Liam Cosgrave: A paragon of Irish political ‘me féinism’

There are several remarkable features about Liam Cosgrave. None to do with his political career mind, I want to focus on his life after politics. It is a life that perfectly illustrates the rotten mindset at the heart of a corrupt civil and political administration in Ireland. The first surprising feature about Liam Cosgrave is that he is, as of the 8 May 2015, still alive. This will come as surprising news to most, who probably thought he had long ago shuffled off his mortal coil. But it leads to the second and more shocking feature of his life; that this man has used the Gardai as his own private security and transportation since he retired from politics in 1981. The fact that he neither sees this as a gross misapplication of state resources nor as a tragic example of heightened self-importance reveals the true character of the man. Like the vast majority of Ireland’s twentieth century political leadership he gained his political office through fortunate circumstance of birth (the son of W.T. Cosgrave) rather than merit, and was four years as Taoiseach between 1973-7.  He is a largely forgotten figure in Irish politics, his term as leader was sandwiched between Jack Lynch’s time as Taoiseach. All former Taoisigh and Ministers for Justice are entitled to Garda protection 24/7, as well as a Garda driver, supposedly for their protection. Again, let’s remember, if he ever needed Garda protection that time is long gone, since no-one knows he’s still alive.

Let’s do a few rough calculations. There are four Gardai stationed in a little hut in front of his house every day and every night. These Gardai are paid approximately €30,000 a year (that’s after the government claws back its share through taxes). Every day the Gardai “work” in the little hut guarding Mr. Cosgrave they are also paid a subvention of €10 a day. Multiplied by four and then 365, we get the figure of €14,600 a year for subs. So, four Gardai is €120,000 plus the subs of €14,600 and we come up with a modest figure of €134,600 a year to protect Liam from the public of Ireland that he so dutifully served. He retired from politics in 1981, which is 34 years to this date.

Liam Cosgrave has cost the state AT LEAST €4,576,400 (‘at least’ because I am not including the use of a driver and the state car which he availed of for decades). The waste is simply staggering even if we try and ignore the wasted manhours. It is this sort of waste and privilege amongst the elites in Irish society through generous pay, cushy pensions, golden parachutes and, most remarkably, a corresponding dearth in culpability when things do go wrong. This attitude covered in a thin cowl of patriotic credentials they inherited from their parents allows Liam Cosgrave and others like him ate greedily out of the trough and continue to do so. If the man ever had a patriotic bone in his body he would have done the right thing and refused his Garda protection decades ago.

Is it any wonder that 86 percent of Irish people believe that corruption is a serious problem in Ireland? I believe the Irish people are not just talking about the old brown envelopes famous during the Haughey and Bertie years but also more broadly about the general sense of entitlement and me féinism that is so prevalent in the political system.

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About Alan Noonan

Alan Noonan is currently a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress. He received his PhD in history from University College Cork, and has experience as a historical consultant and researcher. He has been awarded several fellowships including the Glucksman Government of Ireland Fellowship at New York University, a Mellon Fellowship at the Library Company in Philadelphia, and a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution at the National Museum of American History.
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