Category: Archive

Dublin Report Haughey, and his contradictions, back in limelight

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Love him or hate him, there are no half measures when it comes to Charles Haughey. Two weeks ago, after his first appearance at Dublin Castle, he waved a limp hand as he drove away in his State Mercedes, a pale shadow of the dynamic leader he used to be.

In the witness box on that first day, he was hesitant and faltering. He even had to be assisted in opening a file.

Last week, as the crowds grew in number, he waxed stronger with their attention. The old Haughey was back — and back in force.

Once more, he is at center stage in the life of this "great little nation."

That is how his late bank manager, Michael Phelan of AIB, described Ireland when he wrote a personal letter to Haughey in 1979 after the man who had spent almost all of the decade in the political wilderness, became taoiseach.

Follow us on social media

Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo

He said he had the utmost confidence in Haughey’s ability to restore confidence to the nation.

It is an indication of just how maddeningly paradoxical is Haughey.

On one hand, he is the epitome of politeness, listens intently and is impeccably groomed. On the other, he can fly into a sudden temper and use the English language so vulgarly as to make a Moore Street trader blush.

Haughey owed AIB no less than £1.2 million. Yet the manager whose colleagues in the top echelons of AIB had requested the surrender of the taoiseach’s checkbook ended up congratulating him on his election.

Not alone that, but he voiced absolute confidence in his ability to restore confidence in the "great little nation." How is that for contrast and paradox? The man who admitted he was in a financial crisis in his dealings with the bank was now put in charge of "Ireland Inc."

Even more quixotic was the fact that the same man had been virtually sacked from the Fianna Fail party by the late Jack Lynch. In 1972 he was on trial for his complicity in a plot to import arms illegally for the use of republican "defense committees" in Northern Ireland.

Members of the Provisional IRA managed those committees, almost totally. Haughey and his co-defendants were acquitted. But he was consigned to the political wilderness as he described it to the Moriarty Tribunal last week.

Haughey was determined to claw his way back. He toured the country incessantly, visiting Fianna Fail constituencies at chicken dinner after chicken dinner. He kept his name in the news with the aid of some loyal close friends and supporters.

They wanted to see Haughey back in the fast lane because they reckoned that, at the very least, he would be good for their business.

Notwithstanding his opposition to the enormously popular Jack Lynch and despite formidable opposition from many in the party’s top ranks, including the late George Colley, he astoundingly did manage to claw his way back, ending up in the taoiseach’s hot seat in 1979.

By any standards, it was a phenomenal achievement. Even while he was trying to resurrect his political career, Haughey continued to manage — or mismanage — his impressive farm in Kinsealy, near Malahide in north county Dublin. He had become mainly involved in breeding bloodstock, a notoriously uncertain and expensive business.

Apart from the business of buying and selling, he had to pay staff. The debts mounted. His bank overdraft went into a steep upward spiral.

Time after time AIB, officials called him in to crisis meetings. At one such meeting it was claimed in an internal memo that he became "vicious" when he was asked to surrender his checkbook.

Into the picture, as Haughey came closer to achieving his ambition to become taoiseach, came the late Des Traynor.

Traynor took on the role of becoming his financial advisor. He was useful to the family as well. Both of the young Haugheys, Conor and Ciaran, became involved in business. Conor set up a mining company, Feltrim Ltd. Ciaran set up Ireland’s first regular helicopter service with John Barnicle, an Irish-American who had served with the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam.

Traynor, a quiet, unobtrusive man who shunned the social circuit, ignoring all of the excessive blandishments of the growing nouveau rich, was nevertheless respected and known by all. He persuaded businessmen to invest in Celtic Helicopters.

Even more important, he encouraged the wealthy to rally to the aid of the impoverished taoiseach. The selected members of the Golden Circle obliged. Department store tycoon Ben Dunne was so impressed with Haughey and so miffed that a taoiseach should be threatened by financial difficulties that he visited Kinsealy to hand him no less than a million.

He made several other large contributions. He once presented a check for £20,000 but told the tribunal that he could not remember making the gift. Neither did he know what it was for. In fact, strange as it may seem, none of the people who gave money to the Haugheys, either in the form of loans’ gifts or investments, seem to have received anything in return, if you believe them.

That is what the Moriarty Tribunal is all about. Its remit is to discover whether political favors were granted in return for hard cash. So far, it has gotten nowhere in this respect.

All of the wealthy people who contributed more than £8.5 million to Haughey during a 15-year period, have denied doing so in return for any favors. As they tell it, their motivation was purely charitable.

The cash enabled the taoiseach to reach a final settlement with AIB. The £1.2 million debt was settled for the payment of £750,000. A further £110,000 was regarded as being a "debt of honor."

To date, it has not been repaid.

Haughey dismissed it at the tribunal saying that it had not been dishonored. It was still a debt. But the bank, from the day of the final settlement to this, had never approached him about it. Quite frankly, he claimed, in typically imperious fashion, he had simply forgotten all about it.

The Irish public eat it up. When Haughey arrived for his first appearance, a tiny crowd greeted him, including protesting young socialists, who threw coins before his official car. When the tribunal closed its final sitting last Thursday until its September resumption, a large, good-humored crowd surrounded him.

Whether he is the darling or the devil, he is prominently back in the limelight. He seems to revel in it.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese