Yet again a writer is pilloried - for not pandering to readers’ prejudice

HAVING written full-length biographies of both Charlie Haughey and Jack Lynch, I was particularly interested in Frank Dunlop’s book, Yes, Taoiseach.

Although it is a great and interesting read with some fascinating insights into his periods as government press secretary under Lynch and Haughey, Dunlop has been somewhat savaged by reviewers. He has been accused of inserting too much of his own ego in the book. But how can somebody writing about his own experiences exclude ego?

His real problem is that he admired Charlie Haughey and that has always been a sin with certain Irish journalists. Dunlop is not criticised for what’s in the book so much as what’s not there, such as his own subsequent involvement in political corruption at the local government level. Of course, if he had included this, he would have been lacerated for writing about himself, rather than about his involvement with the two taoisigh. Such criticism frequently tells us more about the prejudices of the reviewers than the contents of the book. They are engaging in the male equivalent of bitchiness, and they really belong among those that PJ Mara categorised as “the clitorati”.

Aspects of Haughey’s behaviour are indefensible. He lied repeatedly under oath; abused the party leader’s fund for personal purposes; evaded income tax; demeaned his office by accepting money from people with whom the state was doing business, thereby exposing himself to charges of conflicts of interest.

While he was helping himself, his government was instituting savage health cuts and some people were denied their last chance.

He was also the person who first appointed such disappointments as Ray Burke and Pádraig Flynn to cabinet. Burke characterised Flynn as being like the barber’s cat - “full of wind and piss”. Ah, the pot and the kettle!

Haughey got Allied Irish Banks to write off most of the interest he owed in 1980. He agreed to pay £100,000 of that interest as “a debt of honour”. While did not show much honour, he was dealing with a crowd that not only loaded him but have given the term “bank robbery” a whole new meaning.

People may conclude that all the good Haughey achieved was destroyed by his misbehaviour. To justify that conclusion, however, one must examine the good as well as the bad. What we usually get is the blanket condemnation of anyone who suggests that Haughey did any good at all. He is contrasted with people who are depicted as virtual saints.

Such an approach is intellectually lazy and patently dishonest. George Colley, who made a career of attacking Haughey, famously complained about “low standards in high places”. But when challenged to explain the comment, he said that he was referring to Fine Gael leaders. His own behaviour was an example of the conduct he was condemning. Colley had poor judgment, epitomised by his role in the 1977 election manifesto. He actually approached Frank Dunlop to run for the Dáil in one of the new north Dublin constituencies that year. Frank refused, suggesting there were others candidates.

“There’s a young fellow there called Ahern,” Colley said, “but I don’t think he’ll amount to much.”

While there are few real surprises in Dunlop’s book, there is plenty of detail throwing new light on events, such as the opposition move to have Rita Childers succeed her late husband as President in 1974. Some thought Lynch was prepared to agree until Tom O’Donnell of Fine Gael went public with the idea. Lynch then reacted to what he supposedly considered an opposition ploy to gain political credit for the whole thing. Dunlop suggests that Lynch never really considered appointing Erskine’s widow, as he had already approached Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. Rita later reacted bitterly by announcing that she hoped Erskine was close to God where he could intercede to ensure that Fianna Fáil never got into power again.

There was no love lost between Erskine Childers and Haughey. After the late President’s state funeral through Dublin, his body was taken for interment in Wicklow. Charlie invited Dunlop to accompany him. “We’re going down to Wicklow to make sure this f**ker is planted,” Haughey said.

WHEN Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh resigned the presidency a couple of years later, Lynch came under pressure to stand for the office. He skilfully exploited the situation. At a parliamentary party meeting he invited members to be as open and frank as they wished. He then listened for a couple of hours as some of his secret critics sang his praises in an effort to kick him upstairs.

It was a masterful political ploy. The meeting adjourned for lunch, and Lynch killed the speculation by issuing a statement to RTÉ News that he would not be a candidate for the presidency under any circumstances. He had flushed out his critics and got them to sing his praises at the same time.

Once he got back into power, however, he tended to coast towards retirement.

“Jack was basically hands-off in his approach,” Dunlop noted, “and this intellectual laziness got him into trouble.” He appeared to be drinking too much and sometimes became uncharacteristically testy.

After the Pope made his famous appeal to the IRA in Drogheda, a journalist asked Dunlop for the Taoiseach’s response.

“Jack bared his teeth and told me not only to tell him to ‘f**k off’ but to ‘f**k off yourself’,” Dunlop recalled. George Colley was present at the time and he looked as shocked as the press secretary felt.

“There wasn’t a day when I was working closely with Charlie Haughey that wasn’t in some way exhilarating,” Dunlop writes. He has been criticised for not providing gossip. He only mentions Terry Keane once, for instance. That was when Charlie called him to bring up a copy of the latest edition of Private Eye, in which their affair was mentioned. Haughey doubled up with laughter as he read the piece.

“Frank, she’ll go f**kin’ bananas when she reads this,’ he said, pointing to a reference to “the ageing Terry Keane”.

The language in the book is sometimes crude, but that was often the way it was. Telling it as it was is the real value of the book.

While generally sympathetic to Lynch, the author clearly admired Haughey more. Some of Lynch’s admirers therefore suggest that Dunlop was disloyal to Lynch, and even helped Haughey to undermine him. The truth was very different. Those who were plotting against Lynch were the same people who later ousted Haughey. It was Colley, Martin O’Donoghue and company (the progenitors of the PDs) who undermined Lynch by seriously damaging the economy with their blinding incompetence. They also got things disastrously wrong when they persuaded Jack to go early. Haughey had many flaws, but the incompetence of his opponents was not his fault. There is evidence that they did to him what they - without any evidence - accused him of doing to Lynch.

They conspired to oust Haughey, beginning on the night that his cabinet held its first regular meeting. Colley and company were not just losers; they were sore losers.

It is time the “clitorati” realised that a book should be judged on its content, not its failure to support their misguided prejudices.

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