Latest: Ex-Fine Gael leaders pay tribute to 'self-effacing, modest and kind' Liam Cosgrave

LatestHe was a leader who put the nation first, a statesman who was never too busy to listen to others, a true patriot in a time of violence, and - ultimately - someone of genuine principle who has now been lost from our land, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Politicians across the political divide united on Thurday in tributes to the late Liam Cosgrave, after the 97-year-old former taoiseach passed away on Wednesday night.

In a rare moment of unity that was symbolic of the approach sought by Mr Cosgrave throughout his career, Ireland's political leaders warmly remembered their predecessor as a man whose quiet nature belied a greatness which has now been lost.

Just after 12 noon as the initial Dáil schedule was cancelled to allow for one hour of tributes to the former Fine Gael leader, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took to his feet to express his "deep sadness" at news of Mr Cosgrave's passing.

Noting Mr Cosgrave's 1973-1977 period as taoiseach occurred during Ireland's entry into the EU, the Sunningdale agreement in Northern Ireland, the arms trial revelations and the Troubles, he said Ireland should be "grateful to him for always putting our nation first", adding he was a "man of conscience and principle" who has sadly been lost.

"Liam Cosgrave was someone who devoted his life to public service. Today a grateful country thanks and honours him," Mr Varadkar told a silent and bowed Dáil.

"Throughout his life Liam Cosgrave worked to protect and defend the democratic institutions of the State, and showed great courage and determination in doing so.

"He always believed in peaceful co-operation as the only way of achieving unity among the people on this island, and in the 1970s he celebrated that this country had embarked, in his own words, ‘on a new career of progress and development in the context of Europe’.

"Consistently opposed to violence, Liam Cosgrave was a courageous voice against terrorism, and protected the State in times of crisis. He looked terrorism in the eye and did not flinch.

"Liam Cosgrave’s entire life was in the service of the State. He inspired so many with his quiet, showless determination, courage and fortitude.

"In my own career I have been inspired by his spirit of incredible public service and as Taoiseach I hope to live up to his great example.

Liam Cosgrave is perhaps best summed up by paraphrasing one of his most famous speeches: he was a man of integrity who, totally disregarding self-interest, always served the nation. We have lost someone great from our land," he said.

The view was echoed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, who said regardless of party differences he has "no hesitation in saying Liam Cosgrave was a central figure" in Ireland's development as a democracy.

Expressing the sincere condolences of his party for "a statesman central to [Fine Gael's] pride in the history of their party", Mr Martin said while Mr Cosgrave followed closely in the footsteps of his father WT Cosgrave "he was also a major figure in his own right", adding he was "struck by how much it meant" to Enda Kenny for Mr Cosgrave to have spoken with him when he became Taoiseach.

Mr Martin said Mr Cosgrave's quiet patience and attempts to find compromise with colleagues and foes was "unique" and something he felt helped create a "Christian democratic tradition in our politics that has achieved far more for Ireland" than more high-profile alternatives.

"He was proud of his national heritage, and deeply committed to his faith," Mr Martin said.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams - whose party was subtly criticised by a number of speakers in their tributes to Mr Cosgrave's decision to stand up to republican violence in the early 1970s - told the Dáil that in his view the former taoiseach was "for many people a controversial and divisive figure" during a "turbulent and controversial period".

However, in keeping with the nature of the day, he said "today is not the day to analyse this" and that extended his and his party's sympathies to the Cosgrave family and the wider Fine Gael party.

"He had a long career in public office. I'm sure his family and his party, Mr Cosgrave himself and his late wife Vera were rightly proud of this record," he said.

As the tributes continued, Labour leader Brendan Howlin warmly remembered how his own party predecessor Brendan Corlish and Mr Cosgrave "became great friends" during the government coalition of the 1970s as they resolved serious economic issues "face to face" instead of by using intermediates.

Describing Mr Cosgrave as "a generous man who always took time to listen carefully" to people, he said while his views on contraception and other matters may seem outdated now "he was a man of his time, and a patriot" on other issues.

"We're at an age now when personality sometimes trumps substance. But I believe history will ultimately treat him well," he said, a view repeated by Social Democrats TD Roisin Shortall.

Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath, who was speaking on behalf of the rural Independents group, said Mr Cosgrave showed the true value of "a republic of opportunity long before it became the catchphrase it is today", while Green party leader Eamon Ryan said the satire image of him as "the grey man" in Hall's Pictorial Weekly belied a witty, self-depreciating and always warm character.

Transport Minister Shane Ross said the former Taoiseach's "old-fashioned" sincerity is missing today and should not be forgotten. Noting how Mr Cosgrave chose not to interfere after leaving politics, he added poignantly it "summed up the great quality of the man".

Liam Cosgrave who passed away last night arrives with his daughter Anna at the Church of St Therese at Mount Merrion where the Papal Nuncio celebrated a mass to mark World Day of Peace in 2013.

Earlier: Former Fine Gael leaders Michael Noonan, John Bruton and Alan Dukes joined together to pay tribute to Liam Cosgrave.

"Liam Cosgrave was a great leader who followed in the tradition of his father, WT Cosgrave, who helped to found the State," said Mr Noonan.

"As time went by, his strengths in his role as taoiseach become more apparent - in particular, the way he dealt with Northern Ireland, the Troubles and spillover of those difficulties into the South.

"His leadership proved to be admirable."

Mr Bruton said: "Liam Cosgrave gave great service to this State in extremely difficult times.

"In private and in public, he was the same ... self-effacing, modest and kind. He was authentic in every way."

Mr Dukes added: "Liam Cosgrave was a man of great honesty and integrity, devoted to the welfare of the state which his father had helped to found.

