Rewind - Liam Cosgrave

By Sean Heffernan

Last week I wrote about the first Taoiseach this country ever had, W.T. Cosgrave.

This week we are not hoping on any buses, but rather I am staying put to write about his son Liam, who was also a Taoiseach of this country.

Liam Cosgrave 1

Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1977

Born into such a prestigious political family, it is no surprise that he was to gain great success in the same profession himself later on in his life.

The Taoiseach’s son was educated firstly in Synge Street school just off the South-Circular Road in Dublin 8 but later transferred to Castleknock College.

In 1940 he joined the Irish army and rose to the rank of officer.

He joined Fine Gael when he was 17, and became an active and enthusiastic member of the party.


Liam with Enda Kenny

In 1943 he then went onto the prestigious Kings Inns and qualified as a barrister and that same year he was elected as a member of Dail Eireann for the Dublin County constituency with an impressive vote of just over 11,000.

What is even more surprising is the fact that he was only 23 years of age when he first took the seat – to put it further into context Simon Harris was a year older when he was first elected for the Wicklow constituency in 2011 at the age of 24 which caused an endless media sensation at the time.

Another remarkable fact was that a father and son were sitting in the nations legislature at the same time.

The election on the 23rd of June saw Eamonn DeValera and his Fianna Fail party lose their majority. Which also saw Clann na Tamhlan (The Farmers Party) make noticeable gains.

We were also in the midst of World War II and people went to the polls with the country full of uncertainty and anxiety as to what the future may hold.

In a way it mirrors how many people feel now with regards Brexit (but of course things were far more precarious back then), and it is the Green Party doing a “Clann na Tamhlan” by coming out of nowhere to take a load of council seats.

Also in this year eight IRA prisoners who were among many who had been imprisoned in the Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare engaged in a hunger strike and a number of Irish cargo ships travelling to pick up badly needed imports were bombed by German submarines.

In 1948 the first multi-party Government was formed in the Republic of Ireland -previously it was either Clanna Gael or Fianna Fail who were in majority administrations.

John A. Costello was made a compromise Taoiseach after Clann na Poblachta, one of the coalition partners, said they would not do a deal with Fine Gael unless they promised that someone other than their leader Richard Mulcahy would take the top job.

At this time the young deputy served as a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

With many countries seeking to rebuild via the help pf the Marshall Aid Plan setup by the USA, this ministry played a key role in trying to entice European Countries to buy Irish goods such as bricks and foodstuffs, as it attempted to increase the G.D.P. of the state which was at a very low level.

When the second Inter-Party election was formed in 1954, Cosgrave was appointed to the key and crucial Minister of External Affairs position in cabinet (now known as the Minister for Foreign Affairs), and he was to lead Ireland’s first ever delegation to the United Nations.

In 1965 Fine Gael were now in opposition and many members and TD’s deemed change at the top to be badly needed, and the former army captain was elected as the new leader of the opposition.

He was a strong supporter of a suite of left-leaning policy proposals that were packaged together in a policy platform which was called “A Just Society”.

Many very right-wing members of the party were bitterly opposed to this, but he battled for it’s full adoption and won the day as it became apparent the idea was winning favour with a lot of voters.

In the General Election of 1973, Fine Gael managed to retake the reins of power with the help of the Labour Party.

He was the Taoiseach who played a seismic role in the signing of the Sunningdale Agreement which promised to give the Nationalist community representation in the Local Government apparatus for the first time.

What was known as the “Ulster Workers Strike”, was the sadly successful effort orchestrated by hardline Loyalists in Northern Ireland to bring down the embryonic power sharing administration in the six counties.

A more serious event back home which would rock the country to the core was the horrific Dublin-Monaghan bombings, where Loyalist Paramilitaries aided by rogue elements of the British intelligence apparatus set off car bombs in Monaghan Town and Dublin which saw 33 people killed and over 300 injured.

This was an Ireland where people could leave their car unlocked as they ran into the shops knowing it would be there when they got back, and leave your front-door open to let in the fresh air on a hot day as you walked over to a neighbour to ask if they could spare an onion, so the shockwaves it sent around the country were beyond seismic.

This and the situation up North cast a difficult shadow over the coalition government as they headed into the 1977 election.

Fianna Fail put forward their infamous populist at all costs electric policy (such as scrapping car tax while promising other tax cuts too), which in turn was to effectively bankrupt the party and lead to Charlie Haughey’s infamous mid-80’s “We are living beyond our means”.

Jack Lynch bankrupted the country when the mooted election proposals were carried out, but it saw Fianna Fail gain a record 88 seats in Dail Eireann, a whopping 88 seat majority.

It lead to Liam Cosgrave stepping down as the leader of Fine Gael, but he was to live for another 40 years, to the grand old age of 97 when he passed away in 2017.

Always seen by members of that party as a wise soothsayer, he would often be sounded out for advice by government ministers and the like, who valued his input.

With six Healy Rae Councillors elected in Kerry, and Michael Lowry’s offspring claiming seats in Tipperary, it’s clear the family political dynasties are still present today.

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