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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Former Taoiseach
Varadkar signs book of condolence for 'true patriot' Liam Cosgrave as tributes continue
Cosgrave was the last-remaining former Taoiseach born before the formation of the Irish State.

90294143_90294143 Sam Boal / Former Taoiseach and pupil Liam Cosgrave has a seat in a classroom where his father attended CBS James Street in Dublin. Sam Boal / /

Updated 2.05pm

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has signed the book of condolence for former Fine Gael Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave this afternoon in Dublin following his passing late last night.

The book was opened in Cosgrave’s heartland of Dun Laoghaire, at the County Hall on Marine Road in the south Dublin locality at 11am today.

Speaking in the Dáil this lunchtime, Varadkar described Cosgrave as “courageous”, “determined” and a “man of great loyalty and kindness”.

book of condolence 732 copy (1) Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

He said: “Consistently opposed to violence, Liam Cosgrave was a courageous voice against terrorism, and protected the State in times of crisis.  He looked terrorism in the eye and did not flinch.

His term 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.

“Liam Cosgrave’s entire life was in the service of the State. He inspired so many with his quiet, determination, courage and fortitude. 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.”

Book of condolence

In announcing the book of condolence, Fianna Fáil chairman of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Tom Murphy said that he felt “great sadness” upon learning of Cosgrave’s passing.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. Mr Cosgrave represented the Dun Laoghaire area with great distinction in Dáil Éireann for 38 years,” he said.

I wish to offer my deepest condolences to the Cosgrave family, his Fine Gael colleagues and his wide circle of friends in Dun Laoghaire.

The news of Cosgrave’s passing at the age of 97 emerged late last night.

Over four decades since he last held public office, men and women from all sides of the political divide joined and issued statements praising the life and career of a man who attempted to guide Ireland through its fledgling nationhood in the 50s as Minister for External Affairs. Then again in the 1970s, Cosgrave, as Taoiseach, was the man who dealt with growing discontent in the North.

As Taoiseach, Cosgrave served for just over four years between March 1973 and July 1977.

He’ll be remembered for bringing Northern Ireland to the brink of peace with the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement.

‘Very, very kind’

This morning, politicians who knew Cosgrave from both sides of the civil war divide came forward to pay tribute to him.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, former Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern said that Cosgrave was “always a very kind man”.

“When I went into Dáil Éireann in 1977 he was just finishing, but I always found he would have a kind word to say to you afterwards. You’d be nervous with your early speeches, you’d be wondering who was taking notes, but he’d wait and say a kind word to you outside,” Ahern said.

I met him time after time in the years after, but I mostly met him in Croke Park, he always attended the finals, but he wouldn’t get involved in politics after. He’d talk about the issues of the day that were not political. Always a very kind man. And I think he had an amazing, long, and I think very good life.

Former Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach John Bruton reiterated Ahern’s words on the same programme, describing Cosgrave simply as a “very, very kind person”.

00009934_9934 Eamonn Farrell / Cosgrave (left) at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in 1981. Eamonn Farrell / /

“If one was in difficulty he could be exceptionally kind,” he said.

I had some difficult moments in private and he was always a very, very kind person to me.

One of the first statements of condolence to drop last night was from Sinn Féín president Gerry Adams.

“I want to extend my condolences to the family and friends of former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave on his passing this evening. I also want to express my sympathies with the leader of Fine Gael, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and to the Fine Gael party on the death of their former leader,” he said.

Fianna Fáíl leader Michéal Martin remarked on the “extraordinary career” Cosgrave had.

Martin noted that until today, he was the last Taoiseach to be born prior to the foundation of the State. It is also extraordinary to think that a member of the 1948 inter-party government, formed almost 70 years ago, was still with us until today.

As the son of WT Cosgrave he was quite literally born into our public life and in his lifespan he lived the history of independent Ireland. First elected to Leinster House in 1943, he sat beside his father on the Dáil benches. When Fine Gael came to office in 1948 he was Chief Whip (or Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach as it then was) and also served as Minister for External Affairs in the 1950’s where he saw Ireland’s application to join the United Nations come to fruition.

During his time in the country’s highest political office he presided over a coalition described as a ‘government of all talents’.

With 1973 the Sunningdale Agreement, he came close to bringing an end to the conflict in the six counties, which continued for another quarter century.

The agreement, which was signed and in part negotiated by Cosgrave’s government, could have ushered in a power sharing executive in the North. However, opposition to the agreement from unionists saw it collapse.

90340842_90340842 Mark Stedman / Liam Cosgrave was out canvassing with Fine Gael European candidate Brian Hayes in 2014. Mark Stedman / /

Former Taoiseach John Bruton, who had served in Cosgrave’s government, described how he managed to put the nation’s interests at the heart of everything he did. Cosgrave, according to Bruton, was a man who did not seek out attention and was a “modest and brilliant man”.

Speaking to RTÉ, he said:” He was a pioneer in many ways. In 1965, he became leader of Fine Gael and injected a strong element of badly needed professionalism into the party’s work.

“In 1970, and again in 1972, he took vital political stands, as leader of the opposition, to protect the integrity and security of the State. In both instances, he put the country’s interest before his own political advantage.

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

Enda Kenny followed this train of thought and described Cosgrave as a man of “great loyalty, old fashioned courtesy, personal warmth” and someone who always had a great sense of humour”.

“I had the honour to serve under his leadership and to learn from him. 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.

“His closeness to people and willingness to work for them was reflected in the fact that he invariably headed the poll in his beloved Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown constituency,” Kenny concluded.

16/1/2014 Military Service Material Sam Boal / Enda Kenny and Liam Cosgrave in 2014. Sam Boal / /

Liam Cosgrave led a Fine-Gael Labour coalition during turbulent times in the 1970s, alongside Tánaiste and Labour leader Brendan Corish.

Brendan Howlin,on  behalf of the Labour Party, described the former leader as a “gentleman”.

He said: “I know Liam was a very close personal friend of Brendan’s from that time, and as my own mentor, Brendan often told me what a gentleman Liam Cosgrave was, and how generous of spirit he was.

“I had the privilege of meeting Liam Cosgrave myself on many occasions with his daughter Mary, and he really was a gentleman to his fingertips; a true patriot.

“On behalf of the Labour Party, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Mary, Liam’s sons Liam and Ciarán and extended family, as well as his many friends, former colleagues and all in the Fine Gael party.”

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

With reporting by Cianan Brennan and Sean Murray

Read: Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave dies aged 97

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