Haughey was not one-dimensional comic figure that Charlie portrays

The RTÉ drama, Charlie, was entertaining, if more Callan’s Kicks than history. Despite its portrayal of Mr Haughey as venal, shallow and one-dimensional, many of the incidents seem based on truth.

Haughey was not one-dimensional comic figure that Charlie portrays

It stylised Mr Haughey’s 1979 meeting with Helmut Schmidt, at which the German Chancellor told how his annual meeting with union leaders to agree wage and economic policy was “the most important date in his calendar”. It portrayed — in rather comic-opera fashion — Mr Haughey’s subsequent meeting with Irish union leaders. The source for this, I presume, is a paper Haughey wrote — or dictated, as he was too ill to write — some months before his death. He always regarded social partnership, along with redirecting policy on the North, as his “greatest achievement”. For research I am undertaking at DCU, I acquired a copy of that Haughey paper.

I also checked the State papers for 1979 and these, indeed, confirm the centrality of State-union relations during that meeting with Mr Schmidt. But Mr Haughey was no simple opportunist, and had always been interested in this question.

Union leaders, such as John Carroll and Charles McCarthy, as well as ‘back-room’ union strategists, like Manus O’Riordan, had themselves been urging such a direction for Irish trade unionism for some time. It should be remembered that in the 1970s Ireland lost more days in strikes — mostly unofficial — than any European country, apart from Italy, and even more than Britain during the 1978-9 ‘winter of discontent’. But it was Mr Haughey’s reading of the Schmidt formula of 1979 that became the basis of the National Understandings of 1980-2, and the 1987 social partnership ‘Programme for National Recovery’ that was to transform this country.

The drama portrays Mr Haughey’s relationship with his constituents in crude terms. The ‘stories’ are not untrue: for example, his distribution of hams to needy families at Christmas. I lived for many years in that area; at the time, I was a political opponent of Mr Haughey. But he was never other than a gentleman in his dealings with local people. During his time, Fianna Fáil had members on every street and a web of cummain throughout the area. These were mostly fine, committed people, at the heart of the many wonderful, local community, sport and self-help organisations that characterized working-class Dublin. Working-class life was dignified by this community life and was far from the supplicant existence portrayed by RTÉ.

Philip O’Connor

St. Peter’s Tce.


Dublin 13

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