Tuesday 23 January 2018

Taoiseach leads tributes to former Irish leader Liam Cosgrave

Liam Cosgrave, who was taoiseach between 1973 and 1977, has died at 97
Liam Cosgrave, who was taoiseach between 1973 and 1977, has died at 97

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Liam Cosgrave, who died on Wednesday, was an inspiration to him and he hoped to live up to his great example.

Flags were lowered across all state buildings in Ireland after Mr Cosgrave, taoiseach from 1973-77, died aged 97, and tributes were paid in the Dail parliament in Dublin to a political leader regarded as one of the country's most respected statesmen.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Cosgrave, who headed the government during some of the most turbulent years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, was a courageous voice against terrorism.

"He looked terrorism in the eye and did not flinch," the Taoiseach told the Dail.

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

"Liam Cosgrave's entire life was in the service of the state. Politician, soldier, taoiseach. He inspired so many with his quiet, showless determination, courage and fortitude," he said.

Mr Varadkar also spoke about Mr Cosgrave's commanding presence and great humility.

He added: "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."

Mr Cosgrave's family, his three children, Mary, Liam and Ciaran, have been offered a state funeral.

Born in 1920, he was the son of WT Cosgrave, who was a key figure in the foundation of the Irish Free State and an officer in the 1916 Rising.

He went on to follow in his father's footsteps with a 40-year political career.

Mr Cosgrave was part of the government which declared Ireland a Republic in 1949. He also oversaw Ireland joining the United Nations and addressed the Joint Houses of US Congress in 1976.

The signing of the Sunningdale Agreement in Northern Ireland looms large among his achievements, albeit that six months later 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 powersharing deal.

Normal Dail business was suspended as a mark of respect until next week after tributes were paid from across the political spectrum.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Cosgrave's efforts to expose a plot to import arms for republicans in May 1970 was considered his " finest hour".

He was leader of the main opposition party Fine Gael and after pressing then-t aoiseach Jack Lynch about the scandal he described it in the Dail as a situation " without parallel in this country since the foundation of the state".

"His action and that of the taoiseach, Jack Lynch, has been credited with saving the security forces of the state from becoming embroiled in a crisis in Northern Ireland, and has been called by some a great public service, and by others his finest hour," Mr Varadkar said.

As taoiseach a few years later Mr Cosgrave was deeply conscious of the potential for mass evacuations of nationalists from Northern Ireland and ordered c ontingency plans for 50,000 refugees.

He was also at the head of government on the worst day of atrocities in the Troubles - the Dublin-Monaghan bombings on May 17 1974 when loyalists killed 33 people, including a pregnant woman at full term.

Mr Varadkar said: " He was also able to eloquently express the mood and feeling of the country at times of crisis and tragedy.

"He spoke movingly of how the men of violence were contributing to 'a world where reason and compassion are dead and only might is right'."

Mr Cosgrave welcomed Edward Heath as the first British prime minister to visit Ireland following independence.

When his father died, he covered the cost of the state funeral.

He also sacrificed some of his pension entitlements during Ireland's economic collapse in 2010 and then, in 2015, opted not to take an increase.

Mr Cosgrave was said to be a devout Catholic.

He voted against proposals to legalise the import and sale of artificial contraceptives in the 1970s while offering colleagues a free vote on the issue.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Cosgrave believed the issue was a matter of conscience and that he had the courage to follow his own conscience.

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

Many tributes have also touched on Mr Cosgrave's love of horse racing, Gaelic games and the pride he had in his father's role in 1916.

Micheal Martin, the leader of Ireland's main opposition party, Fianna Fail, said: "I have no hesitation in saying that Liam Cosgrave was a man who gave so much to Irish public life and deserves a place of honour in our history."

Press Association

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