By John Kelly
Alright, I will admit it. I still have a sneaking admiration for Charles J. Haughey. Maybe I am being just too "Oirish" about it. The poor guy is now labelled as being such a total sleazeball that it’s almost impossible not to feel some sympathy for him.
There seems to be a characteristic streak in the Celts that makes us tend (a) to feel sympathy for the underdog and (b) to harbor a certain admiration for the guy who does the unexpected, whatever the means, against all the impossible odds.
In short, some of us have a certain empathy with the archetypal lovable rogue, the person who tweaks a nose in the face of high society.
You will note that I have not mentioned shirts, Parisian Charvet, or otherwise. You may also remark on the fact that I have not mentioned Celtic Helicopters, once a high-flying company, now more often on the ground.
It is now clear to all that, whatever about his pedigree, Haughey certainly had a seriously flawed personality. Garret FitzGerald may have been wrong to mention the former, but was absolutely correct to draw our attention to what has become the appalling vista of the present.
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So, why have I stubbornly retained a sneaking admiration for the little guy who came to dominate the Fianna Fail party with the same steely determination as that possessed by one of his avowed political heroes, Napoleon?
It goes back to 1970, I suppose. At that time, as any freshman student of recent Irish history is aware, nationalists in Northern Ireland were attacked in pogrom after pogrom. Houses were burned and families driven from them. The British government and its army, ever ready to defend the loyalist population, seemed paralyzed. Nothing was done. Gable walls were littered with the contemptuous message, "IRA – I Ran Away!" There was a very serious danger that hundreds, if not more, could have been killed.
In the face of such attacks, many of them deliberately played down by Irish national newspapers and RTE, anxious not to foment any further violence, determined that Irish nationalists organized to defend themselves.
It was no accident that defence committees throughout the North were composed of members of the Provisional IRA. They may have had no guns to speak off. But it had not quite gone away, to paraphrase a famous statement by Gerry Adams many years later.
People like John Kelly, an IRA leader from Belfast, who had contacted the Irish Army Intelligence Officer, James Kelly, ordered to prepare intelligence reports on the ground in Northern Ireland, wanted guns. They made no bones about it.
The message from John Kelly was simple and direct. "We want guns," he declared to apprehensive southern politicians at every available opportunity.
While Irish political leaders sat on their hands, afraid to wash them in public like Pontius Pilate, some decided to take their own actions. Many like Haughey were important cabinet ministers. Haughey was in finance. He had been in justice. Of them all, although relatively young, he knew the ropes. What’s more, his father-in-law had been a leading member of the old IRA during the War of Independence and had grown to become taoiseach.
Until this crisis, one that had grown out of the success of the civil rights movement and the clear danger it posed to unionist control, successive Irish governments tended to studiously avoid the plight of northern nationalists, trapped in a colonial statelet, left behind and ignored by a former empire.
British policy towards Ireland was entirely predictable and absolutely obdurate. The northern majority was the majority. It had been planted there in the first place to ensure, for British interests, that it would remain the majority.
So long as most of the people of the North wanted to remain British, they would be guaranteed that right, irrespective of any silly semantics concerning the rights of the majority on the whole island. It suited Britain at the time. It doesn’t really matter now.
Faced with this stance, Irish governments merely paid lip service to the notion of a united Ireland. They did nothing legislatively or otherwise, to change the position.
Northern Irish nationalists, better educated than ever before, were determined not to accept the status quo. In the face of sectarian pogroms, they wanted guns, as John Kelly bluntly put it.
Haughey was an unlikely enough fellow republican. Up to then, he seemed to be determined to forge his own political career at all costs. Through his various ministries, he was careful not to be seen to wave the green flag.
But he was ambitious enough to volunteer to become a member of a sub-committee, organized in such a fashion as to ensure that no international complaints could be made against them. Neil Blaney, former minister for Local Government, a sagacious north Donegal deputy, never trusted C.J Haughey. He described him as a "dishonest man." You may not find it in a public record, but that is the truth. He certainly did not regard Haughey as a republican, and perhaps he was correct.
He also despised him because of the evidence he gave in the arms trial, evidence that tended to isolate the Kinsealy-based gentleman farmer from as much of the hard truthful details as possible.
Perhaps he was perfectly correct. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise.
So, yes, when you come right down to it, there is little rational about that vestige of regard I have for the little guy.
Yet, there are some things to be said in his favour. Most of all, even his hardest critics will admit that he knew how to get things done. When he did a job, he did it to the full.
He was never a pessimist. He believed that politicians were elected to do certain things. He did not prevaricate.
His name now brings a sneering smile to the lips of most Irish people. Jokes abound in all of the public houses and restaurants. Most are ribald. Almost all feature a certain politician’s "moll" called Terry Keane.
Even his closest friends admit that for Haughey, it is the end. To paraphrase Conor Cruise O’Brien, one of his most consistently vicious enemies, a stake is buried in his heart although he is not yet buried at the crossroads.
There can be no return for Haughey. There can be few occasions in the future when he will have to wear his expensive, status-conscious, Charvet shirts.
Everything he does and says will be regarded with the utmost suspicion.
The on-going Moriarty tribunal has marked the last hurrah for one of the most flamboyant politicians in the short history of the Republic of Ireland. Only those who love a rogue, those who hunger for a certain zest in life, will mourn his political passing.
Ireland used to be a great country for its larger than life characters.
Not any more.