Former prime minister of Ireland helped end long-running violence
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.”