Taoiseach Profile: The son of a Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave

There were more than a few problems along the way...

With the General Election nearly upon us, we take a look back at some of the Taoisigh that have graced the halls of the Leinster House, what their greatest political achievements were and how this has impacted directly on Ireland.

From Eamon DeValera to Enda Kenny, the careers of these Taoisigh changed the course of Ireland's political history and helped form this little nation.

The sixth Taoiseach in our series is Liam Cosgrave, the leader of Fine Gael from 1965 and the son of Ireland's first Taoiseach, William T. Cosgrave.

Who was he?

Cosgrave was born in Dublin in 1920. The son of William T. Cosgrave, the first President of the Executive Council of Ireland, the young Cosgrave had a keen interest in politics, speaking at his first event at just 17. in 1943, he was elected to the Dáil and sat beside his father in opposition.

By the time John A. Costello was elected as Taoiseach in 1948, Cosgrave served as Parliamentary Secretary and Chief Whip. He took over as the Minister for External Affairs in 1954 with the election of the Second Inter-Party Government.

Teachta Dála

Cosgrave took his brief as Minister for External Affairs very seriously, steering Ireland towards membership of the United Nations in 1955. His outline of Ireland's foreign policy is one that has been mostly adhered to since his time in Government, that of independence and neutrality, adherence to the UN charter and a stance in support of the Free World leaders against the advance of communism.

After the government were put out of power due to issues with deflation policy, Cosgrave found himself in Opposition with a serious contest for the leadership of Fine Gael and a struggle to find the essence of the party. Losing out on the leadership to James Dillon in 1959, Fine Gael began to question their own social policy, particularly steered by the likes of a young Garrett FitzGerald and highly influenced by a document sent around the party at the time, the Just Society.

Cosgrave was eventually successful in his leadership bid in 1965 but was threatened by the likes of the FitzGerald. However, he came through on the Arms Crisis, pressing Jack Lynch to sack the politicians who were involved. This, along with the "hunting" out of his rivals, meant he cemented his position as leader and led Fine Gael into power in the 1973 General Election.

The second Cosgrave Taoiseach

Like his time in the Dáíl in opposition and the second inter-Party Government, Cosgrave will perhaps be best remembered for his influence on foreign policy for Ireland. The Sunningdale Agreement preceded the Good Friday one in that it was an attempt to actively work towards a solution for Northern Ireland and way for power sharing to work. This all changed following the Dublin-Monoghan bombings and a loyalist strike. It seemed over the course of many governments, although Northern Ireland presented a constant problem, there was no solution. That, coupled with sympathies in the South made it a difficult topic to manoeuvre through.

Another one of those difficult topics was the issue of contraception. Although in many ways, Ireland could have then been considered a modern state, contraception was still a very hotly debated topic. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on contraception was unconstitutional. Fine Gael attempted to introduce a policy which would allow married couples to avail of the pill but it was defeated when Cosgrave crossed the floor himself and defeated the policy. Fianna Fáil actively campaigned against the Act.

The problem with... everything

Cosgrave's term as Taoiseach certainly wasn't an easy one, partially due to the fact that the Fine Gael-led government were largely conservative. A very publicly known row with the President over the North didn't help. The Government attempted to introduce the Emergency Powers Bill in response to an IRA assassination. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh referred the bill to the Supreme Court, it was deemed constitutional and signed into law but on the day of its signing, a Garda was killed following IRA action. The government blamed the President for delaying the bill and he eventually resigned following the debacle.

The economy wasn't exactly holding up either. Fianna Fáil came out with strong promises in the run up to the 1977 election off the back of taxation of the wealthy, a policy Fine Gael would pay heavily for, and general austerity measures introduced by Finance Minister, Richie Ryan. However, his government were responsible for a number of welfare measures, particularly unemployment and sickness insurance.

With the election in 1977, Fine Gael just didn't seem to notice the ground that Fianna Fáil managed to gain. Slight divisions in their own party and the poor economic condition of the country, which was actually turning for the better in 1977, saw Fianna Fáil storm a majority and take power.

Impact on Politics

Following the 1977 election, Cosgrave resigned as Taoiseach with the young Garrett FitzGerald taking over in his place. He retired from politics in 1981.

Like Fianna Fáil, Cosgrave led a party which were entering a new era of politics. Young TDs, who were entirely unconnected with the foundation of the State, were starting to make an impression everywhere. In fact, many criticised his Cabinet as some of the members were given a chance to shine while he was not.

However, his conservative policies didn't exactly serve his government well. His position on contraception was a shock to his own party and the policy of austerity did a lot damage to the economy.

On the other hand, he managed to ensure Ireland became a member of the UN and he fostered a good working relationship with Europe. His involvement with the North brought about a worthwhile agreement, even if it didn't last that long.

Cosgrave lives in Knocklyon in Dublin. His son also entered 

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