Commins, Thomas Vincent (1913–85), diplomat, was born 3 October 1913 at Ballymoreen, Littleton, Co. Tipperary, third among six children of James Commins (b. 1877) and Mary Commins (née Corbett; b. 1887), both national school teachers. He was educated at Rockwell College, Co. Tipperary, and UCD. After sitting an open competition for junior executive officers in July 1932, in which he achieved fourteenth place, Commins entered the civil service in May 1933, serving in the Department of Agriculture to 1941. He transferred to the wartime Department of Supplies in June of that year, serving in this high-profile department through the war, after which he spent a short time in the Department of Industry and Commerce.
Commins entered the Department of External Affairs in May 1946 as commercial secretary to the Irish legation at Washington, where he took part in important negotiations on providing wheat supplies to Ireland after the bad harvest of 1946, when much of the Irish wheat crop was lost or rendered unsuitable for milling. When Aerlínte Éireann was established to provide an Irish transatlantic air service in 1947, Commins was lined up to become the regional representative in the USA. However, the inter-party government cancelled the service and Commins remained with the Department of External Affairs. Returning to Dublin in 1948, Commins was promoted to the rank of counsellor, to head the European recovery programme division of External Affairs. With his experience in industry, agriculture, and trade he had a good understanding of the areas related to Ireland's involvement in the Marshall plan. Commins also had the support of the minister for external affairs, Seán MacBride (qv), who wrote of him to an American official that he was ‘young, active and has not become so much of a civil servant as to lose his imagination’. On the conclusion of the Marshall plan, Commins served in the consular section of external affairs before transferring to Paris in 1954. He remained in Paris for one year, leaving for Lisbon in September 1955 as chargé d'affaires en titre to Portugal. Appointed minister to Argentina in May 1959, he spent only a matter of months in Buenos Aires before being appointed ambassador to Italy (1960–62).
In the summer of 1962 Commins was appointed ambassador to the Holy See. His four years at the Villa Spada, the Irish embassy to the Holy See, coincided with the second Vatican council. His reports to Dublin from these years show good connections within the Vatican and considered opinions on the position taken by the Vatican during these significant years of the cold war. His reports on the Vatican council concentrated on the specifics of each session, and – showing a caution a number of his predecessors lacked – he was slow to make major pronouncements on its work, perhaps aware that this would require a wider perspective than his own.
Commins was appointed ambassador to France in 1966, where he remained until 1970, witnessing the May 1968 student riots in Paris. In a long assessment of the crisis in France in May and June 1968, Commins wrote that ‘it came about as a bombshell, not only to the government, but to everyone else . . . up to the beginning of May things were going along as usual and there was no hint from any quarter that the cataclysm was imminent. But from the first days of May . . . things snowballed with incredible speed . . . the student revolt had touched a hidden nerve in the community at large’ (NAI, 98/3/71, Cremins to McCann, 14 June 1968).
Commins was posted for a second time as ambassador to the Holy See in June 1970. He returned to Dublin in December 1974. This was his first domestic posting in twenty years, and can be explained by his being in line for an assistant secretaryship in 1959, which went instead to Jack Molloy (qv). Commins was senior to Molloy, and his seniority and position were not affected by this move. Molloy had recently been widowed and it was felt more appropriate to keep him in Dublin. The minister for external affairs, Frank Aiken (qv), instructed the secretary of External Affairs to explain these developments to Commins, stressing that the move was not a personal slight and had been made at the minister's discretion.
Commins spent the three years from 1974 as assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, though in a supernumerary capacity, working on special study projects for the department until his retirement on 31 May 1977. Thomas Commins died 14 January 1985 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. He was unmarried.