Saturday 21 September 2019

Cosgrave, justice and the IRA threat

Taoiseach Mr. Liam Cosgrave in his office in Government Buildings. Pic: Matt Walsh
Taoiseach Mr. Liam Cosgrave in his office in Government Buildings. Pic: Matt Walsh


In his first speech to Dail Eireann as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael Liam Cosgrave touched on many of the "social ills" which are still issues of concern to the great majority of people here and in most Western democracies.

In that speech, on Wednesday, March 14, 1973, he sought co-operation for his government to "move towards the sort of society we hope to achieve", to reform health and social welfare legislation, to reform education, to remedy the social ills which "still affect many sections in our community", such as, he said, defective housing, lack of adequate employment as well as other inequalities.

He hoped that his Government would be "indelibly marked with justice" demonstrated by a concern for the people and by the enactment of good laws governing the relations of the people with each other. Above all, he said, the first requirement of justice was that order and security were maintained and preserved: "What sort of society is there if violence is tolerated, not merely political violence but every other sort of violence, if violence is allowed to lead to loss of life or limb or liberty and the obscenity of war - scarred streets and a cowed and intimidated community seeking an existence on the edge of the abyss of anarchy and civil war? Patiently and wisely I hope, peace must be sought and established and with it the stimulation, hope and joy which the eager search for justice may bring on a generous scale."

This was the context, then, within which embarked what was called his government of many talents - "I need hardly say that I am glad to have got a place on it," he remarked, with typical droll wit - towards the end of the 20th century, just five years after what are called The Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland, a full 25 years before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a period within which more than 3,600 people were killed.

In the Dail last week, the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams referred to the late Mr Cosgrave as a "divisive" figure when, in fact, it was the actions of the Provisional IRA which caused most divisions on the island of Ireland throughout this period.

On that day in Dail Eireann, the words of the then Fianna Fail leader, Jack Lynch contain a resonance that are also worth reading again: "I should like to say very sincerely to the majority of the Unionist community, and here I should like to address them directly: 'I believe deeply that the dreadful things which have happened recently, the sectarian assassinations and intimidations, the hatred displayed in the desecration of churches, do not in any way represent your feelings and do not have your assent, though they may be carried out by people who think that they act in your name and in your interest.

'I would ask you most sincerely in return to accept that the aims of those who plant bombs, who kill and maim and destroy in the name of Irish unity, these are not our aims and do not have our assent. However they try to rationalise what they have been doing, we reject their outlook and repudiate their actions. They claim to be devoted to the ideal of a new Ireland but their new Ireland is not and cannot be ours. Whatever it might seem to offer, the vision of the future they propose to you, that is to the Unionists, and to us, is wholly discredited by the means they use to bring it about'."

Sunday Independent

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