Liam Cosgrave Dies

Liam Cosgrave, Taoiseach and son of the first elected leader of the Free State government has died. I remember him getting in (we were stuck in a traffic jam in Lisburn of all places), and I remember him going under Lynch’s tricksy abolition of road tax, but not much else.

We were, as we largely are now largely preoccupied with our difficulties. There’s a faint recognition too of that there are no losers and no winners at the announcement of Sunningdale.

By all accounts he hated the Provisionals with a rare passion in southern politicians, although he rarely showed it. His father’s experience of the Civil War no doubt sterling him for the handling of violent insurgency.

I’ll add obits as the day goes on…

  • Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

    IMO, he was as then Taoiseach the person chiefly responsible for the cover-up after the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

    As the then British ambassador in Dublin, Arthur Galsworthy with a perceivable degree of self-satisfaction noted in a secret memo to London:

    “”There is no sign of any general anti-Northern Protestant reaction …
    The predictable attempt by the IRA to pin the blame on the British
    (British agents, the SAS, etc) has made no headway at all. … It is
    only now that the South has experienced violence that they are reacting
    in the way that the North has sought for so long. … it would be … a
    psychological mistake for us to rub this point in. … I think the Irish
    have taken the point.

  • Easóg

    Is that not why the terror bombings were carried out ?

  • the rich get richer

    That sort of terrorism was very effective .

  • Easóg

    The most obvious effect would be to prevent the tribal warfare from spilling over into the Free State and a tighter watch kept on the northerners.

  • Georgie Best

    It is notable that in the commentary about him today that he was person of definite views, but not one to bear grudges. While he could make the “mongrel foxes” speech, he later gave the likes of Garret Fitzgerald an important role in his cabinet.

    The cover up of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings wasn’t his best moment. But like so many others he allowed an understandable distaste for the Provos to prevent him doing the right thing himself. That said, the carryon on the Provos in those years has led us to where we are now, had they not blown away Sunningdale we might not have had the problems we have now. The UWC crowd might have overthrown Sunningdale anyway, but the British had an excuse in IRA atrocities not to stand up to them

  • Damien Mullan

    What a terrible period to be Taoiseach. Like his father, he governed in contentious and turbulent times.

    An effective chairman, but, being so self-effacing and unpretentious, not a chief. Dev could ship potential successors to pastures new, like sending Sean T. O’Kelly off to the Áras in 45′, but Liam Cosgrave had to be content with keeping his rivals very close. That’s a metric when judging the extent of leadership, its ability to allocate talent around without producing an existential crisis for the leader. Lynch, forced by Cosgrave, had to embrace overnight a chief like style when sacking Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney in 1970 over the unfurling Arms Crisis. Lynch, as time proceed over the next decade however, displayed how swallow his embrace of the role of chief was, it was forced upon him which was reflected in an inability to thwart Haughey’s creation of a rival power base with Fianna Fáil during the 1970’s. Like Lynch, Cosgrave could not signpost a future leadership, could not anoint a successor of his choosing, but then unlike Lynch with George Colley, he had little interest entering the fray of future leadership contests.

    His preference for seclusion from the live public controversies of the day, since his departure from frontline public life, is both commendable and also rather quaint in a socially saturated public realm.

    He did the state more than some service, its institutions are the more robust for his tenure and leadership.

  • Trasna

    The IRA blew away Sunningdale. Really!

    You may want to think about that.

  • Sean Danaher

    Well Cosgrave’s time as Taoiseach from 1973-1977 corresponded exactly with my four undergraduate years at UCD. I have very happy memories of that time.

    A few things.

    I was in Talbot St about 15 mins before one of the Dublin and Monaghan bombs went off on my daily cycle from UCD to home near Griffith Avenue. As others have indicated this could have easily spiralled out of control. The official UK papers still havn’t been released.

    Cosgrave had a very talented team around him most prominently Garret FitzGerald and Conor Cruise-O’Brien; it was interesting that he was Taoiseach as it was not obvious in public at least that he was the best man for the job.

    Our satirical programme “Hall’s Pictorial Weekly” was not very kind to Cosgrave, with the Minister for Hardship representation

    I was saddened in June ’77 when FF swept back to power with a large majority and an extraordinary populist give away budget abolishing Car Tax and Rates.

    It was however a time of growing up as a state and a time of good governance.

  • Eamon Hanna

    The proximate cause of the fall of the Sunningdale Executive was indeed the UWC strike and loyalist thuggery. However, in the nearly five months of the Sunningdale Executive, there was mayhem and ‘republicans’ killed only one person less than the loyalists. Make no mistake, the Provos were firmly committed to destroying the power-sharing Executive.Georgie Best’s euphemism, ‘carry on’,is far too mild.

  • Damien Mullan

    I love ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’, I was never around when it first aired, given my 32 years, but about 10 years ago RTE rebroadcast the series and I got my first taste of the Minister for Hardship, as well as Frank Kelly’s take on the home spun erudition of Jack Lynch. It’s well known that Frank Hall was on personal terms with many within Fianna Fail, that’s not to imply any journalistic or satirical bias, but it’s an interesting insight given the treatment of political personalities in ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’.

