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Tighten your belts, high-living Charlie told electorate

IT was against a plain blue screen that then Taoiseach Charles Haughey leaned forward to deliver his 10-minute 'State of the Nation' television address to the people.

As he lowered himself down to face the RTE camera on January 9, 1980, the country was in an economic morass.

Job creation was well off target, the economic growth rate only a third of that forecast, more than a million workdays had been lost in 1979 through major industrial disputes and the highest trade deficit in the history of the State at IR£760m had been recorded.

It was after a tense weekend ensconced behind closed doors with his cabinet at Barretstown Castle, Co Kildare, that he emerged to make the fifth State of the Nation address. It was a 10-minute speech that was later to become infamous.

"I wish to talk to you this evening about the state of the nation's affairs and the picture I have to paint is not, unfortunately, a very cheerful one.


"The figures which are just now becoming available to us show one thing very clearly. As a community, we are living away beyond our means," he began in solemn tones as he painted a bleak economic picture.

His main message was for industrial peace.

He called on every citizen to help eliminate what he described as the humiliating and destructive chain of strikes, disputes and stoppages.

He detailed the enormous amounts of money being borrowed, which with income from taxes and other sources, was falling around IR£520m short of the running costs of the State.

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Current and capital borrowing stood at over IR£1bn a year and the trade deficit was IR£760m.

Haughey made it abundantly clear that the country was living at too high a standard -- he said that the nation was living beyond its means.

It was this phrase that remained in the minds of the people.

Decades later, it is the most oft-quoted part of his lengthy speech, gaining added significance as it emerged he was advocating belt-tightening and heralding a hairshirt Budget as he continued to live like a king, enjoying fine dining and favouring the Parisian-tailored Charvet shirts.

The following day the Irish Independent reported that both opposition parties attacked the speech for what it left out rather than what it contained.

Then opposition Fine Gael leader Garrett FitzGerald said the economic difficulties Mr Haughey had highlighted were the direct responsibility of the government -- after he had taken over from Jack Lynch as Taoiseach.

Labour claimed that the primary purpose of the broadcast was to convey the impression that the Taoiseach bore no responsibility for the economic condition.

Many within the Fianna Fail party had taken enormous encouragement from the television address.

It was only in the following years that the full political ramifications of Mr Haughey's infamous speech were to go down in folklore.

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