John A. Costello
For other persons named John Costello, see John Costello
John Costello
John Costello may refer to:*John Costello , American baseball pitcher*John A. Costello , Taoiseach of Ireland*John M. Costello , U.S. Representative from California...

John Aloysius Costello , a successful barrister
A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions...

, was one of the main legal advisors to the government of the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 after independence, Attorney General of Ireland
Attorney General of Ireland
The Attorney General is a constitutional officer who is the official adviser to the Government of Ireland in matters of law. He is in effect the chief law officer in Ireland. The Attorney General is not a member of the Government but does participate in cabinet meetings when invited and attends...

 from 1926–1932 and Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 from 1948–1951 and 1954–1957.

Early life

John A. Costello was born on 20 June 1891, in Dublin. Educated from 1903 at St Josephs Christian Brothers School in Fairview, North Dublin, where future taoiseach Charles Haughey later attended, he moved to the O'Connell School in north Dublin for senior classes, and then attended University College Dublin, he graduated with a degree
Academic degree
An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree...

 in modern languages and law. He studied at King's Inns
King's Inns
The Honorable Society of King's Inns , is the institution which controls the entry of barristers-at-law into the justice system of Ireland...

 to become a barrister, winning the Victoria Prize there in 1913 and 1914.

Costello was called to the bar in 1914 and practised as a barrister until 1922.

Irish Free State

In 1922 Costello joined the staff of the Attorney General in the newly established Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

. Three years later he was called to the inner bar and the following year, 1926, he became Attorney-General to the Cumann na nGaedheal government, led by W. T. Cosgrave. While serving in this position he represented Ireland at Imperial Conferences and League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...


He was also elected a Bencher of the Honourable Society of King's Inns. Costello lost his position as Attorney-General when Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 came to power in 1932. The following year, however, he was elected to Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann is the lower house, but principal chamber, of the Oireachtas , which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann . It is directly elected at least once in every five years under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote...

 as a Cumann na nGaedheal (later Fine Gael
Fine Gael
Fine Gael is a centre-right to centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland. It is the single largest party in Ireland in the Oireachtas, in local government, and in terms of Members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of over 35,000...

) TD
Teachta Dála
A Teachta Dála , usually abbreviated as TD in English, is a member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas . It is the equivalent of terms such as "Member of Parliament" or "deputy" used in other states. The official translation of the term is "Deputy to the Dáil", though a more literal...


Blueshirts Speech

On 28 February 1934, during a Dáil debate on a bill to outlaw the wearing of uniforms (a bill specifically designed to curtail the Blueshirts, a far-right paramiliatry movement then associated with Fine Gael), Costello made a speech opposing the bill that has generated controversy ever since. In response to an assertion by Minister for Justice P. J. Ruttledge
P. J. Ruttledge
Patrick J. Ruttledge was an Irish politician. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1921 as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Mayo North and West. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and joined the Republican forces. He was re-elected to the Dáil again in 1923 for Mayo North and in a further...

 that the Blueshirts had fascist leanings like the Italian Blackshirts
The Blackshirts were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II...

 and German Brownshirts, and that other European nations had taken similar actions against similar organizations, Costello stated:
The remark was a small part of a much longer speech whose main point was that the bill was an unconstitutional overreaction by the Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 government and an unfair scapegoating of the Blueshirts movement. However, the quote has since been the subject of much historical debate regarding the extent to which the Blueshirts, and by extension Fine Gael — and Costello himself — had ties to European fascism movements.

Other Dáil Activity

During the Dáil
Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann is the lower house, but principal chamber, of the Oireachtas , which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann . It is directly elected at least once in every five years under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote...

 debate on the Emergency Powers Act 1939
Emergency Powers Act 1939
The Emergency Powers Act 1939 is an act of the Oireachtas enacted on 3 September 1939 after an official state of emergency had been declared on 2 September 1939...

 Costello was highly critical of the delegation of powers, stating that "… we are asked not merely to give a blank cheque, but, to give an uncrossed cheque to the Government." He lost his seat at the general election of 1943, but regained it when de Valera called a snap election in 1944. From 1944 to 1948 he was Fine Gael's front-bench spokesman on External Affairs.

