Obituary: Charlie Haughey. Comebacks and kick-backs

Declan O'Neill

The death of Charlie Haughey finally removes from the Irish political scene one of its most colourful – and corrupt – characters, Haughey himself claims to have invented the acronym, GUBU, which perhaps best describes the era he dominated. The term – standing for “grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented” originated during his short second period as Taoiseach in 1982, when a convicted murderer was found living in the attorney general’s flat, one of the more colourful scandals of the period.

Yet, despite the persistent aura of corruption which surrounded Haughey throughout his political life, he managed to maintain a high level of popular support, and a grudging admiration for his many reincarnations and comebacks. As early as 1970 his career seemed over when he was sacked form the government, and subsequently prosecuted, over accusations of arm smuggling to republicans in the North of Ireland. This followed attacks by loyalist mobs, the RUC and B Specials on Catholic areas of the six counties in August 1969. Jack Lynch, the Irish Taoiseach promised his government would not “stand idly by”, which of course is precisely what it did. What Haughey and his associates were actually planning has never been accurately established, but the episode, and subsequent comments by Haughey describing the North as “a failed political identity” garnered Charlie a reputation as a committed nationalist. The evidence that does exist would indicate that sections of the Southern Irish establishment were prepared to provide guns to northern republicans provided they abandoned any commitment to left-wing politics and promised to cease any activity in the 26 counties.
(Apparently the Irish government was worried by the “Marxist” turn being taken by the leadership of Sinn Fein. The subsequent evolution of the Official Republicans into the Workers Party/Democratic left and now Irish Labour Party would indicate that their fears were unjustified.)

Paradoxically his expulsion from office in the wake of the gun-running accusations was to eventually lead to his accession of the leadership of Fianna Fail and the Taoiseachship. Fianna Fail’s commitment to republicanism has always been verbal rather than real but it still campaigns as the “Republican Party” and celebrates its origins in the ant-treaty side of the Irish civil war. Consequently Haughey’s sacking, trial and subsequent acquittal gave him something of a hero status amongst some sections of the FF rank and file, and helped ensure that he would become leader when Jack Lynch eventually stepped down. In all he spent 11 years as a cabinet minister and seven more as Taoiseach, but he never won an absolute majority in any election and never healed the divisions inside Fianna Fail. He maintained a fabulously extravagant lifestyle while lecturing the Irish people on the need for spending cuts and the necessity of living within their means. He famously fell out with Margaret Thatcher, and refused to support Britain in the Falklands war ( no one is all bad); and opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in opposition yet operated it when returned to office.

Haughey’s ,”nationalist” reputation was unwarranted, but if the truth about his arms dealing has never been totally established, there remains no doubt about his financial corruption. Forced from office in 1992 when implicated in an earlier phone-tapping scandal Haughey was finally forced to admit to accepting millions from businessmen in return for favours such as cutting their tax bills. It is likely that Ireland will never have another politician like him; for that at least the Irish people will probably be grateful.



June 2006

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