RYLE DWYER: An Irish honours system would be a one-way road to further corruption

AFTER Ireland’s defeat to Italy in the quarter-final of the 1990 World Cup, Charlie Haughey went down on the field to salute the Irish crowd, but he was roundly booed.

He was having a bad day. When he and his guests landed at Rome airport in the executive jet, he was kept waiting for half an hour, as the Irish ambassador was needed to clear the plane. Haughey prided himself on not being late, so ambassador Robin Fogarty’s tardiness was an insult.

When Haughey returned to power in 1987, one of his first acts was to move the European Communities Committee under the aegis of his own department and reorganise it. Hitherto, it had been chaired by the deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the same Fogarty who was effectively banished to Rome. So he was not now about to dance attention on the little fella from Kinsealey. His excuse was that he had been “busy at his desk”.

In his book, An Accidental Diplomat, which covered his time in the Department of Foreign Affairs between 1987 and 1995, Eamon Delaney explained that the relationship between the ambassador and the Taoiseach was “exacerbated by the fact that both he and Haughey had a close relationship with the social diarist Terry Keane and reputedly came near to blows over her on the steps of the United Arts Club”.

As a proud GAA supporter, Haughey had bragged in a television interview that he had never even been in the Lansdowne Road stadium. That was his right, but he was asking for trouble when he went down on the Rome pitch to salute those he would not associate with at home.

He then went into the Irish dressing room to congratulate the dejected players.

“Who the f**k is he?” Tony Cascarino asked Niall Quinn.

“For God’s sake,” Quinn replied. “That’s the Taoiseach.”

“Who is it, Cas?” asked Andy Townsend.

“I dunno,” Cascarino replied. “Quinny says he owns a tea shop.”

As the then Foreign Affairs Minister, Ray ‘Rambo’ Burke had to bear the brunt of Haughey’s irritation and his humour was not improved when he found out they had to wait for their cars outside the Rome stadium. “Where are the f**king cars?” he said to Fogarty. “You’re the f**king ambassador; where are the f**king cars?”

Fogarty rendered Rambo speechless with his undiplomatic response. “Don’t talk to me like that, you creep,” he told Burke.

On reflection, Fogarty deserved to be honoured, but he was banished from the EU and sent to Switzerland.

Haughey had previously caused a bit of a stir when he went to celebrate Stephen Roche’s triumphal entry into Paris with the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. One could never imagine Garret FitzGerald doing such a thing because he had little interest in sport. But Haughey recognised the magnitude of the sporting achievement and Roche appreciated the gesture.

Bertie Ahern, meanwhile, got a more hostile reception when he went to Dublin Airport to welcome home Michael Carruth with the gold medal from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Bertie’s presence went down like the proverbial lead balloon, which was unfair because he has always been a genuine sports supporter.

He welcomed home Pádraig Harrington after his recent victory in the British Open by hosting a reception for him at Government Buildings. It was a nice gesture but Bertie used the occasion to call for “a national way of honouring not just stars, but people who make a contribution, an enormous contribution, to Irish life. The fact is we don’t have that.”

A number of Irish citizens, including Bob Geldof, Bono, Terry Wogan and Tony O’Reilly, have been recognised in the British honours list in recent years.

A spokesman explained that Bertie has “long been an advocate” of an Irish honours system and had considered bringing in legislation in 1997 but had failed to secure all-party agreement.

This is the same Bertie who likes to stand in front of a picture of Patrick Pearse but now advocates that we ape the worst of the British system.

Britain’s House of Lords is a patently undemocratic institution, as is the honours system on which it is based. Aristocracy, or any selective class structure, should have no place among republican institutions.

The scandal now brewing over the cash-for-honours saga in Britain extends over decades.

David Lloyd George, the man whose government sent the Black and Tans here, sold honours. He was not the first but he was so brazen about it that he caused considerable scandal.

James Buchanan — who made a fortune as a Scotch whisky distiller — wished to become Lord Woolavington in the 1922 New Year’s honours list. He wrote a cheque for £50,000, signed it “Woolavington”, and dated it “January 2, 1922”. If he did not get the peerage, the cheque would be useless — so he became a lord.

During the two years of his second term in Downing Street in the mid-1970s, Harold Wilson created 234 life peerages, compared with just 34 by Edward Heath between 1970-74. Not to be outdone, Tony Blair created around 400 life peers.

Let’s face it, that is one form of corruption we should not follow. Down that road we would inevitably need a tribunal to investigate the whole thing.

WINNING the British Open was an honour in itself for Harrington. It should not be diluted by some kind of honours system because that would really be calculated to honour those less worthy people who would be awarded the same accolade for God only knows what reasons. As such, the award would not really be honouring somebody like Harrington but using him in a shabby way.

Stephen Roche, Michael Carruth, Michelle Smith and the Irish soccer team were given parades through Dublin and the successful Heineken Cup Munster rugby team strutted through Limerick and Cork. The crowd showed up to demonstrate support. That is as it should be in a republic. If Bertie decided to hold a parade for, say, Paddy the Plasterer, people would be able to show what they thought of the gesture by turning up or staying at home.

The nearest thing we have to an honours system is the appointment to State boards. Those should be on basis of what appointees can do for society in their area of expertise but the system has been grossly abused.

Bertie Ahern appointed a number of people to those boards after they gave/lent him money. Now he says he did not appoint them because they gave him a dig-out but because they were his friends. Would friendship with a Taoiseach become grounds for such honours, too?

Some wealthy people give money to universities, either on their own behalf or on behalf of the companies they represent, and they are then awarded honorary degrees. This is merely a perverted form of prostitution in which the prostitute pays and the public gets screwed. Ultimately, it would be no honour for deserving people to be lumped with such phonies.



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