Wednesday 21 February 2018

As AG dined with US ambassador Haughey rang to discuss election

FASCINATION: Charles Haughey
FASCINATION: Charles Haughey

When the late Charles Haughey mused that “some Chinese leaders go on into their eighties,” his critics took it as one more sign of his extraordinary sense of political entitlement.

But the former Taoiseach’s quip seems to have had some basis in reality, judging by the dispatches being sent from the US embassy to Washington in 1989

In a confidential cable sent in March that year and titled ‘The Irish political scene: The meaning of the Progressive Democrats’, American diplomats described how Haughey and his governing party, Fianna Fail continued to “ride high in the polls”.

Haughey’s personal popularity had risen 5 points to 67pc while support for Fianna Fail had risen three points to 54pc the memo noted.

This support had come, embassy officials said from the government’s handling of the budget and specifically its “implementing of public spending cuts to bring public debt under control”.

“Though there is extensive press coverage of the downside of the public spending cuts, particularly in health services, far more Irish were concerned about the price rises in gasoline and cigarettes,” the cable noted.

Turning to the adverse impact of Fianna Fail’s increased popularity on the Progressive Democrats, they said: “The political pundits are already gathering at the Progressive Democrats’ grave.”

The two-hour stopover at Shannon of the then General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s communist party, Mikhail Gorbachev on route to Cuba in April 1989 was billed in a cable by US embassy officials as a ‘Soviet Irish summit’.

According to their cabled report of the meeting: “it was a solid victory for the Gorbachev charm offensive as the Irish let themselves be convinced that they have a role to play in the democratic evolution of the Soviet Union”.

Media coverage of the event was positive from beginning to end they said.

“Even the elderly pastor of the local parish found it impossible to recall the days when the sight of the red flag flying on Irish soil would have given the hierarchy apoplexy,” their cable said.  

A full account of the talks between Haughey and Gorbachev was relayed to the US State Department and was based on what the US State Department described as a “senior source” in Mr Haughey’s office.

In May 1989, a cable to Washington DC said that “after months of downplaying the idea of a snap election, governing party circles have begun to talk as though prime minister Haughey could well go to the country sooner rather than later.”

The speculation had come off the back of the defeat in the Dail on a Labour party proposal on aid to haemophiliacs infected with the HIV virus. Commenting on this, embassy officials said: “The defeat was expected and all our sources beforehand, including the Government’s chief whip indicated the government would simply disregard the vote.”

In a further note, they said: “Irish attorney general John Murray dined with ambassador Heckler the night of Haughey’s return. Three times he was called to the phone by the prime minister’s office to discuss the possibility of going to the country. Murray told the ambassador there is “overwhelming sentiment” in the Cabinet to go to the polls quickly. Murray believes Haughey will call a snap election within the next few weeks”.

The cable correctly predicted a June 15 election to correspond with the European elections.

Sunday Independent

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