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'An Irish giant on the international stage': Former attorney general Peter Sutherland has died

Sutherland was a huge figure at high levels of international development.

Peter Sutherland was an important figure in many areas of Irish life.
Peter Sutherland was an important figure in many areas of Irish life.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated 4.23pm

IRELAND’S FORMER ATTORNEY general Peter Sutherland has died at the age of 71.

Sutherland was Ireland’s youngest attorney general and had a distinguished legal career and also a highly successful business career.

Sutherland was also a European Commissioner and the director general of GATT, the forerunner of the World Trade Organisation.

More recently he was United Nations Special Representative for International Migration.

Sutherland was chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs International and also served on numerous multinational boards including BP, Volvo and Ericsson.

His various Irish, European and International jobs saw him play a role in some significant events of the past few decades, including 1983′s abortion referendum as Attorney General, and opening the door for low-fare airlines like Ryanair and creating the Erasmus university programme while EU Commissioner in the 1980s.

In recent years, he had taken on a very active role in issues around migration and was an advocate of compassion on the issue.

His passing today was greeted with sadness by numerous members of the legal profession with Chairman of the Bar of Ireland Paul McGarry SC saying that he had lost a “great former colleague”.

Tributes also came from Irish political life.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called Sutherland a “statesman in every sense of the word” who played “a very important role in Irish political life throughout the 1980s”.

In recent years he dedicated his skills and extensive experience to serving for the United Nations where he was tireless in highlighting the plight of migrants. Throughout his life, he was a champion for individual and economic freedoms. 

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Sutherland’s “lifetime of contributions at home and abroad”.

He said: “Tirelessly campaigning for global solutions to human trafficking and forced migration, he became a passionate and influential voice for the rights of the 65 million people who have been forced to flee their homes and homelands.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin praised Sutherland’s “outstanding and distinguished contribution to public life” while Labour Leader Brendan Howlin called him an “Irish giant on the international stage but a man who never forgot where he came from”.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said Sutherland’s “intellect was extraordinary” and that he “used his talents to be one of Ireland’s most influential people”.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme, former Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader John Bruton paid tribute to Sutherland, and said he had a “personal generosity that he carried through to public life”.

Bruton said his work in migration was an “expression of the real Peter Sutherland”.

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“He was disappointed at the tendency in some states to ignore the humanity of migrants and refugees,” he said.

Sutherland also had a “consistent passion for greater harmony in the world”, Bruton said.

Former Minister for Education Gemma Hussey called Sutherland a “truly great man” who “shone on the international stage”.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that Sutherland’s voice throughout the “recent refugee crisis was raw humanity with an Irish accent”.

Sutherland was born in April 1946, and studied law at UCD. After working as senior counsel he first became Attorney General in 1981.

It is understood that Sutherland may have been ill for some time. He survived by his wife and three children.

With reporting from Sean Murray

Read: Former Attorney General given honour by Swedish royal family

Read: Former AG Peter Sutherland to give Garret FitzGerald memorial address

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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