Eamon Delaney: Charlie Haughey, a sterling windfall and the republican legacy
Published 10/10/2013 | 05:00
The claim by Eamon Dunphy that Charlie Haughey, and his friends, benefited from a tip-off about the devaluation of sterling in 1967 comes as no surprise. It was long a rumour in Dublin, but it is a credit to Dunphy that he has put it on the record, and quoted an anonymous but credible source, close to Haughey himself. And while this might seem like a tale to sell copies of his new book, it is actually a serious allegation which reveals much about the changing political culture of the 1960s and the legacy of tolerated dodginess that led to some of the serious corruption of recent years, especially under Fianna Fail.
Dunphy reveals how Haughey apparently made a windfall from his advance knowledge of the sterling devaluation, and was thus able to buy his impressive Abbeville mansion soon afterwards. The source told Dunphy that the devaluation was Charlie's first big "touch".
"The Irish pound was linked to sterling, so when Harold Wilson's government decided to devalue on November 18, 1967, the Irish government was given 24 hours' notice." As Minister for Finance, Haughey passed the information on to a small group of wealthy Irish businessmen, who made a fortune on the currency markets.
More importantly, many of these same people undoubtedly looked after Haughey himself years later when, apparently because of his lavish lifestyle, Haughey seemed to be constantly in need of money, dig-outs and backhanders. After all, despite all the money Haughey made, or was gifted, he still ended up with a IR£1.4m overdraft with AIB, an astonishing amount of money in the cash-strapped Ireland of 1987. There had to be a lot of Ben Dunnes around to see him through the subsequent years.
As Dunphy writes, in scenes worthy of Mario Puzo, the sterling benefactors "looked after" the Man of Destiny who'd tipped them off and a year later, with the heat off, Charlie moved from his ordinary semi-D in the modest suburb of Raheny into the palatial James Gandon-designed mansion of Abbeville in north Co Dublin, with its Georgian ballroom, chestnut trees and horse paddocks.
Haughey's turn of fortune "was known around the town" but no one said anything, writes Dunphy. And wasn't that always the way with Haughey: everyone spoke about his finances, his corruption and his sexual affairs at dinner parties and in pubs. But no one said it publicly. And as for the press reporting it, this collusion has since been referred to as "the Vichy regime of Irish journalism". Ouch.
And if the press wouldn't touch it, the regulatory authorities certainly wouldn't. As Dunphy writes damningly, "a vigilant police authority or Revenue investigator might have made an attempt to follow Charlie's money trail, but this was Ireland, the Land of Saints and Scholars, the fiefdom of the Soldiers of Destiny, whose founding father, the thief, Eamon de Valera, was still president and head of State".
This is strong stuff. Dunphy is referring here to monies raised in the US to publish the 'Irish Press' newspaper, and if he is being overly harsh on the sandal-wearing Dev, his general charge about establishment Ireland's blind eye is very valid.
For, along with the fear about questioning Haughey's wealth, there also went a tolerance and even admiration. It was the 'ye boy ye' cute-hoorism and the 'fat chieftain' syndrome, which especially appealed to the Irish post-colonial mentality. If he can do it for himself, he can do it for us, thought the electoral mob. But then when Haughey got found out – by lawyers – the mob abandoned him and turned on him, as mobs do.
But this public indulgence of stroke politics endured. Fast-forward to the bigger boom of the Celtic Tiger. As the 2007 election got under way, major revelations broke about Bertie Ahern's finances, but he got elected anyway.
So maybe in tandem with all that high-minded republicanism, there was always a streak of 'on the make' in modern Ireland. For here's the thing: the famous devaluation of 1967 took place on the very weekend of the unveiling of a statue of the original Irish republican, Wolfe Tone in St Stephens Green, sculpted by my father.
We even attended as kids, in what was a real crossover 1960s moment with 1916 veterans lined up with their medals next to students in long scarves and mini-skirts.
The photos are most revealing. The elderly President de Valera is unveiling the statue, while a smiling Haughey looks on ambitiously. Ireland was changing, and more than the transformation of a country was afoot.