By Cian Molloy - 06 October, 2017
A man of strong faith, Liam Cosgrave placed great value on the primacy of conscience in his political career and in his private life
The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, has expressed his condolences to the family of the late Liam Cosgrave, saying he was saddened to hear of the death of the former Taoiseach, who died on Wednesday, aged 97.
Part of a political dynasty, Liam Cosgrave served as a TD from 1942 to 1981, having followed his father, WT Cosgrave, first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, into politics as a career. After the 1943 General Election, father and son sat together on the opposition benches of Dáil Éireann.
Following the formation of the inter-party government in 1948, Liam Cosgrave became parliamentary secretary to Taoiseach, John A Costello, and also served as chief whip until 1951. In 1954, he became Minister for External Affairs for three years, during which time he negotiated Ireland’s entry into the United Nations.
In 1965, he was elected unanimously by his Dáil party colleagues to succeed John Dillon as leader of Fine Gael. After serving four years as leader of the opposition to Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fáil government, he became Taoiseach after the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition won the 1973 general election.
It was a difficult tenure, the country’s economy was severely affected by the oil crisis of the 1970s and by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Cosgrave’s government negotiated the Sunningdale Agreement with the British government in an effort to introduce a power-sharing arrangement north of the border, but the idea of sharing power with Catholics enraged some Loyalists who staged a general strike to make the Six Counties ungovernable. The sectarian conflict then spilled over into the Republic with the Dublin and Monaghan Loyalist bombings of 1974.
Because of the poor state of the economy, the Fine Gael-Labour Government is remembered as an austerity government, but several notable reforms to social welfare were made while Cosgrave was in office, with sickness insurance, unemployment insurance and occupational injury coverage extended to all employees, plus pensions insurance and a mean tested allowance for the wives of prisoners.
Cosgrave was a politician who was informed by his Catholic faith. Notably, in 1974, while Taoiseach, he crossed the floor of the Dáil to vote against, and help defeat, his own government’s bill to regulate the supply of artificial contraception to married couples.
Fine Gael expected to win the 1977 General Election, but were defeated when Fianna Fáil produced a ‘give away’ manifesto promising to abolish the domestic rates and motor taxation. He resigned from his post as leader of Fine Gael, concentrating then on constituency issues in his native Dún Laoghaire, until his son Liam T Cosgrave successfully stood in his place.
Archbishop Martin said that he had followed in the political footsteps of his beloved father. “Liam Cosgrave was admired by people the length and breadth of Ireland as a wise, modest and kind man of great integrity, during uncertain times in our history Liam Cosgrave did not shirk from making important and challenging decisions which demanded decisive political, economic and moral leadership. A man of strong faith, Liam Cosgrave placed great value on the primacy of conscience in his political career and in his private life. One of the high points of his life was his attendance at the 1975 canonisation in Rome of the martyred Saint Oliver Plunkett during which he read one of the readings at the Mass.
“At this sad time for Mr Cosgrave’s family, friends and colleagues in politics, I pray for all those who mourn him and for the happy repose of his soul.”