition to the Fianna Fáil government's constituency revision bill – castigated by the opposition as a blatant exercise in gerrymandering – by introducing a private member's motion (opposed by government and defeated) proposing establishment of a constituency commission, composed of three government and three opposition TDs, chaired by a supreme or high court judge, that would oversee revisions to constituency boundaries and seat allocation. Fitzpatrick was one of three Fine Gael frontbenchers who in December 1972 organised opposition within the parliamentary party, on civil-libertarian grounds, to supporting Fianna Fáil's offenses against the state (amendment) bill, in defiance of Cosgrave who wished the party to support the legislation; in the event, loyalist bombings in Dublin induced the Fine Gael majority to reverse its position and vote for the bill.
Measured in temper, and a shrewd judge of politics, Fitzpatrick was an influential figure behind the scenes in Fine Gael in the 1970s and early 1980s, serving in senior party offices as national organiser and chairman of the national executive; in 1978 he was elected a party vice-president. Nonetheless, on formation after the February 1973 general election of the Fine Gael–Labour national coalition government, he was appointed to a minor cabinet portfolio, as minister for lands (1973–6). It has been speculated that Cosgrave was exacting retribution for Fitzpatrick's defiance on the offenses against the state bill, while also sidelining a potential challenger for the party leadership; other speculation posits that Fitzpatrick turned down the justice portfolio because of his situation in a border constituency in the depths of the Northern Ireland troubles. As national organiser he directed Fine Gael's successful campaign in the critical Monaghan by-election (November 1973) to fill the seat vacated by the election of Erskine Childers (qv) to the Irish presidency; the victory solidified the coalition's slender dáil majority.
As minister for lands, Fitzpatrick oversaw transfer of the collection branch of the land commission and accounts branch of the forest and wildlife service to Castlebar, Co. Mayo (1976), a move he described as a 'pilot effort' or 'experiment' in decentralisation of administration (Dáil deb., 23 June 1976; Ir. Times, 29 June 1976). Attentive to the demands of constituency politics, he designated counties Cavan, Monaghan, and Longford as congested areas under the 1965 land act, thereby securing reduced land annuities (October 1973). He facilitated development of Killykeen Forest Park, straddling Lough Oughter in the Co. Cavan lakelands, which became a popular tourist and recreational amenity. Appointed by the health minister, Brendan Corish (qv), to a subcommittee that advised on implementation of various plans for hospital restructuring and location, he lobbied energetically for confirmation of the proposed placement of a general hospital in Cavan town (his efforts being complicated by the coincidental creation of a combined Cavan–Monaghan dáil constituency; Monaghan town was competing with Cavan for a general hospital). Mandated in Corish's hospital development plan (October 1975), Cavan general hospital opened, after numerous delays and controversies, in 1989.
In a cabinet reshuffle, Fitzpatrick became minister for transport and power (December 1976–July 1977). Despite the outgoing coalition's massive defeat in the 1977 general election, he performed well in the new five-seat Cavan–Monaghan constituency, elected to the second seat with 9,060 first preferences. With a firm power base as national executive chairman, and widely popular among the party's grassroots, he was tipped as a possible Fine Gael leader should a compromise candidate be sought between the conservative and liberal wings of the party, but withdrew his name from consideration soon after Cosgrave's resignation, in the belief that the party's regeneration demanded a younger hand than his at the helm. He served under the new leader, Garret FitzGerald (qv), as spokesman on the environment (1977–81), and emerged as FitzGerald's most valued adviser on political strategy, especially on matters internal to Fine Gael. Supporting FitzGerald's significant reforms of party structures and procedures, he helped secure their acceptance by party traditionalists by arguing the necessity to weld a more smoothly operating electioneering machine; the reforms were embodied in a new party constitution, adopted by the 1978 Fine Gael ard-fheis. With an instinct for moderation and conciliation, Fitzpatrick exercised his considerable skills in negotiation and mediation to maintain harmony between party liberals and conservatives, being respected and trusted by both, and was especially important in assuaging tensions regarding FitzGerald's policies of social liberalisation.
Following an unexpected by-election defeat in Donegal (November 1980), Fitzpatrick was appointed to a newly formed Fine Gael strategy committee, which played a central role in the three general elections of 1981–2. In a frontbench reshuffle (January 1981), he became spokesman on health, and Fine Gael leader in the dáil. In the June 1981 general election he was knocked into third place on the first count by the strong performance of an H-block candidate (who eventually won a seat at Fianna Fáil's expense), but was elected on transfers to the second Cavan–Monaghan seat. Having throughout his dáil career exhibited a thorough command of parliamentary procedure and the rules of the house, he probably would have been nominated for the office of ceann comhairle (speaker) but for the tenuous position of the minority Fine Gael–Labour coalition government (the office went instead to the independent TD John O'Connell). Fitzpatrick served in the coalition cabinet as minister for forestry and fisheries (June 1981–March 1982), and remained leader of Fine Gael in the dáil. Amid a strong Fianna Fáil performance in Cavan–Monaghan in the February 1982 election, he was elected to the fourth seat, and served in opposition as party spokesman on the environment (March–December 1982).
Returned to the constituency's second seat in November 1982, he was elected ceann comhairle of the twentieth-fourth dáil (1982–7). He was the first Fine Gael TD to hold the office since the party's formation in 1933, and the only one till the election of Sean Barrett by the thirty-first dáil in 2011. Relishing a position that was intimately connected to the diurnal minutiae of oireachtas business, but removed from the cut and thrust of party politics, he described his tenure as 'the most enjoyable experience in my political life' (Dáil deb., 10 March 1987). Frequently proving his capacity to call an unruly house to order, he presided resolutely and impartially over many turbulent debates, including clashes over Northern Ireland policy, and such emotive social issues as abortion, contraception, and divorce. As ceann comhairle he was ex officio member of the council of state, chairman of the dáil committee on procedures and privileges, chairman of the civil service and local appointments commissioners, and chairman of Comhairle na Mira Gaile (Deeds of Bravery Council).
When the results of the February 1987 election ousted the coalition but left Fianna Fáil shy of a majority, the latter party offered Fitzpatrick the prospect of remaining as ceann comhairle (thereby depriving Fine Gael of a vote). Though inclined to accept the offer, he loyally abided by FitzGerald's decision not to assist in formation of a Fianna Fáil government under Charles J. Haughey (1925–2006); the office went to the independent TD and former ceann comhairle Seán Treacy. Fitzpatrick for the first time in his career sat on the dáil backbenches. He did not contest the 1989 general election, having fallen ill earlier in the year, and retired from politics.
Remembered as an amiable and impeccably courteous gentleman, Fitzpatrick lacked the flair and charisma of many leading politicians, but was an astute, reliable, and effective parliamentarian, highly skilled at brokering compromise. Deeply interested in drama, and a devotee of amateur dramatics, he was founding chairman of the annual Cavan drama festival, serving 1945–9 and 1957–62, and was festival secretary (1950–52). He also encouraged and facilitated establishment of rural dramatic societies in Cavan and elsewhere. He married firstly (19 June 1946) Ann Elizabeth ('Betty') Cullen (d. 17 June 1951, aged 30), a teacher and co-founder of Cavan drama festival; they had two daughters. He married secondly (29 December 1973) (Ann Brigid) Carmel McDonald, a local government official in Cavan; they had one son. After residing many years on Farnham Street, Cavan town, Fitzpatrick moved outside the town in the early 1970s to 'Rathanna', Drumelis. He died 2 October 2006 in College View Nursing Home, Cavan, and was buried in St Brigid's cemetery, Killygarry.