For­mer Taoiseach over­saw clo­sure of GNR

The Argus - - OPINION - John mul­li­gan john.mul­li­gan@ar­

FOR­MER Taoiseach, Liam Cos­grave who died last week at the age of 97 will be re­mem­bered in Louth for his staunch sup­port for his Min­is­ter for De­fence, Paddy Done­gan and for his strong lead­er­ship at the height of the para­mil­i­tary vi­o­lence in the 1970’s when there were count­less in­ci­dents along the Bor­der.

Mr. Done­gan, the Louth Deputy, had been ap­pointed Min­is­ter for De­fence in Mr. Cos­grave’s first coali­tion Gov­ern­ment in 1973, and the Taoiseach gave to­tal back­ing to his Min­is­ter in curb­ing the threat that the vi­o­lence in the North was be­com­ing to the Ir­ish state.

In Oc­to­ber 1976 Mr. Done­gan made a con­tro­ver­sial speech on an of­fi­cial visit to an army bar­racks at Mullingar. He de­scribed as a “thun­der­ing dis­grace” Pres­i­dent Cearb­hall Ó Dálaigh’s re­fusal to sign the Emer­gency Pow­ers Act, 1976, in­stead us­ing his pow­ers un­der Ar­ti­cle 26 of the Con­sti­tu­tion to re­fer it to the Supreme Court.

Amid a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis for the coun­try, the Taoiseach, Mr. Cos­grave, re­fused Done­gan’s res­ig­na­tion, and in­stead Ó Dálaigh re­signed as Pres­i­dent of Ire­land.

Ear­lier in his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, Mr. Cos­grave also played a lead­ing role in the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the Great North­ern Rail­way (GNR) and which ul­ti­mately led to the clo­sure of the engi­neer­ing works on the Ardee Road in Dun­dalk with the loss of 900 jobs.

At the time Mr. Cos­grave was Chief Whip in the John A. Costello led coali­tion Gov­ern­ment in 1948. He also acted as par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary ( ju­nior min­is­ter) to the Min­is­ter for In­dus­try and Com­merce Dan Mor­ris­sey whose brief it was to ne­go­ti­ate with the North­ern Ire­land Gov­ern­ment over the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the rail­way.

Mr. Mor­ris­sey suf­fered greatly from ill-health leav­ing Mr. Cos­grave to ef­fec­tively run the de­part­ment and the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the NI Gov­ern­ment over the fu­ture of the GNR.

A com­bi­na­tion of the in­creas­ing road com­pe­ti­tion fac­ing all rail­ways and a change in pat­terns of eco­nomic ac-


tiv­ity caused by the par­ti­tion of Ire­land re­duced the GNR’s pros­per­ity.

The com­pany mod­ernised and re­duced its costs by in­tro­duc­ing mod­ern diesel mul­ti­ple units on an in­creas­ing num­ber of ser­vices in the 1940s and 1950s and by mak­ing Dublin–Belfast ex­presses non-stop from 1948.

De­spite the best ef­forts of the work force in Dun­dalk to de­vel­op­ment new ven­tures, by the 1950s the GNR had ceased to be prof­itable and in 1953 the com­pany was jointly na­tion­alised by the gov­ern­ments of Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land.

The two gov­ern­ments ran the rail­way jointly un­der a Great North­ern Rail­way Board un­til 1958.

Un­der the terms of the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion, ne­go­ti­ated by Mr. Cos­grave, the ma­jor­ity of the 900 staff in Dun­dalk were made re­dun­dant by 1958.

The de­ci­sion to close the Dun­dalk works while in­evitably af­ter na­tion­al­i­sa­tion, was al­ways held against the Gov­ern­ment at the time by many who worked there.

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