Official Ireland is commemorating the life of Liam Cosgrave, the former Taoiseach who has died aged 97, with lavish praise.
The reality of his regime was, however, far different. His death provides an opportunity to remember the deeply reactionary culture that hides behind the veneer of liberalism in Fine Gael.
Cosgrave was a Catholic fundamentalist who used the repressive apparatus of the Irish state to crush dissent.
He joined with Fianna Fail in opposing a bill to legalise the use of contraceptives in 1973. The bill had been forced on his own government by a Supreme Court ruling – yet Cosgrave voted it.
There was nothing particularly liberal about the proposed measure as it was designed to restrict contraceptives to married couples only. But even this was too much for Cosgrave,
In 1975, he travelled to Rome to take part in a mass to canonise Oliver Plunkett.
When his government as criticised by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, he rounded on its leader, the South African born Kadar Asmal. He denounced him as ‘blow-in’ who, he said, should ‘blow out’.
Cosgrave’s saw himself as a law and order politician and had utter contempt for those with any concern for human rights. Only ‘Communist fellow travellers and soft headed liberals’, he claimed, were concerned about these issues.
In line with this philosophy, his government presided over the widespread use of the Heavy Gang, a torture squad in the Garda who travelled around police stations beating confessions out of suspects.
He imposed a culture of censorship on RTE so that any republican voice was removed.
When the Irish Press revealed some of the details of torture inflicted by the Garda heavy gang, his government sued them – and lost the case.
By contrast, Cosgrave showed a deeply ambiguous attitude to the state sponsored violence of the British state.
In 1974, elements within the British state helped the UVF to carry out two horrific bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, The Cosgrave government refused to call a day of mourning for the 33 civilians who died.
The Garda investigation into the case was shut down after just two months and its files went missing.
A subsequent Barron report into the bombings noted that the Fine Gael/Labour government of the time “showed little interest in the bombings” and did not do enough to help the investigation.Even though they received information suggesting that the British authorities had intelligence naming the bombers, this was not followed up.
Liam Cosgrave politics were about building up a strong police state that did not give an inch to the ’soft headed liberals’.
His legacy lives on in the brazen impunity with which the sections of the Gardaí continue to operate today.