"He deserves to be remembered as a modest, warm man who was a statesman of great stature and determination."

Martin Heydon, chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, said: "He was a decent and compassionate man brimming full of integrity, his public life was one of sacrifice for the common good and the State.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin described Mr Cosgrave as a "true patriot" and a "gentleman to his fingertips".

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said: "I want to extend my condolences to the family and friends of former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted: "RIP former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave - a remarkable life which witnessed the birth of the Republic and worked to keep it secure."

Former taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Brian Cowen said: "He was a consummate gentleman to meet always, and we had many engaging conversations. He had an impressive recollection of events and personalities and a repertoire of stories that always amused.

"His was a life well-lived. He will be sadly missed, especially by his family, to whom he was devoted."

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Cosgrave's efforts to expose a plot to import arms for republicans in May 1970 was considered his "finest hour".

He was leader of Fine Gael and after pressing then-taoiseach Jack Lynch about the scandal he described it in the Dáil as a situation "without parallel in this country since the foundation of the state".

"His action and that of the taoiseach, Jack Lynch, has been credited with saving the security forces of the state from becoming embroiled in a crisis in Northern Ireland, and has been called by some a great public service, and by others his finest hour," Mr Varadkar said.

As taoiseach a few years later Mr Cosgrave was deeply conscious of the potential for mass evacuations of nationalists from Northern Ireland and ordered contingency plans for 50,000 refugees.

Mr Varadkar said: "He was also able to eloquently express the mood and feeling of the country at times of crisis and tragedy.

"He spoke movingly of how the men of violence were contributing to 'a world where reason and compassion are dead and only might is right'."

Many tributes have also touched on Mr Cosgrave's love of horse racing, Gaelic games and the pride he had in his father's role in 1916.

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, said: "I have no hesitation in saying that Liam Cosgrave was a man who gave so much to Irish public life and deserves a place of honour in our history."

Flags are being lowered across all state buildings as a mark of respect following the death of Liam Cosgrave.

Tricolours are being lowered on all government buildings and offices as tributes flooded in from the world of politics after his death at the age of 97.

His family have been offered a state funeral.

Liam Cosgrave is being remembered as a "giant of Irish politics", as tributes continue to pour in for the former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

Irish president Michael D Higgins said Mr Cosgrave was "committed to serving the people of Ireland with all his energy, intellect, as well as passion".

He added: "In retirement he loved to be among the people, be it at state occasions or sporting events, and it is fitting that we pay tribute to his significant contribution to Ireland."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described him as "someone who devoted his life to public service".

"A grateful country thanks and honours him for always putting the nation first," he said.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald said: "He was revered among Fine Gael politicians and supporters across Ireland and held in high esteem by those who witnessed his incredible contribution to Irish political life. He will be greatly missed by us all.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin praised Mr Cosgrave's "extraordinary career" and said "his was a quite remarkable tenure in our public life".

He added: "He will be remembered as a fair and principled man who conducted the business of government efficiently."

Former president Mary McAleese said Mr Cosgrave "had such pride in Ireland and the coming generations".

"He had such hope in them. He was happy to hand over the reigns and let them guide the country with their genius," she added.

Former Fine Gael leader and former taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Cosgrave "loved his family, his party and his country".

"He was a person who had an extraordinary interest in people. He kept that interest long after he left politics," Mr Kenny added.

Former taoiseach and former Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern said: "I liked him. I always admired him.

"I think it was clear he was a person who believed in what he believed in, that was it. You liked it or lumped it. I admired that."

Fine Gael minister Ciaran Cannon said that while Mr Cosgrave was "a private and unassuming individual", he would be remembered as a "giant of Irish politics".

Mr Cannon added: "He showed great tenacity and moral courage in facing the consistent challenges posed by the Troubles and he committed his considerable energies to helping lay the paving which would ultimately lead to the current peace process."

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, praised Mr Cosgrave for not shirking away from making "important and challenging decisions which demanded decisive political, economic and moral leadership".

"A man of strong faith, Liam Cosgrave placed great value on the primacy of conscience in his political career and in his private life," he added.

Former Fine Gael leaders Michael Noonan, John Bruton and Alan Dukes joined together to pay tribute to Mr Cosgrave.

"Liam Cosgrave was a great leader who followed in the tradition of his father, WT Cosgrave, who helped to found the State," said Mr Noonan.

"As time went by, his strengths in his role as taoiseach become more apparent - in particular, the way he dealt with Northern Ireland, the Troubles and spill over of those difficulties into the South.

"His leadership proved to be admirable."

Mr Bruton said: "Liam Cosgrave gave great service to this State in extremely difficult times.

"In private and in public, he was the same ... self-effacing, modest and kind. He was authentic in every way."

Mr Dukes added: "Liam Cosgrave was a man of great honesty and integrity, devoted to the welfare of the state which his father had helped to found.

"He deserves to be remembered as a modest, warm man who was a statesman of great stature and determination."

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly described Mr Cosgrave as "one of Ireland's greatest leaders".

"He was a brave and intelligent leader who always put the country's interest first," he added.

Martin Heydon, chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, said: "He was a decent and compassionate man brimming full of integrity, his public life was one of sacrifice for the common good and the State.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin described Mr Cosgrave as a "true patriot" and a "gentleman to his fingertips".

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "I want to extend my condolences to the family and friends of former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted: "RIP former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave - a remarkable life which witnessed the birth of the Republic and worked to keep it secure."


Join the conversation - comment here

House Rules for comments - FAQ - Important message for commenters


Most Read in Ireland