Current Affairs History Irish Republican Politics

Liam Cosgrave, A Fine Gael And Free State Reactionary To The Last

The recent passing of the former Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Liam Cosgrave, had led to much eulogising by the conservative press, elevating an otherwise deeply divisive figure in Irish politics to plaster sainthood. Arguably one of the most reactionary taoisigh in the modern history of the country, the one-time Dún Laoghaire TD followed much the same ideological path as his father and predecessor, WT Cosgrave. During the latter’s reign as the Chairman of the Provisional Government (and later, as the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State), the elder statesman oversaw some of the worst excesses of the 1922-23 Civil War. These included the executions and assassinations of former revolutionary comrades who remained loyal to the 1916-23 Republic. The breakaway Irish National Army in its contest with the mainstream Irish Republican Army was given a free hand by the inheritors of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, permitting it to act in a manner rivalling that of the British Occupation Forces during the previous several years of independence struggle. Murder and mayhem, torture and incarceration, censorship and authoritarianism, became the chief hallmarks of the proto-nation-state WT Cosgrave and company ushered in with their long counter-revolution. His son’s behaviour was somewhat more tempered when in office, though he too oversaw the torture and false imprisonment of political detainees by the agencies of the state (albeit at one remove and in far less dramatic circumstances than occurred several decades earlier). Similar to his father in the 1920s (and later again in the 1930s), Liam Cosgrave regarded Britain as more of an ally in the affairs of Ireland than a hostile actor, turning a blind eye to the activities – and atrocities – of the British armed forces and intelligence services north and south of the partition border during the early years of the so-called “Troubles”.

Far from representing democratic probity, and an abiding respect for constitutional law and order, the late Fine Gael chief bent and twisted both to his will. A Catholic conservative at a time of embryonic social and cultural liberalism, he embodied the reactionary instincts of the Free State ruling clique, those who still thought in terms of a Twenty-Six Counties’ nation, not a Thirty-Two County one. A partitionist to his bones, the Fine Gael leader’s primary motivation during his term in office was to excise any news of the northern war from the front pages of the southern press. To hammer a lid back on the boiling, explosive pot that was the United Kingdom’s legacy colony on our island. Far from being a person worthy of admiration, the former Taoiseach was simply one in a long line of patrician conservatives reaching back to the parish pump days of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party. The very antithesis of those men and women who sought a modern, equitable and secular republic.

The Irish historian and broadcaster Donal Fallon has some thoughts on Liam Cosgrave over on Spiked:

Cosgrave has been championed for his participation in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, an attempt to bring about power sharing in Northern Ireland and to create a cross-border Council of Ireland for areas of mutual concern. A sustained campaign of loyalist violence, including the UVF-orchestrated Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 (the single greatest loss of life on one day in the Irish Troubles, and a day still shrouded in mystery), ultimately brought about the collapse of the agreement. In condemning the UVF’s bombing of Dublin, Cosgrave used his speech in the Dáil to declare that ‘everyone who has practised or preached violence or condoned violence must bear a share of responsibility for today’s outrages’. Morally, it was clear that he and those around him felt that the Provisional IRA bore the blame, the bombing being a reaction to their actions. It was a peculiar logic, but in the Cosgrave administration a rainy day was probably the fault of the IRA, too. His failure to seek a proper enquiry into the events around the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is one part of his legacy.

Beyond his commitment to censorship and the silencing of political opponents, Cosgrave also proved himself an opponent of social progress, famously crossing the floor of the Dáil in 1974 to vote against his own government when the Supreme Court declared the ban on the importation of contraceptives by married persons to be unconstitutional.

Numerous obituaries have proclaimed that Liam Cosgrave was his father’s son, and in many ways he was. Like his father he believed that the state knew what was best for the Irish people, and that freedom of speech and freedom to information was a hindrance to the maintaining of a strong state. Section 31 has thankfully found its place in the dustbin of history, but the desire of successive Irish governments to silence criticism should not be forgotten.

11 comments on “Liam Cosgrave, A Fine Gael And Free State Reactionary To The Last

  1. Tramp the dirt down.


  2. See also the results of research by Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the Coimisinéir Teanga who resigned rather than be a perceived as a participant in the pretense of the Government “policy” on the Irish Language.


    • Reading the blog Eoin links to reminded me of the time I was applying for a very junior academic position at (IIRC) UC Galway. This must have been back in the 1970’s. Amongst the pile of bumf that came was a piece of paper saying that candidates with a knowledge of Irish would be favoured. I pointed out to the professor that as a Brit I had no Irish to speak of (although a little Scots Gaelic). But he wrote back and said not to worry as ability in Irish would only come into play if there were two candidates for the post otherwise exactly equally qualified, which as he made clear, was extremely unlikely! Lip Service indeed 😉


    • ar an sliabh

      It is up to us. It always has been. We must be the catalyst in propelling our first language and the 32 county state forward. We should also not lose hope. The current trend is very positive despite the constant pounding the language and unified country concept are taking from the political elite. Far from being a serious and hard struggle, but also far from lost or over. “Peculiar logic” is a great way to describe the entire Fine Gail fiasco.


