By John Kelly
Charles J. Haughey continues to be hoisted on the petard of his own personal extravagance. He again crashes through the newspaper headlines like a stricken ship on the rocks of misery.
Still, he seems eager and confident enough to smile through the continuing disaster. And not alone does he smile, but so does his son Ciaran, co-owner of Celtic Helicopters along with U.S. Vietnam War veteran John Barnicle.
When Ciaran Haughey made his last appearance at the Moriarty tribunal, which is examining minute details of Charlie Haughey’s financial dealings and their spillover into Celtic Helicopters, he sat and smiled with his lawyers like a man out for a drink.
Similarly, when his father made his appearance at the Four Courts to hear the fixing of his trial on a charge of obstructing the McCracken Tribunal, he smiled like a politician still on the campaign trail, and even hurled a wave in the direction of photographers.
Is he defiant on his way to the gallows? Or is he sure that he is going to find an escape route?
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Soon now, he will have to make his appearance at the Moriarty tribunal, an appearance that may extend into long and arduous weeks, perhaps months, of evidence.
Next March, he stands for trial on the charge of obstruction. Even as he faces massive legal bills, perhaps even exceeding the value of his remaining property in Kinsealy, north Co. Dublin, he is also under the close scrutiny of eagle-eyed tax inspectors.
In particular, they have something to prove. They have endured public and private criticism arising from other investigations into the affairs of public representatives and the Irish banks. They are out to prove that they are competent and that no one is above the law.
As one lawyer remarked to me recently, there is a new, vengeful spirit in Ireland. The public wants somebody nailed. Already, the popular British-owned Sunday Times has unequivocally labeled Haughey one of the most corrupt leaders in western Europe.
When he attended the recent funeral of the late Jack Lynch in Cork, some mourners heaped insults on him.
There are some that say that he showed the biggest brass neck in politics through his attendance. After all, they will claim, he was the man who connived most to force Lynch to resign his leadership. He was also one of the men who gave the famed Cork athlete his worst time in politics through his involvement in the 1970 arms shipment.
Nothing but ever surprising, he is also the man who said after the announcement of Lynch’s death that his former leader had no choice at the time but to fire him, as indeed he did, along with the late Neil Blaney of Donegal.
It is still possible that a sizable number will forgive Haughey for many of his proven transgressions. Even the recollection of the £15,000-plus expenditure on the infamous Charvet shirts will fade in time.
This will not be the case if it is established that there was any misuse of the funds for the treatment of the late Brian Lenihan, the former tanaiste and failed presidential candidate who underwent a life-saving liver transplant in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 1989.
Those funds have already occupied a great deal of time at the Moriarty tribunal. It seems that it has not yet established the truth.
Last week, Ann Lenihan, Brian’s widow, poured oil on the fire when she disclosed that she had been handed a personal donation of £200 on behalf of Haughey just before her husband and she flew on a private jet to the U.S.
She also astounded the listeners when she described the donation as being "generous."
Indeed, it does seem to have been an extraordinary description, especially when one takes into account the fact that the "disgraced" taoiseach later went on to spend more than £15,000 on his Charvet shirts.
What the public and some of the media seemed to ignore was that Haughey had also organized a fund-raising drive through one of his chief fund-raisers, the late Peter Hanly, aided by Paul Kavanagh, to pay the cost of the operation and subsequent treatment.
The question now facing the tribunal is what was done with that money.
Ann Lenihan never discussed who the donors were with her late husband. Although he attempted to find out, it seems that he never did. We know, from the evidence already given, that two were the beef baron Larry Goodman, and Edmund Farrell, former managing director of the Irish Permanent Building Society.
Goodman gave £25,000 and Farrell £20,000.
In one of his few public statements, Haughey confessed that the IPBS £20,000 went into the coffers of Celtic Helicopters. He claimed that this was "inadvertent."
But where did the rest go?
Kavanagh claimed that he did not reach his target figure of £150,000. Yet, Haughey’s personal administrative secretary at that time, Eileen Foy, testified that she reckoned the fund had exceeded £200,000. The operation cost just over £82,000.
So, where did the rest of the cash go?
On the answer to that rests a great deal of Haughey’s future reputation.
He can survive the personal revelations publicized by his former mistress, Terry Keane. He may even overcome the memory of those infamous shirts, But his name will be dirt if it is established, even in the least, that he misappropriated any of that money.
Does it really matter?
Unfortunately, it does. The turnout at last week’s by-election in Dublin was the lowest ever recorded. Allowing for the fact that the south central city is where many residents are not native to the area, this marks something of a watershed in Irish political involvement.
Even though it was a by-election where turnouts are usually low, it reveals a new depth of disdain for Irish politicians. A lot of this has to do with the frequently astounding revelations that have been made at the various inquiries that have dominated the country’s headlines.
It is not good for politicians. Neither is it good for the country, especially when political involvement is of central importance to the future of Northern Ireland.
Ironically enough, it may be the development of such cross-border politics that could yet reinvigorate the traditional interest in political affairs that has always been a national Irish characteristic.
The Moriarty tribunal carries a great deal of responsibility in its wake.