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Books: Media man of mystery unveils some of the real Ivan


Public man of mystery: Ivan Yates with his wife Deirdre. Photo: PJ Browne

Public man of mystery: Ivan Yates with his wife Deirdre. Photo: PJ Browne

The cover of Full On: A Memore by Ivan Yates.

The cover of Full On: A Memore by Ivan Yates.


Public man of mystery: Ivan Yates with his wife Deirdre. Photo: PJ Browne

The title of Ivan Yates memoir may be Full On, but, whilst it is one of the better recent Irish political memoirs not everything is laid bare.

Like all politicians, even of the retired variety, Ivan teases us with promises of great revelations about the loss of his virginity and the familial difficulties his short brush with infidelity led to.

However, though we know something more of the real Ivan by the close of Full On, he continues to be a public media man of mystery.

Of course, most readers, will claim they are purchasing Full On for the politics rather than the sex.

In that regard, unlike most biographical subjects, the most intriguing story attached to Ivan is what he did not do.

Few people stand out in Leinster House as being a racing certainty for the Taoiseach's office.

But, back in 1995, those who watched Ivan play with Fianna Fail's great white hope, Brian Cowen, in the manner of a cat patting a ball of, admittedly querulous, wool, it seemed as though he was a cert for that office.

Instead, famously he decided the path of being a celebrity bookie rather than the leader of Fine Gael, held more attractions.

Many might subsequently think Yates would have been better sticking to his political knitting.

This subtle memoir, though indicates that for all the lows that were to follow, getting out of politics was the best thing to ever happen Yates. And, he knows it too.

It is not just that, outside of his family, the only human activity that secured the full love of this very private public man was the secret culture of horse racing.

Even in his prime, something about Ivan suggests he might have struggled to win the prize. Politicians are creatures of the pack, but, for all his public bonhomie, a chill surrounded Ivan.

It is not precisely that he was a cold individual, for as Full On, indicates he is acutely aware of the sensitivities of others.

But there was, even at his peak, a sense of some hidden wound.

Some of the sources of this element of his persona are unveiled in Full On.

A delicacy of sentiment, not often revealed by his public persona, is unveiled in the sections dealing with a father who, like many another of his generation, only showed his true feelings at the point of an early death when he cried over the years he would not spend with his son.

Yates speaks for many lost generations with his modest observation that 'our linked lives like the lives of too many fathers and sons, were threaded through with misunderstanding longing and failure.'

The horrors of boarding school are also unveiled in a manner which reveals that the abuse of children is not just sexual.

His unveiling of the tricks of the Irish political game is entertaining and frightening in equal measure.

In fairness, to Yates, he is unsparing about his own vices and entertaining about strokes, like the time Yates got out of trouble by leaking a story on greyhound doping to the Sunday Independent and then setting up an immediate inquiry into who had leaked the story.

It is a familiar tale and unsurprisingly the inquiry did not thrive.

The tales of deals done with bureaucrats to burnish the Minister's career are also familiar whilst the pen portraits of figures such as Phil Hogan and Michael Noonan are acute, and in some cases sharply critical.

Intriguingly, though he shared an office with Enda Kenny during the boon companion era of Fine Gael, recollections are thin on the ground about whatever exploits the lads might have enjoyed.

We may be dealing with a reformed Ivan but some of the old cute hoor instincts survive.

However, despite the polish, energy and ambition, the Yates that emerges from this memoir would never have fundamentally reformed the state.

It is not just that the tales of his destruction by AIB indicate he was as guileless in his dealings with the banks as the rest of our much condemned officer class.

Yates, with typical honesty admits he had become 'so professional, pragmatic and adept as a politician that I only believed in my own career'.

Ironically, the new Ivan, who has lost as well as won, might now make a far better Taoiseach.

Sadly, like so many other things about the un-knowable Mr Yates, that is something we shall never know.

Sunday Independent