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Praise Haughey, says Toibin (but tell no one)

Writers and artists should be raising a secret glass to the disgraced Taoiseach Charles J Haughey, writer Colm Toibin said after he was awarded the 2010 Irish PEN Award for Contribution to Irish Literature.

"This month is the 30th anniversary of one of the most enlightened schemes of state recognition and state support for artists anywhere in the world. Aosdana was put in place by the Arts Council, the brainchild of Anthony Cronin, who was cultural adviser to Charles Haughey," Toibin said.

"Since it is not fashionable, or even wise, nowadays to raise a glass to Charles Haughey, I will follow Anthony Cronin in suggesting that those of us who have cause to be grateful to him, and to his policies, should wait until we are at home alone, and then we should turn off all the lights and raise a glass to him in the dark alone. Tell no one."

In his speech at the awards dinner, Toibin said: "In this dark time for the economy and for anyone who is vulnerable in Ireland, it is worth remembering that some things improved and stayed that way, and one was the freedom offered to the book, to the written word, to opinion and expression, not there 50 years ago, and hardly threatened now.

"Our freedom of expression, the due regard given to books and the written word in this country, is something we can, then, be grateful for.

"It might be a comfort in what will be not only a hard time, but a time of strange introspection in Ireland, when we are deeply concerned with our own dilemma, the puzzling question of how we got here, and who is to blame, and who should pay for the party it seems some people had," the author added.

Toibin said that there are many places today where such freedom is not available, where writers are silenced, books are banned, writers are even imprisoned, where there is no freedom of expression. In those societies, support from the outside world matters enormously.

The PEN organisation of writers is active in 90 countries and works for freedom of expression everywhere.

Sunday Independent