Tom Dunne, who has died aged 96, was a distinguished public servant who wore his experience at the heart of the international diplomatic world with grace and quiet dignity.
Born in 1918 in Talbot Street in Dublin, his father, Paddy, died when he was four, leaving Tom’s mother, Mary, to raise her only child alone. His mother, who was to live to 102, was to remain a powerful presence in Tom’s life. As a child, Dunne remembers the Black and Tans, recalling in later years how an aunt, Mrs O’Carroll, found her husband on their doorstep in Manor Street after he was shot dead, having opened the front door to British soldiers.
He was educated at O’Connell School in the north inner city, and on leaving joined the Civil Service. He soon began his lifelong love affair with languages, learning French, German and Spanish by listening to the radio and reading newspapers, and later mastering Russian and Italian.
In 1937 he spent a summer in Germany. When the second World War broke out two years later, he was co-opted into G2, the Irish Army intelligence service, to work as a translator and interrogator. He interviewed 11 of the 12 German spies who landed in Ireland during the Emergency, remaining friends with some of them throughout his life.
Dunne spent the 1940s and 1950s in Dublin, where he socialised with some of the leading figures of Irish cultural and intellectual life. Anthony Hughes, professor of music at UCD, was a close friend, as was the Austrian scientist Erwin Schroedinger. He became one of the first Irish students to study Russian at Trinity College during the 1950s despite the disapproval of the Catholic hierarchy.
In 1959, he applied for a position with the newly formed International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Thus began a 20-year career with the United Nations.
Wrangle with Molotov
Having swiftly moved up the ranks, Dunne found himself at the centre of international politics as the cold war reached its zenith. In 1960 he met Vyacheslav Molotov, then the senior Soviet diplomat in Vienna. In a series of meetings, Molotov expressed his dissatisfaction with a text drafted by Dunne, but the latter stood his ground, despite Molotov’s fury and fears that he might lose his job. In the end, his persistence won out and the text was published.
He travelled across the world with the UN, but Vienna was to remain his greatest love. A violinist and highly informed connoisseur of classical music, he embraced the city's musical culture, forging friendships with members of the Vienna Philharmonic and opera figures. He regularly hosted visiting Irish politicians and musicians, such as pianist John O'Conor and President Patrick Hillery.
In 1972 his wife, Vera, died, and six years later he retired to Ireland, settling in the Navan Road area of Dublin. As for the paragraph he had hotly disputed with Molotov, no one ever discovered its real content. A true professional to the end, Dunne never disclosed the details of his confidential diplomatic work and declined to write his memoirs.
In 1995 he was cited by the IAEA for the work that led to the agency being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Tom Dunne is survived by his children, Peter, Gerard and Maureen, and by seven grandchildren.