1948 General Election

In 1948 Fianna Fáil had been in power for sixteen consecutive years and had been blamed for a downturn in the economy following World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The general election
Irish general election, 1948
The Irish general election of 1948 was held on 4 February 1948. The 147 newly elected members of the 13th Dáil assembled on 18 February when the First Inter-Party government in the history of the Irish state was appointed....

 results showed Fianna Fáil still the largest party, with twice as many seats as the nearest party, Fine Gael. While it looked as if Fianna Fáil were heading for a seventh consecutive victory all the other parties in the Dáil joined to form the first inter-party government
Coalition government
A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament...

 in the history of the Irish state. The coalition consisted of Fine Gael, the Labour Party
Labour Party (Ireland)
The Labour Party is a social-democratic political party in the Republic of Ireland. The Labour Party was founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and William X. O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. Unlike the other main Irish...

, the National Labour Party
National Labour Party (Ireland)
The National Labour Party was an Irish political party active between 1944 and 1950. It was founded in 1944 from a rebel faction of the Labour Party, inspired by the intransigence of the incumbent leadership of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union against the majority of the party.The...

, Clann na Poblachta
Clann na Poblachta
Clann na Poblachta , abbreviated CnaP, was an Irish republican and social democratic political party founded by former Irish Republican Army Chief of Staff Seán MacBride in 1946.-Foundation:...

, Clann na Talmhan
Clann na Talmhan
Clann na Talmhan , abbreviated CnaT, was an Irish agrarian political party active between 1939 and 1965.- Formation and Growth :Clann na Talmhan was founded on 29 June 1939 in Athenry, County Galway, in the wake of the breakdown of unification talks between the Irish Farmers Federation and...

 and several Independent TDs. While it looked as if co-operation between these parties would not be feasible a shared opposition to Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland, serving as head of government of the Irish Free State and head of government and head of state of Ireland...

 overcame all other difficulties and the coalition government
Government of the 13th Dáil
The 13th Dáil was elected at the 1948 general election on 4 February 1948 and first met on 18 February when the 5th Government of Ireland was appointed. The 13th Dáil lasted for 1,211 days....

 was formed.

Taoiseach 1948–1951

Since Fine Gael was the largest party in the government it had the task of providing a suitable candidate for Taoiseach. Naturally it was assumed that its leader, Richard Mulcahy
Richard Mulcahy
Richard James Mulcahy was an Irish politician, army general and commander in chief, leader of Fine Gael and Cabinet Minister...

, would be offered the post. However, he was an unacceptable choice to Clann na Poblachta and its deeply republican leader, Seán MacBride
Seán MacBride
Seán MacBride was an Irish government minister and prominent international politician as well as a Chief of Staff of the IRA....

. This was due to Mulcahy's record during the Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

. Instead, Fine Gael and Clann na Poblachta agreed on Costello as a compromise candidate. Costello had never held a ministerial position and had not sought the leadership; when told he had been nominated, Costello assumed it was a joke, but was then appalled, suggesting a succession of other names and trying desperately to rid himself of the obligation. Believing himself unprepared for the job and content with his life as a barrister, Costello was nonetheless ultimately convinced to accept the nomination as Taoiseach.

Declaration of the Republic

During the campaign Clann na Poblachta had promised to repeal the External Relations Act of 1936, but did not make an issue of this when the government was being formed. However, Costello and his Tánaiste
The Tánaiste is the deputy prime minister of Ireland. The current Tánaiste is Eamon Gilmore, TD who was appointed on 9 March 2011.- Origins and etymology :...

, William Norton
William Norton
William Norton was an Irish Labour Party politician, and leader of the party from 1932 to 1960.Norton was born in Dublin in 1900. He joined the postal service in 1916. By 1920 he was a prominent member in the trade union movement in Ireland. From 1924 to 1948 he served as secretary of the Post...

 of the Labour Party, also disliked the Act. During the summer of 1948 the Cabinet discussed repealing the Act; however, no firm decision was made.

In September 1948 Costello was on an official visit to Canada when a reporter asked him about the possibility of leaving the British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

. Costello, for the first time, declared publicly that the Irish government was indeed going to repeal the Act and declare a republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

. It has been suggested that this was a reaction to offence caused by the Governor-General of Canada, Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis who was of Northern Irish descent and who allegedly arranged to have placed symbols of Northern Ireland, notably a replica of the famous Roaring Meg
Roaring Meg (cannon)
Roaring Meg was the name of several powerful cannons used in the 17th century. It is not to be confused with Mons Meg, a medieval cannon preserved at Edinburgh Castle.-Created by Colonel Birch for the Siege of Goodrich Castle:...

 cannon used in the Siege of Derry
Siege of Derry
The Siege of Derry took place in Ireland from 18 April to 28 July 1689, during the Williamite War in Ireland. The city, a Williamite stronghold, was besieged by a Jacobite army until it was relieved by Royal Navy ships...

