Extracts from new Lenihan book: 'Venal' Haughey cashed in on the country's economic success
Revelations contained in an explosive new book on Haughey's political career, 'Haughey- Prince of Power', written by Lenihan's son, former Fianna Fail TD and Minister of State Conor Lenihan.
Published 10/11/2015 | 02:30
Brian Lenihan Snr was famously sacked as Tánaiste and Minister for Defence by his friend and ally Charles Haughey over the infamous Jim Duffy tapes when he was a candidate during the 1990 Presidential election campaign. Whilst publicly Lenihan insisted he continued to have a professional relationship with Haughey, privately he held the view that Haughey had become "very venal" and was on the take.
Over the years my father had always taken the view that it was good to be helpful to those doing doctoral or other types of academic theses on issues relating to his role in public life. One such researcher from UCD called Jim Duffy made a request and my father obliged with an interview in May of 1990.
Amongst other things Duffy wanted to know a little more about the events of 1982 when, on the occasion of the fall of Garret FitzGerald's government, Haughey had wanted to remind the then-President, Patrick Hillery, that it was possible not to have an election and wished to seek to establish if he could form a government without an election.
One casual claim, made by my father, was to come back to haunt him during his own presidential campaign and cost him the Presidency. What my father told Duffy was unusual, in that he not only confirmed he made phone calls to President Hillery back in 1982, but that he had actually spoken to the President.
Duffy used the interview material he had gathered from my father. He told Fine Gael activists and friends about the contents of the interview. During the election campaign itself, when confronted on the issue, my father simply denied on television that he had made any of the phone calls.
The issue became a huge public controversy. My father had denied making the calls but then Jim Duffy was persuaded by 'The Irish Times' to play his taped interview to a press pack who were jumping all over the issue.
My father had been on heavy medication at the time of giving the interview to Duffy. The medication was to prevent his body from rejecting his new liver. In the context of the campaign, he felt it would only worsen things for him if he introduced that key fact. The media at this stage were ready for a full pack hunt and the issue of his health would only add further controversy to a difficult campaign.
Haughey was now in a very difficult situation, as was of course, my father. Haughey had been the one to initiate the attempted contacts with President Hillery and he did not want to be drawn into the maelstrom of controversy. His coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, though ostensibly neutral in the Presidential Election, were hopping up and down indicating their unhappiness.
Prior to sacking my father, Haughey had put in place relentless behind-the-scenes pressure to get my father to resign. Haughey was living in fear of an election and afraid to face down the Progressive Democrats who were urging him to get my father to resign.
Meanwhile, my father formed the view, on advice from family and friends, that to resign would render his prospects in the Presidential Election impossible.
My father continued with his campaign. He was then summoned to Kinsealy to meet Haughey, where we duly arrived by helicopter. He went in to speak with him while his campaign road manager Michael Dawson, my brother and I waited in an adjacent room.
Haughey told my father that he should resign as it would be good for his campaign and that Des O'Malley would congratulate him on his decision. This latter element seemed to us ridiculous. My father asked us what we thought. Dawson said resignation would sink the campaign. We all agreed with him.
We took to the helicopter again and resumed campaigning in the Midlands. Haughey had handed my father a draft letter of resignation that was pathetic. The tone of it read like a political suicide note. It was designed to take all blame for the Hillery affair away from Haughey. The opposition had a 'no confidence' motion ready to be debated in the Dáil the next day, a deadline that Haughey and the PDs were working against. Still on the campaign trail, my mother read the would-be resignation letter at the back of the campaign bus. Having read it once, she tore it to pieces, telling my father we would have no more to do with that.
Meanwhile, the pressure from Haughey was redoubling by the hour.
My father spent the hours before the vote in the home of a friend in Rathgar. A family friend came to the house and asked that we meet with Des O'Malley. My father was not inclined to do that. Over the phone, he confirmed to the Taoiseach that he was not going to resign.
Shortly afterwards, two army motorcycle riders arrived out to the house, one with a letter in his leather dispatch bag which he handed to my father. It was a letter from the Taoiseach terminating his appointment as Tánaiste and Minister for Defence.
My father drove to Leinster House to vote confidence in the Government. There was a strange atmosphere in Leinster House. Few could believe that my father had actually been sacked.
My father met Haughey after the Dáil vote and Haughey tried to mollify him. My father, for his part, was matter-of-fact in his replies. There was a discernible parting of the ways. My father then went to face the media at a press conference. He then pushed on with his presidential campaign.
The reaction to my father's dismissal was extraordinary. It was as if by facing down Haughey in his request for his resignation, my father had mobilised the whole country. He was mobbed on the campaign trail.
Into this tinderbox of public excitement stepped Pádraig Flynn. The comments by Flynn were deemed to have been offensive to women generally and not just Mary Robinson.
After the election was over, my father insisted that his friendship with Haughey had been on a professional level. But at home he did become a little more frank about him. He did confide in me that one of the reasons he had chosen to stand for the Presidency was to exit from Haughey's government. He told me that he had seen things that made him wary of being in the government.
Haughey, he told me, had become "very venal" in this his last period as Taoiseach. It was clear to him that Haughey was now cashing in on the success he had made of the economy. My father suspected that there was a considerable amount of money being pocketed by Haughey for his own ends. My father's instinct was that in these, Haughey's final years in office, discretion had been thrown to the four winds.
My father would pass away before the truth about Haughey's finances came flooding into the public gaze.