Charles Haughey was only “mildly impressed” by Mary McAleese as President and, three years before his death, made disparaging remarks about Bertie Ahern’s intelligence.
The views of the late former taoiseach on the first McAleese term and the controversial presidential election of 1997 were revealed yesterday by Senator Terry Leyden, who served as a junior minister in a Haughey-led government in 1982.
Chairing a session at the Percy French Festival in Castlecoote, Co Roscommon, Mr Leyden revealed that he had kept contemporaneous notes of a meeting with Mr Haughey at his home, Abbeville in Kinsealy, Co Dublin, in 2003, three years before he died from prostate cancer.
Mr Leyden said he was accompanied by former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke as they had both wanted to see the man who had dominated Irish politics for the previous quarter century, but who was now battling serious illness.
Consulting his notes, he recalled that Mrs O’Rourke had brought a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne for Mr Haughey and he had some flowers for his wife, Maureen. They were greeted on the steps of Abbeville by the couple at about 6.30pm on Dec 16. They were taken to the private bar where two bottles of white wine were being chilled.
“French television was on in the background — he was a real Francophile,” Mr Leyden recalled.
A range of topics were discussed, including RTÉ, Mr Haughey’s difficulty in understanding the accent of the then cathaoirleach of the Seanad, and Mr Ahern’s intelligence.
Mrs O’Rourke commented on Mr Ahern’s reference at a parliamentary party meeting to his concern at a number of cabals apparently forming within Fianna Fáil, but had used the word ‘kebabs’.
Mrs O’Rourke wondered if Mr Ahern had enunciated the malapropism deliberately, to which Mr Haughey replied: “Oh, I don’t think he’s that intelligent.”
The conversation eventually came around to the McAleese presidency. Mrs McAleese had emerged to defeat former taoiseach Albert Reynolds to become the Fianna Fáil candidate and was elected to the Áras in Nov 1997.
Referring to her presidency, Mr Haughey said that he was “mildly impressed” but went on to offer the opinion: “If Reynolds went, Dana would have been elected.”
Mr Haughey also referred to John Hume’s desire to run in the 1997 election, but noted that a senior figure in Fianna Fáil had discouraged him from the idea.
“My notes of the meeting in Kinsealy are contemporaneous and accurate,” Mr Leyden said.
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