Identity Statement for Declan Costello

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P237
  • Title: Papers of Declan Costello (1926–2011)
  • Dates: 1940-2011
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 6 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Biographical History

Declan Costello (1 August 1926–6 June 2011) was the second son of John A. Costello and Ida Mary Costello (née O'Malley). He was educated in Xavier School, Donnybrook; University College Dublin where he received a BA in Economics; and King's Inns, Dublin. He served as auditor of the UCD Law Society for the academic year 1945–6. He was called to the Bar in 1948 and to the Inner Bar in 1965. He married Joan Costello (née FitzSimons) in 1953.

Declan Costello was first elected a Fine Gael TD for Dublin North-West in 1951 and represented the constituency until 1969, when he retired temporarily from politics. He represented Dublin South-West from 1973 to 1977 when he resigned permanently from politics and was appointed to the bench as a judge of the High Court.

He is well-known for the authorship of the Fine Gael policy document 'Towards a Just Society' which was published as the Party manifesto for the 1965 general election. The publication of the Just Society document marked the emergence of a more socially-minded group within Fine Gael. However, support for this departure from traditionally conservative policies was not unanimous and the document caused some tension within the party. Following the general election, commitment to the Just Society policy declined and it effectively remained untested.

On 8 February 1967, Costello announced that he would not seek re-election in the next general election, citing family and personal reasons and his decision to prioritise his legal career over his political commitments. However, it has been argued that a sense of disillusionment and Fine Gael's treatment of the Just Society document may have played a role in his decision.

He reversed his decision to withdraw from political life and was successful in regaining his seat in the Dáil in the 1973 general election. He was appointed Attorney-General in the Fine Gael/Labour National Coalition government when his expectation would justifiably have been for a senior cabinet position.

During his term as Attorney-General, he represented Ireland in the proceedings against the government of the United Kingdom relating to breaches of the European Convention of Human Rights in Northern Ireland. The Strasbourg Case concerned the alleged use of inhuman and degrading treatment in the interrogation of prisoners in Northern Ireland. Costello also proposed the establishment of the post of Director of Public Prosecutions and of the Law Reform Commission, and published the White Paper on the 'Law of Nullity in Ireland’. He was also a member of the Irish Delegation to the Sunningdale Conference on Northern Ireland in 1973. He served as Attorney General until 1977 but announced his second and final decision not to seek re-election in 1976.

Declan Costello was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1977. He was the sole member of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Whiddy Island disaster, following the explosion of the oil tanker Betelguese off the coast of West Cork in January 1979.

He was appointed Chairman of the National Youth Policy Committee and of the Committee on Fundraising Activities for Charitable and other purposes in 1989, the latter resulting in the publication of a sizable report in 1990. He was a founding member of Saint Michael's House, which provides community-based services for people with intellectual disabilities, and was also a founding member and president of the National Association for the Mentally Handicapped in Ireland, subsequently renamed the National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability and currently Inclusion Ireland.

He was appointed president of the High Court in January 1995 and announced his retirement in 1997. He continued to publish on legal matters following his retirement, most particularly on the legality of the United States invasion of Iraq in the Irish Law Times, 2006.

He died at the age of eighty four on 6 June 2011 after a long illness.

Archival History

This collection was deposited in UCD Archives by his widow Mrs Joan Costello in October 2013.

Scope and Content

Fine Gael Teachta Dála, 1951–73

Files of correspondence, texts of speeches, articles and newspaper cuttings relating to Declan Costello’s career as a Fine Gael TD, including the development of the ‘Towards a Just Society’ policy document, the announcement of his resignation from politics and his subsequent departure in 1969.

Attorney General, 1973–77

Files of speeches, correspondence, reports and newspaper cuttings concerning his position as Attorney General to the Irish Government, 1973–77.

Legal Career, 1945–2007

Reports, files of articles including essays written by Declan Costello and collected articles by various authors, notes, correspondence and photographs pertaining to Declan Costello’s legal career and publications following his retirement from the position of President of the High Court, 1945–2008.

Personal Material, 1940–2011

Diaries,correspondence and newspaper cuttings relating to Declan Costello, external to his official political or legal occupations. Includes personal diaries written by Costello during his political career, material concerning John A. Costello, Father Joseph Leonard CM, Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy, and commemorative material.


Files of photographs mainly relating to Declan Costello's political and legal careers, 1945–c1993.

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader’s ticket. Produced for consultation in digital format.
  • Language: English
  • Finding aid: Descriptive Catalogue