But the regrets hinge upon the words he used rather than the sentiment, for Dr FitzGerald says he still believes Mr Haughey was not fit to be Taoiseach.
The infamous remark, made in a Dáil speech following Mr Haughey’s nomination as Taoiseach in December 1979, was subsequently referred to in almost every major profile of the former Fianna Fáil leader.
But in an RTÉ interview last night, Dr FitzGerald said that while the two men had a bitter political relationship, they related to each other well in private.
“They were badly chosen words,” Dr FitzGerald said. “That speech was written at 4.30 in the morning. But the wording was completely misunderstood.
“I just wanted to point out that he was different from previous Taoisigh in that he didn’t have the support of a large amount of his own party, but nobody noticed that context.
“We never had any difficulty with our personal relationship, and I always found him courteous. We had a very good private relationship, but I still hold the view that he was not the right person to be the Taoiseach. But that never affected our ordinary relationship, which was always straightforward.”
Dr FitzGerald prefaced his remarks in 1979 by referring to the political skills and competence Mr Haughey had shown as a minister and said: “They are not enough. This country has had six heads of government since the State was founded. These were: William T Cosgrave, Eamon De Valera, John A Costello, Seán Lemass, Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave, all different kinds of men, God knows, but they all shared one common bond. They came into public life to serve this country and stayed on with that single purpose.”
Mr Fitzgerald added that at the time, Mr Haughey’s desire was to dominate, or even own, the State, rather than serve it.