Belfast Telegraph

'A courageous voice against terrorism', ex-Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave dies at 97

By Niall O'Connor

Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave has died in Dublin at the age of 97.

Mr Cosgrave, who led a successful Fine Gael-Labour Coalition from 1973 until 1977, was the son of the first head of government of the Irish Free State, WT Cosgrave.

He was the last surviving Taoiseach born prior to the foundation of the State.

Father and son dominated Irish political life for six decades.

Mr Cosgrave had been in Dublin's Tallaght Hospital for several months. Illness forced him to miss his first All Ireland finals since the 1930s.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described him as "a courageous voice against terrorism" who protected the country 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.

He added: "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 is chiefly remembered as a staunch defender of Irish constitutional nationalism against serious threats from the IRA and other paramilitary violence through the 1970s.

His government took a hardline anti-terrorist stance as violence in Northern Ireland threatened to spill into the Republic.

Mr Cosgrave 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. He consistently opposed violence.

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

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

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.

Mr Cosgrave 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.

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 sentenced to death but the order was reprieved and he was subsequently jailed in Britain before his central role in the Irish government of the 1920s.

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.

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.

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

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

Irish President Michael D Higgins said UN membership was one of Mr Cosgrave's most memorable achievements.

"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.

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