Costello characterised by his integrity and sincerity


Former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader LIAM COSGRAVEpays tribute to Declan Costello

DECLAN COSTELLO's high standards were reflected in everything he did both as a person and in his work. He had a great social concern for the underprivileged and those who suffered from ill-health. He understood and appreciated with genuine sympathy the sufferings and problems of people so affected. In his career in politics this was his abiding interest which he strove to alleviate or improve by clearsighted recommendations in his speeches.

He was called to the Bar in 1948 and quickly established a substantial practice notable for the care he showed in preparing his cases in which he displayed his legal knowledge and skill in presentation in court. While his legal work continued he was elected to the Dáil in 1951 where he applied himself with the same dedication on behalf of his constituents and in his speeches in debates.

He was directly involved in establishing St Michael's House which has been of such benefit to so many who were helped by the excellent care provided.

In 1964 he was so concerned about economic and social conditions that he produced his "Just Society" proposals which led to some different views in the party. After considerable discussion agreement was reached on his proposals with some changes made to accommodate the different views expressed. In an RTÉ interview in December 2009, he was as usual generous in thanking me for the help I gave him in this matter. In opposition and more so in government, we worked well together in harness while he was always easy and helpful.

When the result of the 1973 election became apparent he never asked what position he was going to get as he realised we were all lucky to get anything. I offered him the position of attorney general which he accepted. In retrospect, it was the right position for him. He was a great reforming attorney general in different areas of law.

The creation of the position of director of public prosecutions was a progressive and independent approach established under the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1974. The office created has on the whole worked well. No human institutions are ever perfect.

Costello's foresight established the Law Reform Commission under the 1975 Act. This body has done valuable work in recommending changes in the law which the commission thought desirable. Such changes had of course, to be approved by the government and the Oireachtas.

As a constitutional lawyer he was outstanding, clear and distinctive in his opinions whether given instantly or after some extra consideration. He was never wrong, a truly extraordinary achievement - in particular in regard to the Emergency Powers Act 1976 which the Supreme Court upheld after a reference under article 26 of the Constitution.

This Act was accompanied by the Criminal Law Act 1976 passed after the murder of the British ambassador. The accuracy of his opinions in these matters brought to mind the single-minded clarity of his father John A Costello as attorney general in earlier years. In constitutional law father and son were always right. What an outstanding family contribution to the welfare of the people and the State, neither of them ever sought preferment in any form. They did their duty.

As attorney general he conducted the case of Ireland v the United Kingdom before the European Court of Human Rights, which concerned the ill-treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland. He argued this case with tenacity. The case started in 1971 and judgment was given in 1978. The British government made repeated efforts to have the case withdrawn but to no avail. The Irish Government did not yield to this pressure.

Later as a judge he presided over an exhaustive and exhausting inquiry into the Whiddy Island fire disaster. His report was a model of clarity as were his recommendations for future changes in safety regulations for people working in similar conditions.

He was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1977 and later president of the High Court in 1994. In these positions his judgments showed the same clarity and knowledge of the law as he had always displayed.

His integrity and sincerity characterised all his work and his attitude to life. He realised standards are not law made. He hoped higher standards could be raised by his determination to act accordingly for which he was admired and respected. We were lifelong friends. It was a privilege to have worked with him.