Eamonn Gallagher


EU official and architect of Lynch's North policy

WITH THE death of Eamonn Gallagher in Brussels this week at 82 after a short illness Ireland has lost one of its most respected former public servants, its first European Commission director general, and a former diplomat who made a profound mark on the State's Northern diplomacy.

Former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, under whom Gallagher served in the 1970s, paid tribute to him this week as "a remarkable and very effective public servant".

Eamonn Gallagher was born in Glasgow in 1926 of Donegal parents, Edward and Annie (nee Hayes). The family, eventually five boys and five girls, returned to their home near Letterkenny when he was just five, but Gallagher retained a lifelong affection for Scotland and Scottish nationalism - the SNP's leader Alex Salmond was a regular visitor in Brussels.

Educated in St Eunan's in Letterkenny, after school in 1945 he joined the Revenue Commissioners. In 1949 he moved to the then Department of External Affairs and went on to serve abroad in the US, Belgium, and France. He married Dorothy Kelley in Boston in 1952. They had four daughters: Mary, who predeceased him; Ann, Nona and Colette.

Back in the department's political division in Dublin from July 1968 Gallagher was soon engaged with the North, initially largely on an informal basis, travelling in his own spare time to establish a network of contacts. His cogent, authoritative reports were increasingly regarded as important, his role becoming central, writing speeches and advising taoiseach Jack Lynch on Northern strategy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, largely wrong-footed by the outbreak of civil strife and violence, only established an Anglo-Irish division in 1970. Gallagher was put in charge although his direct reporting to Lynch, and what some saw as his somewhat-too-public role for a civil servant, would cause friction with minister for foreign affairs Dr Paddy Hillery.

Noel Dorr, a former secretary of the department, looks back on Gallagher's role at the time as "exceptionally important", describing him as architect, in effect "the political theologian", of Lynch's Northern strategy.

His influence saw the government toughening its line with the British, insisting London should not leave the Stormont regime to its own devices and on Dublin's right to be engaged in the search for a political solution.

Politically he was a republican, though with no sympathy for Sinn Féin, and his diplomacy was driven by a hardheaded pragmatism. "I never thought that the timescale of unity was important. What we have to do is create the conditions for natural development," he said.

Gallagher left Anglo-Irish affairs to take charge of EEC relations in 1972, becoming deputy secretary of the department, at about the time of the election of the coalition government in March 1973.

He would play an important part in steering the Irish presidency in 1975, notably in the Euro-Arab dialogue that had been spawned by the oil crisis, and at a major conference between developed and developing countries in Paris.

His tough but successful negotiating style and ability to forge a common position among the disparate EEC states, drew him to the attention of external relations commissioner Sir Christopher Soames, who invited him to join the European Commission.

He took up his new post as assistant director general of external relations in 1976 and a year later would be asked to head the new fisheries directorate, becoming Ireland's first director general in the commission.

With Finn Olav Gunnderlach, then fisheries commissioner, Gallagher would be responsible over the next few years for the difficult talks to establish the Common Fisheries Policy. He devised the system of total allowable catches (Tacs) and quotas that is the subject still of heated annual talks.

It was a job that would earn him not a few foes. Irish fishermen were not delighted by his robust refusal to endorse a 50-mile limit and the British minister, John Silkin, at one stage called for his resignation. In 1982 in the middle of a row with Danes, their minister Karl Hjortnes accused him of being an agent of Margaret Thatcher. "If the Irishman is not sacked," he insisted, "it will look bleak for Danish fisheries."

Gallagher was not to be intimidated and survived, but the appointment of Spanish commissioner Manuel Marin to head his directorate proved one battle too many. He moved sideways in 1990 to become EU ambassador to the UN in New York.

In retirement in 1992-93, he served as member of the independent citizens inquiry into the political options for the North, the Opsahl Commission. Ruairí Quinn as minister for finance also asked him to help the 1996 Irish presidency broker a compromise over the multi-billion-euro Trans European Networks programme.

He continued to live in Brussels, and was an active member there of the Institute for European Affairs.With another Irish former senior commission official, John Temple Lang, he co-authored an influential pamphlet on the democratic communautaire rationale for the EU's institutional balance (The Role of the Commission and Qualified Majority Voting, IEA).

At the core of their argument was the need to preserve the central position and influence of the commission, and its sole right to initiate legislation, as a crucial counterweight to the larger states' inevitable domination of the Council of Ministers.

It was an argument they brought later with passion to the debates on the Nice and Lisbon treaties which they saw as undermining the commission's role, both through the loss of a permanent commission seat for Ireland and the strengthening of the relative influence of the Council of Ministers.

In 2006 they made a joint submission on the issue to the Forum on Europe.

"Why do some member states want to see the commission's powers reduced?" they wrote in a paper for the CEPS think-tank. "Why would a state, in particular a small state, want to see the commission's powers reduced, even at the cost of losing its right to nominate a commissioner, and knowing that it can be outvoted?

"The answer seems to be that the states in question believe that if the commission is weakened, the community will be weakened too, and they would like this to happen. They are mistaken. Weakening the commission would not reduce the powers of the community.

"If the commission was weakened, the powers of the council and parliament would be unchanged, but both bodies would be stronger vis-à-vis the commission. Since both act by majority, that would weaken the safeguards for minorities."

A combative Gallagher never lost either his zest for argument, no matter that he may have been out of step with former colleagues in Dublin and Brussels, or the sense of unassailable certainty, the drive and the integrity that had marked his career made him both friends and enemies. He never suffered fools.

A passionate golfer, he was a member of the Royal Golf Club de Belgique whose beautiful arboretum at Ravenstein he loved, and of the Brussels Irish Wild Geese whose super-senior prize he won regularly, enjoying the ambiguity that it may have had something to do with the handicapping rules he devised himself.

He also loved wine and poker and was the most generous of hosts. He is survived by his partner of more than three decades, Nora O'Brien, his estranged wife Dorothy, three daughters and several brothers and sisters. He was cremated on Thursday in Brussels.

His ashes will be interred at Templedouglas Cemetery, Churchill, near Letterkenny, on Monday at 3pm.


Eamonn Gallagher: born 13th July, 1926; died May 25th, 2009.