Irish statesman who served as taoiseach in the 1970s and played a key role in the Sunningdale agreement, which paved the way towards the peace process

Liam Cosgrave, who has died aged 97, was the son of Ireland’s first elected head of government, WT Cosgrave, and was both the last of the country’s dynastic politicians to take office in Dublin as taoiseach and the last to remain predominantly influenced by the climate in which the Irish state was founded. During his time as taoiseach, from 1973 to 1977, he worked with Northern Ireland politicians and the Westminster government to seek a way out of the Troubles, but it was a tortuous process, not least because of the electorally fragile situations in which the various leaders found themselves.

As a politician, Cosgrave belonged to the age before television. He failed to realise how fast news travelled and how great an effect events in the south could have north of the Irish border. He was limited politically by a manner that left him often looking helpless in front of cameras. Where his father was described by Sir Winston Churchill as having piercing blue eyes, a shock of blond hair and a commanding manner, the description most often used of the younger man was that offered by a subsequent British prime minister, James Callaghan, in his book on Northern Ireland, A House Divided (1973). He found Cosgrave “a quiet, sober man”. That said, he also found him a man with whom he could do business.

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