15 June 2006 Edition
Death of Charles Haughey
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
Former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey died on Tuesday. He was 80.
Writing about Charles Haughey as he was appearing before the McCracken Tribunal in 1998 former An Phoblacht editor Michael MacDonnacha described the true essence of the man when he said that, "In a state where personality politics dominates, Charlie Haughey was the ultimate political personality for the best part of 30 years".
Haughey was a man of multiple personas. He was the great Mayo man, the great Derry man. He was the great Dubliner, champion of the Northside, king of the Blaskets. He was Medici to Irish artists. He was the courageous yachtsman, the knowledgeable racehorse owner, the benevolent local squire who threw open his Gandon-designed mansion to worthy causes. He was the pensioners' friend, the man who saw off more adversaries than James Bond. The elder statesman, he even outlasted Thatcher in office.
For many republicans the defining period of Haughey's career was the Arms Trial and the Hunger Strike period. For many others it is the physical, political and socio economic impact he had on the Ireland we live in today.
In Dublin there is visible legacy of Haughey's reign including the Financial Service Centre on the quays, the refurbished Dublin Castle and Government Buildings in Merrion Square and Temple Bar. There is also the Dublin of planning blunders and housing nightmares that ocurred under his watch.
He liberated thousands of pensioners by free travel, reduced electricity and phone costs and substantially increased weekly payments. His 1970 Succession Act at a stroke empowered thousands of women and their families who had been previously impoverished on the death of spouses and fathers. His inventive tax breaks for horse breeding and artists galvanised these sectors yet his own financial affairs were a mess- a maze of loans, gifts, tax evasion, illegal offshore banks and millions of Euro income he cannot and up to his death refused to account for.
On an economic level it was Haughey who in 1987 and 1990 drove Ireland into an EU super state by signing up for the Single European Act and subsequently the Maastricht Treaty. It was he who pushed for the first partnership agreement in 1987 and created the drive towards encouraging international investment in the 26-County economy that laid some of the seeds for the Tiger Economy years. It was also Haughey who, while appearing on TV to warn of the nation overspending, was running up a serious debt to fund his own lavish lifestyle.
Arms Trial & Hunger Strike
MacDonncha, writing of the Arms Trial in 1970 said that, "The overwhelming feeling in the 26 Counties in 1969/70 was one of horror at the plight of nationalists at the hands of the Stormont regime and a desire to help them in any way possible." "In the Fianna Fail Cabinet at least three ministers - Neil Blaney, Kevin Boland and Haughey - favoured military intervention in the Six Counties."
The heart of the issue for Haughey was that he wanted to have it both ways. MacDonnacha describes Haughey as abandoning his co-defendants in the Arms Trial and escaping prosecution. In the intervening years Haughey "toured the Fianna Fáil grassroots, carefully cultivating the myth that he was the republican hawk in the party, ready to take on the Brits if only he was given the reins of power".
However in power Haughey's dithering refusal to support the prisoners' demands lost him support and the election of two IRA prisoners, Kieran Doherty in Cavan/Monaghan and Paddy Agnew in Louth helped deprive him of victory in the 1981 election as Hunger strike candidates pulled votes from Fianna Fáil across the state.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party's Dáil leader Caoimhghin O Caolain extended sympathies this week to the Haughey family. O Caolain said that Haughey "certainly trod a chequered pathway through the political life of the nation over many years. He did of course, in his own words, give some service and it is right that his achievements are acknowledged and remembered.
Adams said, "Republicans, like everyone else on the island, will have mixed feelings on his contribution to Irish society but that is a debate for another day".