Wednesday 22 May 2019

Political chameleon is bound to give upper house some colour

Senan Molony

EOGHAN Harris is a political chameleon who has changed his colours frequently while nailing each new set of them firmly to the mast.

Fiercely passionate, Harris stands as the perfect columnist contrarian. A catalyst for controversy, he sparked much of it when he infamously described President McAleese as a "tribal time bomb" on her election.

The bile visited in his direction in response was especially strong because of his own extreme past.

Born in Cork more than 60 years ago, Harris came into his own at UCC, where he was described last night as "a Republican of almost cartoon character dimensions".

Said a source: "He was a corporal in the FCA and he forced his men on long route marches around West Cork. Every Easter he would wear a green suit, bright white shirt and orange tie.

"He made great public speeches about Tone, Pearse and Emmet - and has spent the rest of his life trying to scrub himself clean."

Harris always regarded himself as an intellectual in Sinn Fein, and when that party split it was no surprise that he should go with the Officials, known as the 'Stickies', rather than with the Provos engaged at the coal-face of conflict.

Recalled also last night as "Cathal Goulding's brain", Harris veered more into Stalinist ideology as the 'Stickies' developed close links to Moscow.

As a producer at RTE, he quickly became a force behind leading current affairs programmes such as 'Seven Days' and 'Feach', where he put his Irish language skills to good use.

A sudden increase in the number of apparent 'Stickie' sympathisers at RTE - dubbed by some as the "brood of Harris" - led to some alarm in mainstream political circles in the late 1970s.

It was believed, certainly within Fianna Fail, that Marxists were deliberately infiltrating the media to further their own political objectives.

A prolific writer, Harris continued to churn out political articles and pamphlets all the while, but also found time to write a play called 'Souper Sullivan' which was performed at the Abbey in 1987.

Revelling in his position as an ideologue in the Marxist tradition, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 - and thereafter the almost global eradication of Communism as a ruling political force - is seen as providing him with his Damascene conversion.

Harris split from the Workers Party/Democratic Left and went on to provide consultancy for the Labour party.

He played a key role in the mould-breaking election of Mary Robinson, "although not as great as he would subsequently claim", an associate recalled.

He then took a role with Fine Gael, his one-time political arch enemies, as an adviser to John Bruton.

It was Harris who provided the disastrous sketches for Twink that bombed at an FG Ard Fheis and led to accusations of sexism, crudity and the arch-crime of unfunniness.

The polemicist became ensconced in the Sunday Independent as a columnist, after a stint with the Sunday Times.

His long political journey also took him into the arms of David Trimble for whom he was an adviser for a short time.

Also a lecturer and screenwriter, Harris had hopes that his Michael Collins screenplay would become a Hollywood blockbuster but Neil Jordan wrote his own movie.

Harris backed the PDs for a time before eventually realising that Bertie Ahern had been the Messiah all along. In recent times he has written much in support of Fianna Fail, whom he claims to have known for nigh on four decades.

Harris's only consistency is said to be his unpredictability.

"The only certainty is that always turns on you in the end," said a former political associate.

Bertie will be hoping that won't be for some time yet.

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