    That ’77 election was a watershed for all the worse reasons. It might have delivered Fianna Fail their greatest general election victory, but it hobbled the party’s ‘principle’ of single party government and ultimately set it on the course for coalition government henceforth. The abolition of rates was/is a disaster. Far greater than the disasters that would befall Fianna Fail thereafter, it was what the country had to endure because of the fiscal reckless of that manifesto that is the real tragedy of the era. Jack Lynch was an honourable man, but he, as many others close to him back then have subsequently stated, should never have drafted such an irresponsible manifesto, it was nothing short of a disgrace. As I understand it Lynch had little input into the manifesto or the election campaign, other than being wheeled out to tour the country. What utter reckless hubris informed expanding borrowing at a time of global recession, for a country primarily focused on making its living, even back then, on external markets, principally the UK, which was like many other countries in the 70’s continuously in and out of recession, little helped by the lingering effects of the 1973 oil crisis, all of which left Ireland vulnerably exposed.

  • Roger

    South Africa?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The era of Cosgrave’s period as Taoiseach is vividly evoked when one returns to those thin republication volumes of Donal Foley’s “Man bites Dog” column. These originally appeared in the Irish Times and, even more than the more pointed satire of “Hall’s Pictorial Weekly” offer a quirky commentary on the bizarre Ireland of that time with a flavour of Flann O’Brian!

  • Sean Danaher

    Indeed ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’ was a classic, I also liked Dermot Morgan’s ‘Scrap Saturday’ which of course was about a decade later.

    Cosgrave was very unfortunate in that the 1973 oil crisis corresponded with the start of his premiership. This hit Ireland badly; the UK was cushioned greatly by the fact North Sea Oil was coming on tap on the time. There were hopes of major oil find in Irish waters, which would have put Ireland in a similar position as Norway but it was not to be.

    The FF win in ’77 was a shock, major bribes to the electorate and led to a predictable recession in the early ’80s. What is remarkable though that despite setbacks the country has done much better economically than the UK since 1960. I have used World Bank data to plot the GDP ratios (the World Bank Data only starts in 1960). The red dots are for years that the Irish GDP went down in comparison to the UK and there is only one year in Cosgrave’s premiership when this happened.

    The relative population size a figure of around 7% would mean that the GDP per capita is about equal at present (about 5% in 1960). The effect of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis is very visible, but in general the trend is obvious. Indeed the comparison would be even more dramatic if one stripped out London and the SE from the UK.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/873c98ed613ef2d55886a48c6a6690347c20b5342d067f8702ecb1e68e231d58.jpg .

  • Sean Danaher

    The “man bites Dog” column was indeed very much a must read at the time. Sadly I was too young to appreciate “Cruiskeen Lawn” which finished in 1966 when Brian O’Nolan died. My father was a great fan.

  • the rich get richer

    Was the Dublin/ Monaghan bombings singularly the most politically effective terrorist act of all the terrorist acts in Ireland ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My uncle was also a great fan of “Flann” ( in his many incarnations). When “The Third Policeman” finally reached print after his death I borrowed a copy from a school friend and discussed it with my Uncle who was reading his copy at the same time.

  • Damien Mullan

    Very true. Just as a point of reinforcement of the above trend of economic expansion and growth since the 1970’s, Professor Frances Ruane’s historical analysis is very interesting here.

  • Old Mortality

    I trust you have not overlooked the fact that a significant proportion of Irish GDP finds its way into the hands of foreign entities. And if Dublin was stripped out?

  • Sean Danaher

    Fair point. GNP is probable a better measure for the native Irish economy and is about 20% lower than GDP.

    I think Dublin is far too dominant in Ireland. The capital city effect is of course a worry in the UK also. England without London or NI without Belfast would also be dramatically different. More needs to be done. I think however that the regional disparities are considerably lower in Ireland. I am more familiar with the UK figures and find them depressing. The GVA (Income based Approach) for London and the SE compared to the rUK plotted below in my view are a disgrace.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2496b08a72e568ce1fbbbffd81f87eeebcb9c259f0a290cffaab719f1939bb92.jpg

  • Damien Mullan

    I gather you are referring to the basing and routing of profits via Ireland to take advantage of the 12.5% corporate tax rate. However, I trust you know your Irish history, because the current rate of 12.5% only came effect in 2003, having been announced in Budget 1998 when the rate was 32%, Charlie McCreevy set out in his 1998 Budget a phased reduction of the 32% rate to the 12.5% of today, its a rather more recent phenomenon, and as such cannot explain the average 3-4% growth rate achieved annually in the 5 year blocks of, 70-75, 75-80, 80-85, 85-90, 90-95, 95-2000, as outline in Professor Frances Ruane’s analysis.

    As almost 2 million people, out of the 4.7 million people who live in the state, live within county Dublin and the counties that border it, stripping it out is nonsensical.