THERE are none so stupid as those who do not learn from their mistakes. Yet we persist in scapegoating some politicians while ignoring others who facilitated them for their own selfish reasons.
In time, Charles Haughey will probably be remembered in the same light as Boss Tweed or Boss Croker, two Irish-American politicians who elevated political corruption to an art form at Tammany Hall, New York. They left some magnificent buildings behind them, but they robbed the people blind in the process.
In August 1921, Eamon de Valera told a private session of the Dáil they would have to accept partition or they would be making the same mistake with Northern Ireland that the British made with the rest of the island. During the Treaty debate, Michael Collins challenged de Valera to produce an alternative treaty. The Long Fellow presented the Dáil with his own proposals, which included the partition clauses of the Treaty verbatim.
After the death of Collins, the Cumann na nGaedheal government agreed to pay land annuities to Britain. De Valeracontended that Ireland did not owe those because the British had essentially agreed they would be paid to the Dublin and Belfast parliaments when partition was introduced.
De Valera offered to submit the issue to international arbitration, but the British refused. Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain told his cabinet colleagues that de Valera had an arguable case. The British did not want to risk losing out in international arbitration.
Cumann na nGaedheal secretly pleaded with the British to resist de Valera, or they would be finished. They were finished anyway, but their parting contribution to Irish political life was the Economic War, which Britain started at their instigation.
Of course, they blamed de Valera for the Economic War, and they brought their opposition to him into the gutter by toying with the neo-fascist Blueshirts. They sought to ride back to power on the back of a political ass — Eoin O’Duffy.
In school during the 1950s and early 1960s, we were told history could not be taught for 100 years. If people had examined the arguments, the partition myth would have been exposed on one side and the true basis of the Economic War on the other side.
People might then have asked what is the real difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? Both have been persistently fooling the people for their own ends.
For all his failing in the 1920s, de Valera pursued a brilliant foreign policy in the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s. Any Irish person can be justifiably proud of that policy. But in recent years there has been a tendency to depict the Ireland of his era as a priest-ridden bog. He certainly hung on too long and history already regrets that Seán Lemass did not have a longer chance to shine. Lemass went out of his way to ensure that his son-in-law, Charles Haughey, did not succeed him. So how did Charlie make it? He was, in fact, a brilliant politician who often graced the ministries in which he served.
Peter Berry, secretary of the Department of Justice, and one the civil servants who did most to expose Haughey’s earlier misbehaviour, rated him as the best Minister for Justice of the 14 under whom he served. James Dillon, the Fine Gael leader who prided himself on his agricultural expertise, described Haughey as “an excellent Minister for Agriculture”.
Haughey was widely regarded as a brilliant Minister for Finance and he was the last Minister for Health to emerge with his political reputation intact, if not actually enhanced.
The biggest scandal involving Haughey was the Arms Crisis, which erupted in May 1970, but we now know that Peter Berry informed Jack Lynch of Haughey’s involvement as early October 1969, and Jim Gibbons, the Minister for Defence, is on record as saying that he passed on the information to Lynch shortly afterwards.
Gibbons told Capt James Kelly, who was organising the arms importation, that Lynch asked him as Minister for Defence about Kelly’s activities. Gibbons gave Kelly to believe that he had ministerial blessing for what he was doing.
If Gibbons did not inform Lynch at that time, why did Lynch retain him as a minister after he had fired Neil Blaney and Haughey at the outbreak of the Arms Crisis? In reality Haughey went out on a limb in trying to bring in arms for the Northern republicans.
His behaviour was reckless and as the subsequent events demonstrated, it was morally reprehensible, but Lynch and company had been content to go along quietly until the whole thing was exposed. Hence their behaviour was equally reprehensible.
When the whole thing came unstuck, they sought to dump on Haughey who had gone out on the limb, knowing the likely consequences. If he had been a man of honour, he would gone quietly. But having been complicit by their silent acquiescence, it was just as hypocritical of Lynch and the others to scapegoat him.
Frank Aiken may not have been the brightest bulb in the Dáil, but he did have a shining integrity. He quit politics in protest against the ratification of Haughey as a Fianna Fáil candidate in 1973. De Valera, then in his final days as President, got back into the act at that stage in undermining Aiken’s selfless act.
Charlie McCreevy had the courage to move a ‘no confidence’ motion in Haughey’s leadership in October 1982, but the great majority in the parliamentary party did not have the vision, the guts or the integrity to support his motion, so Haughey survived. Within a few weeks he tried to introduce the Way Forward to rescue the country’s ailing economy, but the other parties brought him down.
Fine Gael knew this was necessary, but they put party considerations first and drove the country further into the mire for another four years before relenting to the inevitable.
ON THE day Haughey was elected Taoiseach for the third time, Garret FitzGerald announced that Fine Gael would back him if he implemented the policies essentially outlined in the Way Forward almost five years earlier. This became known as the Tallaght Strategy.
The other great crisis of those years was telephone tapping. The Haughey government was responsible for taps on the telephones of Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold. We were told it was wrong to tap journalists in a democracy. Yet the Fine Gael-Labour coalition of 1973-1977 had previously tapped the phones of Vincent Browne and Tim Pat Coogan.
None of that excuses Haughey’s behaviour in abusing the public trust and pocketing millions. He was wrong, but he got away with it because colleagues facilitated him by turning a blind eye. They were equally responsible.
Ultimately those who lost most are the betrayed generation — the tens of thousands of young Irish people who had to emigrate in search of a living while the politicians on all sides ripped off the country. Haughey betrayed everyone, including himself, by abusing his own enormous talents. The undocumented Irish in USA are victims of the spineless politicians.
Ultimately we are all complicit because we facilitate those politicians by tolerating such conduct. Will we hold them responsible for the latest mess?