Wednesday 21 February 2018

Former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave dies aged 97

Liam Cosgrave has died at the age of 97
Liam Cosgrave has died at the age of 97

Former Irish taoiseach Liam Cosgrave has died at the age of 97.

The death of the former Fine Gael leader, whose father WT Cosgrave led the first government of the Irish Free State, was announced in the Dail parliament.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led expressions of sympathy and tributes.

"Liam Cosgrave was someone who devoted his life to public service; a grateful country thanks and honours him for that and for always putting the nation first," Mr Varadkar said.

"Throughout his life he worked to protect and defend the democratic institutions of our State, and showed great courage and determination in doing so.

"He always believed in peaceful co-operation as the only way of achieving a genuine union between the people on this island, and in the 1970s he celebrated that this country had embarked, in his own words, 'on a new career of progress and development in the context of Europe'."

Mr Cosgrave was born in 1920 and was regarded as an internationally respected statesman.

He was part of the government which declared Ireland a Republic in 1949, he oversaw Ireland joining the United Nations and he addressed the Joint Houses of US Congress in 1976. Mr Cosgrave c onsistently opposed violence.

Mr Varadkar said he was a "courageous voice against terrorism" and protected the State in times of crisis.

"As Taoiseach he played an important role in the Sunningdale Agreement, which helped pave the way for the later agreements culminating in the Good Friday Agreement and peace on this island," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Cosgrave served as a TD in the Dail parliament in Dublin for almost 40 years and was leader of Fine Gael for 12 years.

"His time as Taoiseach between 1973 and 1977 will be remembered for Sunningdale, the qualities he brought in leading a successful coalition government, and his courageous defence of the State against threats internal and external," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Cosgrave is survived by his three children Mary, Liam and Ciaran.

Mr Varadkar described him as a man of great loyalty and kindness with a wonderful sense of humour, strong personal dignity, commanding presence and great humility.

"His entire life was in the service of the State, and he inspired so many with his quiet determination, courage and fortitude," he said.

"In my own career I have been inspired by his spirit of incredible public service and as Taoiseach I hope to live up to his great example.

"Liam Cosgrave is perhaps best summed up by paraphrasing one of his most famous speeches: he was a man of integrity who, totally disregarding self-interest, always served the nation. Today we have lost a Statesman and a great man."

Mr Cosgrave led the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government in the 1970s which ended 16 years of Fianna Fail domination.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said: " Very sad to hear of the passing of Liam Cosgrave - a gentleman and great political leader."

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins said UN membership was one of Mr Cosgrave's most memorable achievements which gave shape to Ireland's independent voice on the global stage.

"His words on that occasion that Ireland should work to 'take our place in the comity of nations and do our part to secure what small nations have always required, the maintenance of peace' remains to this day an important reminder of our nation's role and unique voice on global issues such as disarmament, peacekeeping, human rights and development," President Higgins said.

"Liam Cosgrave was committed to serving the people of Ireland with all of his energy, intellect as well as passion.

"In retirement, he loved to be among the people, be it at State occasions or sporting events and it is fitting that we pay tribute to his significant contribution to Ireland."

Enda Kenny, taoiseach from 2011 to earlier this year and former leader of Fine Gael, said Mr Cosgrave's most striking quality was his unshakeable conviction, including on democracy and state security.

"He was a man of great loyalty, old-fashioned courtesy, personal warmth and always had a great sense of humour," he said.

Mr Kenny said Mr Cosgrave's government of the 1970s was one of the best Ireland has seen. He said he led with quiet dignity and steely resistance to the IRA and other terror groups.

"He was no ideologue but was rooted in common sense. He had a genuine rapport with people and was always conscious of the impact of policy on people's everyday lives," he said.

Mr Cosgrave was regarded as a devout Catholic.

He joined Fine Gael at 17 and studied law at University College Dublin.

In an Irish context Sunningdale looms large in his achievements, albeit that six months after the agreement was signed a loyalist workers' strike brought down the institutions in Belfast.

He was regarded as having a good relationship with unionist leader Brian Faulkner, who introduced internment but became central to the power-sharing deal.

Following Lord Faulkner's death in 1977 Mr Cosgrave telephoned his widow Lady Lucy to praise his work for the people of Northern Ireland.

"I have valued his acquaintance for many years but it was, I think, in the period leading up to and after Sunningdale that we came to appreciate the full skill, determination and ability of your husband, which he used in the interests of the people he served," the Taoiseach wrote.

Some other initiatives included Mr Cosgrave's secret decision to set up formal relations with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1950s and use the Irish embassy London to pass information to a US agent.

Mr Cosgrave also voted against proposals to legalise the import and sale of artificial contraceptives in the 1970s.

His father WT Cosgrave was among the first members of Sinn Fein when it was founded in 1905. He went on to fight in the 1916 Rising and was se ntenced to death but was the order was reprieved and he was subsequently jailed in Britain before his central role in the Irish government of the 1920s.

Micheal Martin, the leader of Ireland's main opposition party Fianna Fail, added his tribute, noting Mr Cosgrave's position at the forefront of Irish politics as the Troubles in Northern Ireland broke out.

"Throughout all those years he showed real grit, resilience and determination both in opposition and in government," Mr Martin said.

He added: "He will be remembered as a fair and principled man who conducted the business of government efficiently."

As taoiseach Mr Cosgrave was also deeply conscious of the potential for mass evacuations of Catholics from Northern Ireland

In 1975 he ordered ministers to make contingency plans for 50,000 refugees fleeing south of the border to escape the deepening sectarian violence.

The plan including stockpiles of food, blankets and medical supplies and room in hospitals to treat 1,000 injured.

Mr Cosgrave was also taoiseach on the worst single day of atrocities in the Troubles - the Dublin-Monaghan bombings on May 17 1974 when loyalists set off four no warning bombs killing 33 people, including a pregnant woman at full term.

Former taoiseach John Bruton described Mr Cosgrave as a pioneer.

"Liam Cosgrave gave great service to this state in extremely difficult times," he said.

"In private and in public, he was the same ... self-effacing, modest and kind. He was authentic in every way."

Press Association

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