Wednesday 7 December 2016

Being wooed by paranoid Haughey and his 'thugs'

Politics: On the Doorsteps: Memoirs of a Long-Serving TD, John O'Leary, Irish Political Memoirs, hdbk, €20 Gerry O'Regan on

Gerry O'Regan

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

Fear and unease: John O'Leary (left) was never included in Haughey's inner circle.
Fear and unease: John O'Leary (left) was never included in Haughey's inner circle.
On the Doorsteps by John O'Leary

A highly readable memoir by ­former TD John O'Leary which settles a few scores along the way.

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He doggedly hung on to his Dáil seat for three decades and more, fighting enemies from within and without and coping with the sudden death of his beloved wife.

John O'Leary, who served as a ​Fianna Fáil TD ​for Kerry South, finally ​hung up his political spurs back in 1997.

Now, in a highly readable memoir, he traverses through the years, recalling some good and not so good times, and settling a few old scores along the way.

Through the mist of retrospection he is honest about some of his regrets. The father of seven sons says he now wishes he had spent more time with them when they were younger.

But the life of the long-distance rural TD has never been an easy one for those who hanker after conventional family life. Countless nights had to be spent away from home as part of a twilight world in Dublin hotels.

A Dáil Deputy could never be too far away from the never-ending drama centre which is Leinster House.

All politics as we know is local and some readers may find there is too much minutia in what is still a highly readable memoir.

L​ooking back from the luxuriant distance of his golden years, the author feels little need to pull his punches when giving us his take on some of the political heavy hitters he encountered along the way.

Charles Haughey comes in for some harsh jibes. The passing of so much time has not dimmed the emotions that can still be stirred, when O'Leary recalls rumbustious days of so-called heave and counter heave, as fierce leadership battles tore the party apart.

Haughey is portrayed as​ "vindictive'' and "paranoid'', ​surrounding himself with "thugs''. He "promoted second raters'' if convinced of their loyalty.

He is also accused of being hypocritical in his opposition to the 1986 divorce referendum - given the exotic nature of his own private life.

But as has been recounted many times, the former Taoiseach made a point of trying to woo even the most nondescript party backbencher on the grounds they just might be of use to him in some situation or other.

Such was the case when he invited an underwhelmed O'Leary to visit his Blasket Island fastness of Inishvickillane.

"He produced a bottle of some special wine,'' recalls O'Leary.​

The author is also candid about the fear and unease which stalked many Fianna Fáil deputies who knew they were outside the Haughey inner circle​.

"I never spoke at cumann meetings because I knew it would go back to him in Dublin.

"He had his own supporters in every corner of the country - he had them in Kerry South too.

"He was always worried that people were plotting against him.''

In sharp contrast, O'Leary has strong personal regard for Paddy Hillery, a government minister who went on to become President.

He was a kind of mentor to him, and in his early years in the Dáil he would bring the neophyte Kerry TD​ to dinner, in the ultra-swish ​St Stephen's Green Gentleman's Club.​

O'Leary writes wistfully of the modest-sized farm where he grew up, which would subsequently shape much of his thinking; the rhythm of the seasons providing their own backdrop such as haymaking and turf cutting in summer days, with lots of G​aelic football to be played all year round.​

He expected - and would have liked to have taken over the family farm - but his father decided in favour of his brother.

However, this disappointment was eased when he got a "good job'' on the clerical staff of Kerry County Council.

In time, chance and circumstance - helped in no small way by his knowledge of matters such as rural planning regulations because of his council work - would propel him into Fianna Fáil and an eventual Dáil seat. A riveting part of his story recounts how the former FF heavyweight and government minister, Neil Blaney, swept into South Kerry to oversee ruthless machine politics.

Nothing was left to chance in the battle to get the young O'Leary elected.

Among the many anecdotes and asides in the book is the author musing how in later years he could not stop himself​ from attending the Bloody Sunday funerals in 1972. This was much to the annoyance of party leader Jack Lynch.

However, he was subsequently supportive of the introduction of non-jury courts to try those suspected of paramilitary activities south of the border.​

He writes movingly about the death of his wife as a result of a brain haemorrhage at age 58.

"Judy's passing left a huge void in my life; to come home into an empty house in the evening after a busy day, and to rattle up a bit to eat for myself,​ was lonesome,'' he recalls.

Hopes his son might succeed him in the Dáil came to nought, because by then the Jackie Healy-Rae juggernaut was unstoppable.

There is a lyrical tone in parts of the book - as is the case with many retired politicians who ponder their legacy.

But his final sentence might be as good a wrap-up as any, when he writes:

"I hope the good I did will live after me and any mistakes will be buried with my bones.''

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