Higgins, Varadkar pay tribute to leading Irish statesman

Peter Sutherland (right) with former taoiseach Enda Kenny
Peter Sutherland (right) with former taoiseach Enda Kenny

Tributes have been paid to former Irish attorney general, leading businessman and international statesman Peter Sutherland, who has died at the age of 71.

Mr Sutherland, a former European Commissioner and United Nations’ special representative on international migration, died in hospital in Dublin on Sunday after a long illness.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said he had left an “important legacy”.

“Tirelessly campaigning for global solutions to human trafficking and forced migration, he became a passionate and influential voice for the rights of the 65 million people who have been forced to flee their homes and homelands,” he said. “All of this came after a lifetime of contributions to public life at home and abroad.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also paid tribute.

“He was a statesman in every sense of the word; an Irishman, a committed European and a proud internationalist,” said the Fine Gael leader. “Throughout his life he was a champion for individual and economic freedoms.”

Tanaiste Simon Coveney said he was saddened by Mr Sutherland’s death.

“I knew him as a compassionate, driven, global thinker, always willing to challenge views,” he said.

Mr Coveney hailed Mr Sutherland’s intellect, adding: “He used his talents to be one of Ireland’s most influential people, in business, politics and human rights globally.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Mr Sutherland had given “outstanding public service”.

“A true patriot who had the interests of Ireland at heart,” he said. “Sincere sympathies to his family.”

Born in 1946, Mr Sutherland was educated at Gonzaga College, Ranelagh in Dublin and University College Dublin.

A barrister by profession, he was appointed Ireland’s attorney general in 1981 at the age of just 35.

During his tenure he clashed with then justice minister Michael Noonan over the wording of the 1983 referendum on abortion.

Mr Sutherland went on to serve as Ireland’s representative in the European Commission.

In 1993 he became the first director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), having overseen its formation out of another body he headed, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

In a glittering business career, he also fulfilled roles as non-executive chairman of both Goldman Sachs and BP.

In his later life, he focused on his work on migration issues with the UN.

The former Allied Irish Bank chairman also acted for a period as financial adviser to the Vatican.

Mr Sutherland is survived by his wife of 46 years Maruja, and his three children Shane, Ian and Natalia.