Death of London-based former Irish Attorney General, European Commissioner, banker and Vatican adviser
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led the many tributes to former European Commissioner, Irish Attorney General, Knight of the Realm, and international banker Peter Sutherland.
The former chairman of BP and Goldman Sachs International died at St James’s Hospital in Dublin on Sunday, aged 71, after a long illness which followed a heart attack – on his way to Mass, at the Brompton Oratory, in London where he and his wife had made their home – in September 2016. He had previously survived throat cancer.
Mr Sutherland, or Sir Peter, also chaired the Ireland Fund of Great Britain and was a patron of Irish Heritage in this country. He was also a UN representative for migrants and the dispossessed and a financial adviser to the Vatican. He is survived by his wife Maruja, née Cabria Valcarcel, and their three children Shane, Natalia and Ian.
His children said in a statement: “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.”
Taoiseach Mr Varadkar said of his fellow Fine Gael member: “Peter Sutherland was a statesman in every sense of the word; an Irishman, a committed European and a proud internationalist.
“He played a very important role in Irish public life throughout the 1980s, first as Attorney General and then as EU commissioner. Among his achievements was the creation of the Erasmus exchange programme which allows European students to study in other EU countries and which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. His work on the Open Skies policy helped make low cost air travel across the continent possible and opened up Ireland to its tourism success.
“Peter Sutherland had a passion for public affairs and made a significant contribution to Ireland, Europe and the world over a number of decades.
“In recent years he dedicated his skills and extensive experience to serving for the United Nations where he was tireless in highlighting the plight of migrants. Throughout his life, he was a champion for individual and economic freedoms.
“I would like to extend my sincere sympathies to Peter’s wife, children and grandchildren. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam.”
President Higgins said: “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.
“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.”
He said he had been a passionate European who remained, throughout his varied career, deeply committed to peaceful cooperation and integration in Europe and who always, promoted 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,” said the President.
Mr Varadkar’s predecessor as Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach John Bruton, who served in Garret FitzGerald’s government with Mr Sutherland said: “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.”
“I was a very close friend of Peter. He was a great man to cultivate his friendship, was very generous. 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.”
Among the many positions held by Mr Sutherland was, Attorney General for Ireland, European Commissioner for Competition, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, chairman of the London School of Economics, UN commissioner on Human Security; chairman of Allied Irish Bank, Chair of Goldman Sachs International, chairman of the European Institute of Public Administration and chairman of British Petroleum (BP).
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, describing Mr Sutherland as a “true patriot” who made an outstanding contribution to public life not just in Ireland but around the world, said: “I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Peter Sutherland…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.”
The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I am deeply saddened by the passing away of Peter Sutherland, former European Commissioner, Director- General of the World Trade Organisation and Attorney General of Ireland.
“In every sense of the word Peter Sutherland was a true European. He believed strongly in the work of the European Union and other international organisations and their importance for cooperation and international dialogue. He was one of the founding fathers of the Erasmus programme and was instrumental in shaping our internal market in the early days and competition policy as we know it today.
“Above all, Peter Sutherland reflected the core values of the European spirit in his everyday work and was convinced that by working together, great things can be achieved.
“His contribution internationally to business, politics, migration and human rights will not be forgotten. He was a giant of Irish, European and international public life. He will be deeply missed.
“My deepest sympathies and thoughts go to his family and friends.”