Peter Sutherland’s ‘tolerance and generosity’ recalled at funeral

Almost 2,000 people attend funeral of global figure in politics and finance

The great, broad sweep of Peter Sutherland's life, loves and many achievements were represented in abundance on Thursday at his packed funeral service at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin.

Close to 2,000 people from the many walks of life in which he excelled came to pay respects to a man whose achievements as an Irishman on the world stage most present regarded as without equal. They came from the worlds of law and politics, from the European Union and from business, from his early days as a schoolboy and later times when friendships were forged and tested on the rugby field.

And they came from the church, extolled as the bedrock moral compass that guided him throughout his life.

Mourners heard a special message of sympathy and condolences from Pope Francis.


“With deep appreciation for Mr Sutherland’s dedication and his assistance to the church and to the Holy See, and mindful of his many years of generous service to the international community, especially in the support of migrants, his Holiness entrusts his soul to the merciful love of Our Heavenly Father,” it said.

Acts of generosity

Principal celebrant, Fr Noel Barber SJ (assisted by, among others, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Conor), said Mr Sutherland’s Catholicism was “open, tolerant and generous”, and lay behind “his countless acts of generosity that were and remain hidden. The extent of this philanthropy is known to relatively few but it was extensive,” said Fr Barber.

“He promoted globalisation because he saw it as a means of lifting billions out of grim poverty and of countering a narrow nationalism which avoids global responsibility. True, his enthusiasm for the real benefits of globalisation may indeed have blurred his view of its downside but he rightly emphasised its benefit for the poorer countries of the world,” he added.

Fr Barber said that writ large over all Mr Sutherland’s success was the role of his wife, Maruja.

She brought “balance and calm” to their marriage and “of course, his long illness showed her in her finest colours”.

Mr Sutherland practised his faith and this gave him his moral compass, said Fr Barber, and the essence of greatness in him was to be found in the Gospel.

"One never finds greatness in gaining credit of a great name on earth but in conforming one's life to that of Christ," said the priest. "If one achieves that, then one is great, no matter how your life is otherwise and this was something of which Peter Sutherland was quietly convinced and that he accepted in faith."


Ireland was represented by President Michael D Higgins, his wife, Sabina Higgins, and his aide-de-camp, Col Michael Kiernan.

The Government was represented by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

Current and former politicians present included the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, and Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan; former taoisigh Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern; current Ministers Paschal Donohoe, Eoghan Murphy and Richard Bruton; former ministers Alan Dukes, Michael Noonan, Gemma Hussey, Charlie McCreevy and John Gormley.

The former leader of the SDLP and former MP for Belfast South, Alasdair McDonnell, was present.

Numerous legal luminaries attended, including the Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe; former attorneys general John Murray and John Rogers; the Chief Justice Frank Clarke and former chief justice Ronan Keane; current judges included President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly; Mr Justice Michael Moriarty of the High Court; Mr Justice George Birmingham of the Court of Appeal; Mr Justice John MacMenamin of the Supreme Court; and retired Court of Appeal judge, Garrett Sheehan, a family friend who gave a eulogy.

Several figures associated with the EU and European politics were also there. They included Ireland’s EU commissioner, Phil Hogan; former prime minister of Italy Mario Monti; David O’Sullivan, the EU ambassador to the US and long-standing EU official; and Noel Dorr, former secretary-general of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the current incumbent, Niall Burgess.

Prominent figures from business were also present, among them Paul Coulson, Declan Ganley, Denis O’Brien, former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, developer Harry Crosbie, and Deutsche Bank chairman, Paul Achleitner.

Disparate others included Britain’s ambassador to Ireland, Robin Barnett, Japan’s ambassador to Ireland, Mari Miyoshi, estate agent Mark FitzGerald, former rugby international Keith Wood, PR consultant Rory Godson, retired publisher Michael Gill, former chairman of the Labour Court John Horgan, former senator and TCD economist Sean Barrett, lawyer and man of letters Charles Lysaght, Irish Times Trust chairman Tom Arnold, former charity worker John O’Shea, and journalists David Davin-Power, Tommie Gorman and Simon Carswell.


Mr Sutherland was a former attorney general, former EU commissioner, and former chairman of the World Trade Organisation, Goldman Sachs International and British Petroleum. He was a committed internationalist and humanitarian whose last informal international role had been dispensing advice on how the EU, and Ireland, might handle Brexit. He took on this role in parallel with his final formal position, which was that of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for International Migration.

In his eulogy, Garrett Sheehan spoke of Mr Sutherland’s love of his wife and of their great pride in their children, Shane, Ian and Natalia, and their 10 grandchildren. Mr Sutherland had a big heart that “was always going out to others and it just seemed to get bigger as the years went by”.

He was a proud Irishman and a proud European and an internationalist “in the very best sense of that word”, said Mr Sheehan.

“Peter was always awake, alert. His lamp was always lighting. He did not squander his opportunities, he did not squander time.”

He found “his truest and most complete voice” in working in the cause of international migrants, the deployment of a gift “he knew had been given to him to be used in the service of others”, said Mr Sheehan.

“In a sense, he no longer belonged to himself. He was constantly searching for new ways to promote the cause of migrants, calling always on us Europeans to try and do that bit more and always backing his arguments with the appropriate evidence. This is what he was called to do and he responded generously and fully until that fateful Sunday morning in September 2016 when he collapsed on a London pavement.”


The choir of Mr Sutherland’s former school, Gonzaga College – “a remarkable influence on him, leaving him with a fierce loyalty to the school and a no less remarkable loyalty to, and admiration for, the Jesuits,” said former school chairman Fr Barber – provided music throughout the funeral Mass. The choir was conducted by Rosemary O’Brien and other musical contributions came from soprano Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, organist Michael Quinn, guitarist Drazen Derek, violinists Sylvia Roberts and Aoife Dowdall, violist Carla Vedres and cellist Paula Hughes.

Music included How Great Thou Art, The Lord is my Shepherd (soloist: Gonzaga sixth-former Tom Shanahan), Alleluia (soloist: sixth-former Sean McGrath), Ave Maria, He is Lord, Pie Jesu, Ciureadh Oileánach do Mhuire, Aranquez, Danny Boy, In Paradisum and Be Still My Soul.

As Mr Sutherland’s coffin was carried shoulder-high from the church by pallbearers led by his two sons, a guard of honour was provided by UCD and Lansdowne rugby clubs.

He was buried at Kilternan Cemetery Park.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times