, in front of Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that an agreement about toasts to both the King (symbolising Canada) and the President (representing Ireland) was broken and only a loyal toast
Loyal toast
A loyal toast is a salute given to the head of state of the country in which a formal gathering is being given, or by expatriates of that country, whether or not the particular head of state is present. It is usually a matter of protocol at state and military occasions, and a display of patriotic...

 to the King was offered, to the fury of the Irish delegation.

The news took the British Government, and even some of Costello's ministers, by surprise. The former had not been consulted, and following the declaration of the republic in 1948, the UK passed the Ireland Act
Ireland Act 1949
The Ireland Act 1949 is a British Act of Parliament that was intended to deal with the consequences of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 as passed by the Irish parliament...

 in 1949. This guaranteed the position of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 within the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 while at the same time granting certain rights to citizens of the Republic living in the United Kingdom. Ireland left the Commonwealth on 18 April 1949 when the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 came into force. Many nationalists
Irish nationalism
Irish nationalism manifests itself in political and social movements and in sentiment inspired by a love for Irish culture, language and history, and as a sense of pride in Ireland and in the Irish people...

 now saw partition
Partition of Ireland
The partition of Ireland was the division of the island of Ireland into two distinct territories, now Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland . Partition occurred when the British Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act 1920...

 as the last obstacle on the road to total national independence.

Mother and Child Scheme

In 1950 the independent-minded Minister for Health
Minister for Health and Children (Ireland)
The Minister for Health is the senior minister at the Department of Health in the Government of Ireland and is responsible for health care in the Republic of Ireland and related services.The current Minister for Health is James Reilly, TD...

, Dr. Noel Browne
Noel Browne
Noël Christopher Browne was an Irish politician and doctor. He holds the distinction of being one of only five Teachtaí Dála to be appointed Minister on their first day in the Dáil. His controversial Mother and Child Scheme in effect brought down the First Inter-Party Government of John A...

, introduced the Mother and Child Scheme
Mother and Child Scheme
The Mother and Child Scheme was a healthcare programme in the Republic of Ireland that would later become remembered as a major political crisis involving primarily the Irish Government and Roman Catholic Church in the early 1950s....

. The scheme would provide mothers with free maternity treatment and their children with free medical care up to the age of sixteen. However, the bill was opposed by doctors, who feared a loss of income, and Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 bishops, who feared the scheme could lead to birth control and abortion. The Cabinet was divided over the issue, many feeling that the state could not afford such a scheme. Costello and others in the Cabinet made it clear that in the face of such opposition they would not support the minister. Browne resigned from the government on 11 April 1951, and the scheme was dropped. He immediately published his correspondence with Costello and the bishops, something which had hitherto not been done. Ironically, derivatives of the Mother and Child Scheme would be introduced in acts of 1954, 1957 and 1970.

Costello reconfirmed his beliefs in Catholicism later in 1951: "I am an Irishman second, I am a Catholic first, and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the hierarchy and the church to which I belong."

Coalition achievements

The Costello Government had a number of noteworthy achievements. A new record was set in house-building, the Industrial Development Authority
IDA Ireland
IDA Ireland is the agency responsible for industrial development in Ireland. The agency was founded in 1949 as the Industrial Development Authority and placed on a statutory footing a year later...

 and Córas Tráchtála were established, and the Minister for Health, Noel Browne, with the then new
Streptomycin is an antibiotic drug, the first of a class of drugs called aminoglycosides to be discovered, and was the first antibiotic remedy for tuberculosis. It is derived from the actinobacterium Streptomyces griseus. Streptomycin is a bactericidal antibiotic. Streptomycin cannot be given...

, brought about an advance in the treatment of tuberculosis. Ireland also joined a number of organisations such as the Organisation for European Economic Co-Operation and the Council of Europe. However, the government refused to join NATO while the British remained in Northern Ireland. The scheme to supply electricity to even the remotest parts of Ireland was also accelerated.

Election defeat

While the "Mother and Child" incident did destabilise the government to some extent, it did not lead to its collapse as is generally thought. The government continued; however, prices were rising, a balance of payments crisis was looming, and two TDs withdrew their support for the government. These incidents added to the pressure on Costello and so he decided to call a general election
Irish general election, 1951
The Irish general election of 1951 was held on 30 May 1951. The newly elected members of the 14th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 13 June when the new Taoiseach and government were appointed....

 for June 1951. The result was inconclusive but Fianna Fáil returned to power. Costello resigned as Taoiseach. It was at this election that Costello's son, Declan
Declan Costello
Declan Costello was an Irish jurist and Fine Gael party politician, who served as a Teachta Dála for twenty years, as Attorney General for four years and as a High Court judge for another twenty years before his retirement....

