History rewritten as to why Charles Haughey left office in 'Charlie'

RTÉ drama, Charlie, about the political career of Charles Haughey, has rewritten history with dramatic licence by showing the former taoiseach resigning not so much because of revelations over the phone-tapping scandal of a decade earlier but because of a threat that the full truth of his involvement in the 1970 arms crisis would be made public, suggests Caroline O'Doherty.

History rewritten as to why Charles Haughey left office in 'Charlie'

The final episode of the series which aired last night will add fuel to the debate as to why Haughey, who had survived repeated threats to his leadership, finally caved in over claims by his former justice minister Sean Doherty that Haughey had known he tapped journalists’ phones in 1982.

It is public record that Fianna Fáil’s hostile coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, told Haughey they would pull the plug on the government if he did not step down following the revelations in early 1992.

The programme had his closest adviser, PJ Mara, however, telling him he could fight the claims and thwart the PDs by convincing the Dáil that Doherty was disgruntled and unreliable with the truth.

But the show depicted Haughey already with his mind made up to resign from politics following a visit to his office by a developer who had previously given him cheques and now presented him with a confidential file on the arms crisis.

Haughey told the developer, who was tight-lipped about who sent him, that he didn’t believe Albert Reynolds, Haughey’s long-time rival and eventual successor, was behind the ploy. “He is ambitious but not dirty,” his character, played by Aidan Gillen, said. The source of the file was not revealed.

The concluding episode covered the period 1989-1992, beginning with the snap election that lost Fianna Fáil its majority and forced the party into coalition with the PDs.

Haughey, then in his 60s, was depicted as increasingly pensive and preoccupied with his legacy. The death of his Derry-born mother, Sarah, and her dismay with lack of political progress on the North, prompted him to revisit the question, meeting with Fr Alec Reid, a key facilitator in the peace process, and putting Martin Mansergh in charge of drawing up a roadmap to peace.

It was the one document he left on the desk for Albert Reynolds to take over when he packed up to vacate the taoiseach’s office.

The final episode also covered the background to the Beef Tribunal which, although pushed for by PD leader, Des O’Malley, was shown as being eventually agreed to by Haughey when he saw it as a way of tying up Albert Reynolds who, as former minister for industry and commerce, would be a key witness.

Meanwhile, Haughey’s continued reliance on businessmen donors, including Ben Dunne, to finance his lavish lifestyle hinted at the tribunals to come after he left power.

Another feature of the programme was the depiction of Haughey as momentarily unsure he could bring himself to sack his loyal tánaiste, Brian Lenihan Sr, over scandals that dogged the presidential election campaign in 1990.

He did sack Lenihan but Fianna Fáil still lost the Áras for the first time, the position going to Mary Robinson. A forgiving Lenihan was shown as the only colleague who called to Haughey’s office to pay his respects as he packed up to leave.

Despite some criticisms from family members of late politicians about the way they were portrayed in the drama, Charlie has proved a success for RTÉ, with more than one million viewers watching the opening episode between the initial airing, the repeat and the online RTÉ Player option.

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