Liam Cosgrave

Thursday, 28 September, 2017
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Liam Cosgrave was born into a political family. His father was W. T. Cosgrave, the first President of the Executive in the Irish Free State – a role equivalent to that of Taoiseach, introduced in 1937 with the Constitution of Ireland bill. Cosgrave served for Fine Gael alongside his father, and continued to rise up the ranks  to chief whip under Mulcahy.

5th March 1973..With a view to forming a Coalition Government the leaders of the Fine Gael, Mr Liam Cosgrave, and Labour, Mr Brendan Corish are pictured at Leinster House, where they met today. They hoped to formulate a plan to form a coalition to oust the sitting Fianna Fail Government which has held power for sixteen consecutive years.

Picture above: 5th March 1973..With a view to forming a Coalition Government the leaders of the Fine Gael, Mr Liam Cosgrave, and Labour, Mr Brendan Corish are pictured at Leinster House, where they met today. They hoped to formulate a plan to form a coalition to oust the sitting Fianna Fail Government which has held power for sixteen consecutive years.

On 21 April 1965, Liam Cosgrave became the leader of Fine Gael. He took over the leadership from James Dillon, who resigned after the party failed to oust their rivals Fianna Fáil from power. Dillon in turn had taken over as leader from the controversial figure of Richard Mulcahy, who was so reviled by the opposition for ordering executions during the Civil War that John Costello had to serve as Taoiseach in his stead.

After taking over the leadership of Fine Gael, Cosgrave had to wait another eight years before he managed to wrest control of the Dáil away from Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fail. However, Cosgrave continued to have an impact even as an opposition leader, forcing Lynch to take action against his ministers caught up in the Arms Trial.

After the 1973 election, Fine Gael formed a coalition government with Brendan Corish’s Labour Party. As Taoiseach, Costello brought left-wing intellectuals such as Garret Fitzgerald and Conor Cruise O’Brien into his cabinet, as well as conservative like Richie Ryan and businessman Peter Barry.

Pictured above: 14th March 1973 The incoming Fine Gael/Labour Cabinet. Seated (l-r) Mark Clinton (Agriculture and Fisheries); James Tully (Local Government); An Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave; An Tanaiste, Brendan Corish (Health and Social Welfare); Patrick Donegan (Defence); Richie Ryan (Finance). Standing (l-r): Patrick Cooney (Justice); Tom Fitzpatrick (Lands); Tom O'Donnell (Gaeltacht); Peter Barry (Transport and Power); Conor Cruise O'Brien (Posts and Telegraphs); Richard Burke (Education); Garrett FitzGerald (Foreign Affairs); Michael O'Leary (Labour); Declan Costello, Attorney-General; Justin Keating (Industry and Commerce).

Costello continued to be controversial as Taoiseach, partly due to his determination to stick to his own principles. For instance, he voted against his own government in 1974 over a contraceptives bill which would have allowed married couples to obtain contraceptives legally in the Republic.

Cosgrave also came into conflict with the Fianna Fáil president, Cearbhail Ó Dálaigh, towards whom he had a personal dislike. Ó Dálaigh’s decision to send the Emergency Powers Bill to the Supreme Court for assessment only exacerbated Cosgrave’s dislike of him. The Emergency Powers Bill allowed for censorship of Sinn Féin leaders on RTÉ, which lead to situations like Gerry Adams being dubbed every time he appeared on Irish TV. The government attempted to extend the censorship to newspapers also, but backed down after vigorous opposition from Tim Pat Coogan, editor of The Irish Press, and other media personnel.

The Cosgrave government also became very unpopular due to the severity of their budget, which saw certain taxes rise to as much as 77%. The world economy had been badly affected by an energy prices, but the Irish public did not appreciate returning to income levels equivalent to those of the 1950s. The Finance minister, Richie Ryan, became known as ‘Richie Ruin’ as a result of the government’s austerity measures.

At the next general election, Fianna Fáil swept back into power by a huge majority. Cosgrave resigned the leadership after the election, and was succeeded by Garret FitzGerald. However, Cosgrave also had some significant achievements during his time as Taoiseach, such as the implementation of the Sunningdale Agreement in Northern Ireland. Although his government was short-lived, Cosgrave’s legacy has proved to be long-lasting.

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