, was elected to the Dáil.

Over the next three years while Fianna Fáil was in power a dual-leadership role of Fine Gael was taking place. While Richard Mulcahy was the leader of the party, Costello, who had proved his skill as Taoiseach, remained as parliamentary leader of the party.

Taoiseach 1954–1957

In the general election
Irish general election, 1954
The Irish general election of 1954 was held on 18 May 1954. The newly elected members of the 15th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 2 June when the new Taoiseach and government were appointed....

 in June 1954 Fianna Fáil lost power. A campaign dominated by economic issues resulted in a Fine Gael-Labour Party-Clann na Talmhan government coming to power. Costello was once again elected Taoiseach.

The government could do little to change the ailing nature of Ireland's economy, with emigration and unemployment remaining high. Costello's government did have some success with Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 becoming a member of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 in 1955. Although the government had a comfortable majority and seemed set for a full term in office, a resumption of IRA
Irish Republican Army (1922–1969)
The original Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla war against British rule in Ireland in the Irish War of Independence 1919–1921. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921, the IRA in the 26 counties that were to become the Irish Free State split between supporters and...

 activity in Northern Ireland and Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 caused internal strains (see Border Campaign (IRA)
Border Campaign (IRA)
The Border Campaign was a campaign of guerrilla warfare carried out by the Irish Republican Army against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland.Popularly referred to as the Border Campaign, it was also referred to as the...

). The government
Irish Government
The Government of Ireland is the cabinet that exercises executive authority in Ireland.-Members of the Government:Membership of the Government is regulated fundamentally by the Constitution of Ireland. The Government is headed by a prime minister called the Taoiseach...

 took strong action against the republicans
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...


In spite of supporting the government from the backbenches, Seán MacBride, the leader of Clann na Poblachta, tabled a motion of no confidence
Motion of no confidence
A motion of no confidence is a parliamentary motion whose passing would demonstrate to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government.-Overview:Typically, when a parliament passes a vote of no...

, based on the weakening state of the economy and in opposition to the government's stance on the IRA. Fianna Fáil also tabled its own motion of no confidence, and, rather than face almost certain defeat, Costello again asked President
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

 Seán T. O'Kelly
Sean T. O'Kelly
Seán Thomas O'Kelly was the second President of Ireland . He was a member of Dáil Éireann from 1918 until his election as President. During this time he served as Minister for Local Government and Minister for Finance...

 to dissolve the Oireachtas
The Oireachtas , sometimes referred to as Oireachtas Éireann, is the "national parliament" or legislature of Ireland. The Oireachtas consists of:*The President of Ireland*The two Houses of the Oireachtas :**Dáil Éireann...

. The general election
Irish general election, 1957
The Irish general election of 1957 was held on 5 March 1957, just over three weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on 4 February. The newly elected members of the 16th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 20 March when the new Taoiseach and government were appointed.The general election took place...

 which followed in 1957 gave Fianna Fáil an overall majority and started another sixteen years of unbroken rule for the party.


Following the defeat Costello returned to the bar. In 1959, when Richard Mulcahy resigned the leadership of Fine Gael to James Dillon, Costello retired to the backbenches. He remained on as a TD until 1969 when he retired from politics, being succeeded by Garret FitzGerald
Garret FitzGerald
Garret FitzGerald was an Irish politician who was twice Taoiseach of Ireland, serving in office from July 1981 to February 1982 and again from December 1982 to March 1987. FitzGerald was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and was subsequently elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD in 1969. He...

 as Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East.

During his career he was presented with a number of awards from many universities in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. He was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy
Royal Irish Academy
The Royal Irish Academy , based in Dublin, is an all-Ireland, independent, academic body that promotes study and excellence in the sciences, humanities and social sciences. It is one of Ireland's premier learned societies and cultural institutions and currently has around 420 Members, elected in...

 from 1948. In March 1975 he was made a freeman of the city of Dublin, along with his old political opponent Éamon de Valera. He practised at the bar up to a short time before his death in Dublin on 5 January 1976, at the age of 84.


The following governments were led by Costello:
  • 5th Government of Ireland (February 1948–June 1951)
  • 7th Government of Ireland (June 1954–March 1957)
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