Haughey was not the first Irish leader to live way beyond his means

CHARLES J HAUGHEY was the sixth of our retired leaders since the foundation of the State to die, and the real debate on his legacy is likely to begin today.

He was revered and reviled, loved and loathed. He leaves behind many positive accomplishments and dreadful failings.

On the positive side, for women and children there was the Succession Act, and free travel, free telephone rental and free television licences for the elderly, banning the advertising of tobacco more than two decades before the Americans or the British dared to make such a move, and securing legislation for the sale of contraceptives.

Maybe the latter was only his idea of an Irish solution to an Irish problem, but it made it much easier for others to bring in amending legislation. He also had the vision to renovate the Taoiseach’s Office and to have the Financial Services Centre built, as well as laying the foundations for the Celtic Tiger economy.

Haughey was involved in many of the biggest controversies over the past 45 years from the Macushla mutiny of the Garda Síochána in 1961 to the ongoing investigations of the tribunals at the present time. He would not have had half his problems if he had been honest enough to say: “I did it, so what?”

He could easily have justified trying to provide arms for defenceless people to protect themselves from loyalist thugs in Northern Ireland.

A famous moderate like Gerry Fitt was pleading for weapons for nationalists to defend themselves. In relation to phone tapping, Haughey softened up Garda Deputy Commissioner Joe Ainsworth so that Seán Doherty could get taps placed on the phones of Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy. If Haughey did not know about the taps, it was because he chose not to know — just like Jack Lynch turned a blind eye in the run-up to the Arms Crisis of 1970.

Some people still persist in arguing that Lynch was unaware, but his defence minister Jim Gibbons certainly knew, and he said he had kept Lynch informed. If he did not, why did Lynch not fire him? Lynch justified firing Haughey and Neil Blaney on the grounds that they knew about the attempt to import arms and did not inform him.

Therefore, Gibbons was undoubtedly telling the truth when he claimed he had kept Lynch informed.

In accepting money from friends, Haughey was in distinguished company. Daniel O’Connell — arguably the most famous and influential Irishman of all time — lived beyond his means for much of his life. After entering politics in the 1820s, he gave up his practice at the bar and financed his lifestyle out of public subscriptions. He managed to support his extravagant lifestyle with the help of national subscriptions from ordinary people amounting to about £13,000 a year.

On one occasion, shortly before the outbreak of the Great Famine, he got around £50,000. Parnell also lived beyond his means and he was the beneficiary of a public subscription of some £20,000 in 1882.

Unlike those who accepted money from people living in a state of virtual subsistence, Haughey got much of his money from fabulously wealthy people like Ben Dunne and Dermot Desmond. Nobody has shown that either received any kind of favouritism, other than being invited to family occasions. Other famous men also built up great debts. Thomas Jefferson — author of the US Declaration of Independence and arguably the father of modern democracy — was in so much debt when he died that his heirs had to sell off his property. Winston Churchill was so profligate that he, too, was heavily dependent on the support of some admirers.

Some people said during the week that Haughey tried to do favours for Ben Dunne by setting up meetings for him with the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, who were looking for more that £38 million in taxes from Dunne. After one of the meetings, the Revenue offered to settle for £16 million, thus providing a potential saving of £22 million.

But Dunne claimed he owed nothing and he refused to pay the £16 million, and the Appeals Commissioners subsequently ruled in his favour.

If you thought you were being screwed by the Revenue, would you think there was anything wrong with asking your TD, or indeed any public representative, to intervene on your behalf? Haughey did nothing wrong in that matter.

But he did do wrong when he threatened to sue RTÉ for libel when some reporters sought to disclose that he had received money from Patrick Gallagher under dubious circumstances. The RTÉ authorities funked it. One look from Charlie was enough to scare the sugar out of them.

BY far the worst thing he did was to send Brian Lenihan to the US in an attempt to undermine the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Haughey wanted to prevent the Fine Gael/Labour coalition from getting political credit for the agreement. He was playing politics with the lives of people in Northern Ireland and elsewhere by trying to undermine the agreement for his own selfish political ends.

He was not the first person to try to pull such a stunt. Eamon de Valera did the same thing in 1921 when he tried to undermine the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Privately, he told the Dáil there was only a shadow of a difference between the treaty and what he wanted. He said the difference was so small that the British would not fight over it, but Michael Collins — having spent almost two months negotiating with the British— said they would fight, even though it was not worth fighting over. So they fought a civil war over that shadow and poisoned Irish politics for the best part of 50 years.

In 1932, WT Cosgrave secretly pleaded with the British not to give in to de Valera. This led to the Economic War when the British insisted on payment of disputed land annuities. Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain warned his colleagues that de Valera had a good case, but the British held out in order to help Cumann na nGaedheal.

In fairness, Cosgrave did put the country first during the Emergency years of World War II. And Fine Gael put the country first again during the economic difficulties of the late 1980s, but not before bringing Haughey down over the Way Forward, his plan to revitalise the economy in November 1982. That ’82 government was probably the worst in this country’s history, so nobody should blame Garret FitzGerald for bringing it down.

In 1987, when Haughey was elected Taoiseach for the third time, Garret FitzGerald promised that Fine Gael would support him if he took the hard decisions necessary to straighten out the economy. Alan Dukes implemented that promise with the Tallaght Strategy, and Enda Kenny also played a statesman’s role this week.

For decades Fine Gael tried to gain power by depicting Haughey as some kind of malignant midget. It never worked.

Of course, Haughey provided lousy leadership on many matters, especially his tax affairs and his financial finagling, as well as his lack of veracity in seeking to avoid responsibility for his behaviour, especially his misbehaviour. He depicted journalists as whores, but he left himself wide open to the charge of being a political whore himself. Others might call him a “cute whore” because, for all his failings, he has left a legacy of many real accomplishments, unlike some of his most vocal critics. Yet, somehow, I think we are in for an orgy of Charlie-bashing this weekend.

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