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Friday 20 October 2017

Tributes pour in for ex-taoiseach Liam Cosgrave

Ex-taoiseach Liam Cosgrave was just 23 when he joined the Dail
Ex-taoiseach Liam Cosgrave was just 23 when he joined the Dail

Former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave has died at the age of 97.

Mr Cosgrave passed away last night following a battle with ill-health.

He was the son of the first head of government of the Irish Free State, WT Cosgrave, and led a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government from 1973 until 1977.

The father and son, who had a close relationship, dominated Irish political life for the first six decades of the State's existence, as both government leaders and leaders of the opposition.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led tributes last night.

"Liam Cosgrave was someone who devoted his life to public service," he said. "A grateful country thanks and honours him for always putting the nation first."

President Michael D Higgins also paid tribute, saying: "Liam Cosgrave was committed to serving the people of Ireland with all of his energy, intellect, as well as passion."

Mr Cosgrave was a staunch defender of Irish constitutional nationalism against subversive threats from the IRA and other paramilitary violence throughout the 1970s.

His government took a hardline anti-terrorist stance as worsening violence in the North threatened to spill into the Republic.

He also privately confronted Fianna Fail taoiseach Jack Lynch in 1970 with his knowledge of government ministers' involvement in importing arms for the IRA. This incident led to a major constitutional crisis.

Mr Cosgrave's devout Catholicism and conservative stance were underlined in 1974, when the then-taoiseach walked across the Dail floor to side with Fianna Fail and stop married couples having access to contraceptives.

He led six of his party colleagues to vote with the opposition and the Bill was defeated.

Wilderness

His view, he said, was that the Irish people were "opposed to any form of what one calls permissive society".

Mr Cosgrave first joined the Dail in 1943 at the age of 23.

He was also leader of Fine Gael through its fractious wilderness years, until the party finally managed to break Fianna Fail's long monopoly on power in a landmark election victory in February 1973.

His 'National Coalition' was hit by a major oil crisis in autumn of that year and soon became very unpopular.

An ill-judged early general election called for June 1977 led to a record landslide win for Fianna Fail under Mr Lynch.

Days later, Mr Cosgrave, aged just 57, stepped down from the leadership of Fine Gael, to be succeeded by Dr Garret FitzGerald.

Mr Cosgrave shared his love of horses with his wife, Vera Osborne.

He and Vera, six years his junior, married in 1952 and she died in September 2016.

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