  3. He was a nonentity.

    Personally speaking, his legacy was Censorship – his and Conor Cruise O’Brien’s anti- republican/Northern nationalist censorship of news and culture on the radio and TV was similar to Thatcher’s.
    And came on the back of the State’s censorship of books,plays, films, condems, contraceptive pills, advice in the back pages of British fashion magazines about abortion etc.

    We had it bad in the North – but the Southerners had no easy ride either!!!


  4. The most damning thing of all about Liam Cosgrave was his reaction to the Dublin and Monaghan pub bombings – which quite incredibly he blamed on the Provisional IRA – for viciously provoking the poor British Loyalists! And his government made no attempt to investigate these attacks – which needless to say had the fingerprints of the British deep state all over them. Cosgrave’s was the classic pathologically masochistic spin of the Irish state class and media – a spin that became even more pronounced during the British loyalist bloodfest of the 1990s. Thus the Irish media, very much including RTE – devoted endless coverage to the Warrington bombing – while ignoring – or even seeking to justify – completely indiscriminate loyalist massacres happening at the same time – Greysteel, Loughinisland and so on. Like Gordon Wilson, Colin Parry, the father of the Warrington victims, was used to promote the idea that Britain and the British loyalists were entirely blameless when it came to the northern conflict. However let’s not forget that liberal “progressives” such as Garret, Cruise O’Brien, and of course the bold Mary Robinson, were just as supportive of the war on Irish nationalist freedom of speech as Cosgrave was – if not more so.


  5. Irish nationalist freedom of speech

    Or the freedom of terrorists and terrorist sympathisers to use the airwaves to spread propaganda? Freedom of speech is never an absolute right. Today we see politicians demanding that YouTube and others censor content that could radicalise young people. It’s a difficult balancing act protecting freedom of speech and also the right of the state to defend both itself and ordinary citizens from being blown up by absolutists determined to wreak havoc. And we all know that the position of Sinn Fein/IRA was that the state was not legitimate and that it should be destroyed.

    As a citizen of the Republic I considered these people enemies of the state and I had no difficulty at the time with their banishment from the airwaves, though aspects of it were silly (the whole words spoken by an actor nonsense). I was concerned that it might be counterproductive in some way, like internment in the north, but otherwise not at all. I certainly decline to see these people as oppressed victims of a reactionary state. I have no regrets about the men of violence being pursued and jailed on both sides of the border.

    And I’ll say this to any of the men of violence determined to wreck the state and replace it with one of their own design:

    We haven’t gone away you know

    That is, the majority committed to non-violence and who repudiate their tactics utterly. And the liberality of Cosgrave or anyone else on matters of morality was and is utterly irrelevant when it comes to tolerance of murderers intent on the destruction of the state.

    We are not going to have a united Ireland by coercion. That argument was settled and will not be reopened. And if it takes some effort to persuade any prospective slow-learning would-be coercives that the matter is settled, so be it.


    • Since you are such an absolutist against granting freedom of speech to terrorists and supporters of terrorism I presume you’re also against giving airtime to the many politicians and journalists who support the Isis and Al Qaeda Islamic jihadists seeking to overthrow the legiitmate elected government of Syria? I’m talking here about Tony Blair, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton, Alan Shatter and many more.

      I presume you also deplore the way the Workers Party – a Stalinist political party with a terrorist wing known as the Official IRA – dominated much of the Irish media in the 1980s – and you also deplore the way former members of this criminal gang that did so much to undermine Irish nationalist feeling in this country – still work in very influential positions for Irish media such as the Sunday Independent and RTE – even though they have never resiled one inch – much less apologised – for their membership of this group?

      I presume you also deplore the way Unionist Protestant British politicians such as the late Ian Paisely Sr were never made subject to any broadcasting ban, even though Paisley was a public associate and supporter of Protestant British terrorists such as the paedophile Willliam McGrath and the paedophile murderer and Red Hand Commandoes leader John McKeague? I presume you deplore even more the way the Irish and British media studiously ignored Paisley’s many terrorist connections in their commentaries after his death?.

      I presume you also deplore the way Garret Fitzgerald publicly gladhanded the terrorist leader of the UDD/UFF John McMichael at the front of Leinster House and posed for a lenghty photo-op with this serial murderer – while McMichael brandished the UDA/UFF’s “policy document” Common Sense.

      Likewise I presume you deplore the way the Orange Order – an institution to which most Unionist politicians belong – gives pride of place at its rallies to bands from terrorist groups such as the UVF and the UDA/UFF?

      Most fundamentally of all I presume you deplore the way members of the original terrorist UVF became the rulers of the Northen Irish state and are still honoured by that state today?

      If you don’t deplore all of these things we can safely consign your sanctimonious outpourings under the file transparent Unionist claptrap.


    • Yet most outside analysts looking in at the history of the conflict from the outside are now convinced that censorship, explicit or implicit, was one of the contributing factors in prolonging the war in the north-east. By failing to report it accurately, by failing to air all views, by failing to investigate events properly, the war was became a non-subject. It created a culture of self-censorship, and facilitated the hijacking of RTÉ’s news and current affairs dept. by the Workers Party/OIRA, the rival and opponent of Sinn Féin/IRA, one of the chief protagonists in the conflict..


  6. I concur with my dear old Dad on this “What a total and utter” (Cont p.5)


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