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Taoiseach pays tribute to former Attorney General Peter Sutherland

By Daniel McConnell

Update 3.30pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has today paid a warm tribute to Peter Sutherland after the former Attorney General passed away at St James’s Hospital in Dublin this morning.

“He was a statesman in every sense of the word; an Irishman, a committed European and a proud internationalist,” said Mr Varadkar.

"Throughout his life, he was a champion for individual and economic freedoms. RIP."

Former Taoiseach John Bruton also paid tribute to Mr Sutherland, saying: "He was a man of faith, who showed, through his life, that faith and modernity can be reconciled.

"His talents brought him great success, but he was always conscious of his responsibility to help others and give back to society."

Earlier: President leads tributes as former Attorney General Peter Sutherland dies

Former Attorney General turned international businessman and diplomat Peter Sutherland has passed away at the age of 71.

A former European and chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Mr Sutherland had suffered from cancer in recent years.

Mr Sutherland, who had been ill for some time, passed away at St. James’s Hospital in Dublin this morning. He is survived by his wife Maruja, née Cabria Valcarcel, and their three children Shane, Natalia and Ian.

Born in Dublin in April 1946, Mr Sutherland was educated at Gonzaga College in Ranelagh before going on to study law at University College Dublin.

He worked as a senior counsel for more than a decade before being appointed attorney general in 1981, for the first of two stints in the post.

While in that office, he famously clashed with then Justice Michael Noonan over the wording of the 1983 Eighth Amendment relating to abortion.

As AG, Mr Sutherland said the wording of the amendment was flawed and would cause considerable difficulty for medical practitioners.

Mr Sutherland's children, Shane, Natalia and Ian said: "Above all things, Peter was a family man, totally in love with our mother Maruja from the moment they met almost 50 years ago. He was a wonderful father: loving, teaching, playful. We are consoled that in his last year we were able to repay some of his love and kindness.

“Next for Peter came his faith and his country and, finally, his belief in the European project as a route to peace, prosperity and justice for all.

“He was a devout Catholic. This didn’t make him doctrinaire. Instead, it gave him a lifelong instinct for charity and volunteerism. It wasn’t just about writing the cheque – he wanted to be with people. In the year before the onset of his final illness, he ceased his business activities and devoted himself to working with migrants, many of whom were in wretched circumstances. It was never an easy cause and rarely a popular cause. We were so proud that our father worked for the poorest of the poor.

“We were also so proud of his patriotism whether manifested through supporting his beloved Irish rugby team, his support of education at Gonzaga, UCD, Trinity or elsewhere, his formal and informal service to Irish governments of all hues and his work with the Ireland Fund of Great Britain which he was proud to chair and support.

“Others noticed his success in public life and his material success from business. We loved Papa because he was devoted to us and we to him.”

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Mr Sutherland saying he learned of the news of his passing with great sadness.

“It is with sadness that I have learned of the death of Peter Sutherland, former Attorney General, European Commissioner and Director General of the GATT/World Trade Organisation,” he said.

“In recent years in particular Peter Sutherland concentrated on what were some of the important global issues of the day, and he leaves an important legacy through his work as UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, having brought the importance of migration to the forefront of public thought and policy,” the President added.

He described Mr Sutherland as a passionate European, throughout his career Peter Sutherland remained deeply committed to peaceful cooperation and integration in Europe, promoting greater awareness of the importance and possibilities of Irish engagement in European decision making.

“His loss will be felt most acutely by his family and friends, and as President of Ireland I wish to express my deepest sympathies to them,” President Higgins added.

Ireland's EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan said he was “deeply sorry” to learn of his passing, desribing him as a very distinguished European Commissioner for Competition from 1985 to 1989.

“Peter was probably Ireland's most distinguished international statesman and leaves behind a rich legacy of achievement, whether in the legal or business worlds or, more particularly, in public service. In all of the roles he performed, he did so with professionalism, enthusiasm and accomplishment,” he said.

“I am personally grateful to Peter for his assistance and guidance over the last three years, during which he was always generous and unsparing with his advice and experience,” Mr Hogan added.

Reacting to his passing, former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey on Twitter said she was saddened to hear of Mr Sutherland’s death.

She described him as “a truly great man, wonderful AG and colleague, who shone on the international stage.”

Paul McGarry, chairman of the Bar of Ireland, said he was “saddened to hear of the death of our great former colleague and AG Peter Sutherland SC”.

Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighen said: “Peter Sutherland RIP.He was a powerful voice for Ireland at all times”.

Former Senator Jillian Van Turnout said she was “very sad to hear the news of the passing of Peter Sutherland RIP. “In recent years his leadership on the migrant crisis was exemplary. May he Rest in Peace,” she said.

Mr Sutherland held a number of senior positions in the worlds of law, business and government during his career. He was the United Nations special represenative for international migration in recent years.

Previously, he also held the positions of director general of the World Trade Organisation; chairman of the London School of Economics; a member of the UN commisison on human security; chairman of the European Institute of Public Administration and chairman of British Petroleum (BP).

Reacting to his passing, Former Fine Gael Taoiseach and personal friend John Bruton paid a warm tribute.

"I was a very close friend of Peter. He was a great man to cultivate his friendship, was very generous," Mr Bruton said.

"His work was based on having a rule based society to protect the weak and not just the interests of the strong.

"He is credited with being the father of ruled based globalisation, where small countries would be protected by rules," Mr Bruton added.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin described Mr Sutherland as a "true patriot" who made an outstanding contribution to public life not just in Ireland but around the world.

He said, “I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Peter Sutherland this morning. Peter made an outstanding and distinguished contribution to public life in his capacity as an Attorney General, European Commissioner and first Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. In more recent times as the UN Special Representative for International Migration he was uncompromising in highlighting the rights of migrants and refugees.

“He was a champion of free trade and fair competition. He had a keen intellect and understood the changing nature of global trade and economy.

“Peter’s dedication to public service was not only confined to his work here in Ireland. In his capacity as European Commissioner for Competition he revolutionised competition and trade laws. For example, the liberalization of the EU aviation sector owes much to his work as EU Commissioner.

“He was a true patriot who had a great love for his country irrespective of his success on the world stage," Mr Martin said.