For­mer prime min­is­ter of Ire­land helped end long-run­ning vi­o­lence

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - IN MEMORY - By Sam Roberts

Liam Cosgrave, a dour and dogged for­mer prime min­is­ter of Ire­land whose in­grained de­vo­tion to po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the 1970s helped break his coun­try’s cy­cle of vi­o­lence, died Oct. 4 in Dublin. He was 97.

His death, in a hospi­tal, was con­firmed by Leo Varad­kar, the in­cum­bent taoiseach, or prime min­is­ter, of the Repub­lic of Ire­land. He said Cosgrave had “al­ways be­lieved in peace­ful co­op­er­a­tion as the only way of achiev­ing a gen­uine union between the peo­ple on this is­land.” Cosgrave’s law-and-or­der agenda and re­nun­ci­a­tion of ter­ror were steeped in his own fam­ily’s pro­tracted re­volt against Bri­tish dom­i­na­tion since the Ir­ish Re­bel­lion of 1798.

His fa­ther, W.T. Cosgrave, par­tic­i­pated in the 1916 Easter Ris­ing and was sen­tenced to death for his role in it, though the sen­tence was later com­muted to a life term, which in turn was nul­li­fied when he was re­leased in 1917. The el­der Cosgrave was the first elected pres­i­dent of the ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil of the Ir­ish Free State, serv­ing from 1922 to 1932. The post was con­sid­ered equiv­a­lent to the taoiseach.

Liam Cosgrave was a mem­ber of the Dail Eire­ann, or As­sem­bly of Ire­land, from 1943, when he was 23, un­til 1981 and led the Fine Gael party from 1965 to 1977. He was elected prime min­is­ter in 1973, but an eco­nomic slump helped doom his chances for re-elec­tion four years later.

Dur­ing his one term in of­fice, he ne­go­ti­ated what be­came known as the Sun­ning­dale Agree­ment, which di­luted the Ir­ish Repub­lic’s con­sti­tu­tional claim to North­ern Ire­land. The agree­ment signed by the mostly Ro­man Catholic repub­lic ac­knowl­edged that the pre­dom­i­nantly Protes­tant north was a prov­ince un­der Bri­tish con­trol. Both sides agreed that the sta­tus of the six coun­ties that con­sti­tuted North­ern Ire­land could change, but only by a ma­jor­ity vote of their res­i­dents.

While the agree­ment col­lapsed within months, it formed the ba­sis for the 1998 Good Fri­day power-shar­ing ar­range­ment that even­tu­ally ended years of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in North­ern Ire­land, com­monly known as the Trou­bles. Sea­mus Mal­lon, a North­ern Ir­ish min­is­ter, de­scribed the Good Fri­day Agree­ment as “Sun­ning­dale for slow learn­ers.”

On a trip to Wash­ing­ton in 1976, Cosgrave, ad­dress­ing a joint meet­ing of Con­gress on St. Pa­trick’s Day, char­ac­ter­ized Amer­i­cans who fi­nanced ter­ror­ists in Bri­tish-ruled North­ern Ire­land as “peo­ple who sup­port vi­o­lence at a dis­tance and who can sleep easy on the wounds of oth­ers.” Later that year he pressed for the im­po­si­tion of le­gal re­straints on the Ir­ish Re­pub­li­can Army, which fought to make all of Ire­land an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic, say­ing: “The crimes per­pet­u­ated by men of vi­o­lence have brought dis­credit to the name of Ir­ish­men through­out the world and death and dam­age to our own peo­ple. Our past has been de­val­ued and our fu­ture threat­ened by their out­rages.”

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