Monday 19 August 2019

It's now time to defend Charlie Haughey

Should we make a drama called 'Enda', passing off political soap opera as the truth?

Charlie Haughey
Charlie Haughey
Charlie Haughey and Dr, Garret FitzGerald shake hands befored an RTE TV Seven Days programme in centre is presenter Brian Farrell
Charlie Haughey with Fianna Fail deputies and PJ Mara (left) make their to the press conference in Government Buildings following his election as Fianna Fail leader in 1979
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

It's necessary, first of all, to make the point that Charlie Haughey perjured himself and stole money. And to acknowledge that it's easy to make such charges against a dead man - he can't sue.

But this newspaper made those charges when Haughey was alive and had some very expensive lawyers on his payroll. If he had sued us the evidence was available, and would have stood up in court.

It's necessary to make that point, because we wouldn't want anyone to think we've gone soft on the old bastard. Yet, such is the level of nonsense now being spouted about politics that it's necessary to defend Haughey.

On a personal level, the earlier Haughey was a moderniser, who did much useful work in the 60s. The later Haughey was an egotistical kleptomaniac.

Politically, he was a right wing nationalist - a position he shared with most of his Oireachtas contemporaries. Those personal qualities led to immoral acts for personal gain. He was part of a major white collar crime that involved large numbers of the well-off: business people, professionals, farmers, bankers and others. They used complex criminal schemes to defraud the state of hundreds of millions of pounds.

This was, by definition, a major organised crime, more extensive, lucrative and damaging to society than most other crime.

Actor Aiden Gillen as former Taoiseach Chariles Haughey in the RTE drama 'Charlie'
Actor Aiden Gillen as former Taoiseach Chariles Haughey in the RTE drama 'Charlie'
Charlie Haughey at his home Abbeville
Charlie Haughey and Dr, Garret FitzGerald shake hands befored an RTE TV Seven Days programme in centre is presenter Brian Farrell. Photo: Tom Burke
Charlie Haughey with Fianna Fail deputies and PJ Mara (left) make their to the press conference in Government Buildings following his election as Fianna Fail leader in 1979 . Photo: Tom Burke
Haughey family at dinner. From left: Kieran, Eimear, Charlie, Maureen and Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach-elect Charlies Haughey and his mother Sarah in 1970. Photo: Tom Burke
Charlie Haughey
Haughey on Inishvickillane

The political establishment ensured that the burden of paying for this crime - plugging the holes in the state's finances - was transferred to those who didn't have crooked accountants and lawyers to protect their interests. Among the consequences in the 80s was the closure of thousands of hospital beds, a brutal act that affects the public health system to this day.

There has been no assessment of the number of deaths that resulted from that crime. Our academic researchers are too busy providing material to justify austerity.

The current RTE series, Charlie, and the commentary on it, portrays Haughey as a unique ogre in Irish political life. His sheer political evil is relieved only by the occasional bout of pantomime villainy.

It bestows on Haughey the absurd, melodramatic label, "the Black Prince of Irish Politics". It informs us that Haughey and his supporters got "more fascistic by the day".

In commentary on the drama, we're assured that Haughey was indeed a fascist. Now, fascism isn't just an insult to be hurled at opponents who throw their weight around. It's a real thing, with defining characteristics - and, unfortunately, EU deflationary policies have ensured that we're now seeing it spreading again through Europe.

The implication is that Haughey, with a thuggish Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty, and an equally thuggish Fianna Fail militia, had an anti-democratic agenda, willing to impose a "fascistic" regime, to get his way.

The evidence of the thuggish militia was the assault on Jim Gibbons, at Leinster House. As it happens, I was there that day - 11 hours of my life that I'll never get back, as the anti-Haughey wing of the party made a pathetic effort to kick him out.

We hacks spent hours waiting in a reception room to the right of the entrance to Leinster House. Then, because party visitors had precedence, we were made stand outside in the rain, so that Fianna Failers - awaiting the result of the leadership vote - would have somewhere to sit. By then, hours in local bars had left them hardly able to stand.

When the meeting ended, a bunch of feeble knuckle-draggers yelped their support for Haughey, assaulted Jim Gibbons and then fell over one another as they clustered to wait for Charlie McCreevy. Now, from Charlie, we have a new legend, of how democracy was restored by Des O'Malley waving the sword of Saddam Hussein.

Eh, no, that was me, saving democracy.

I didn't see any sword, but when I saw the drunks running at Gibbons I went inside, found Fionnuala O'Kelly (then Fianna Fail press officer, now married to Enda Kenny), told her what was going on, that there were no guards outside and someone was going to get hurt. She hurried off - and when McCreevy came out the cops had him covered.

And that's why today I'm a figure of scorn - the man who saved McCreevy from a beating. It wasn't fascistic, it was farcical. It was about drink and the lack of policing. Haughey knew nothing about it. On the campaign trail, when Fianna Failers got over-excited at the arrival of a political opponent, I saw Haughey calm them and extend a genuinely welcoming handshake to his opponent. He was an egotist, a liar, a thief, but he was also a constitutional democrat.

Charlie drooled over Haughey's affair with Terry Keane. There was something to be said about the habits of deceit, but this descended into gratuitous gossip. Haughey wasn't the only man of that era to breach his marriage vows. I'm reliably informed that even members of Fine Gael have sexual passions. I know, it's hard to believe.

The drama had a right to include Haughey's infidelities, if it had anything to say. It merely salivated.

We are left with a cartoon drama, full of moralistic posturing, which pretends Haughey was a uniquely evil figure, amidst a sea of dejected political angels.

Imagine we make a three-part drama called Enda.

Let's have him announcing, as he did last week, that citizens were contacting the government, astonished to find more than they expected in their pay packets.

He quoted a worker: "Well I'm not sure whether it was a mistake or not, but I seem to have got extra money in this last payment".

Enda created a fictional character. He gave the character a line of dialogue. When challenged on this invention he said it was "a turn of phrase".

No, no, no. "Middle of the road" is a turn of phrase. Or "as the crow flies". Making up fictional characters is clumsy deception.

It mirrors last year's invention, when over two days he quoted a non-existent piece of legislation, to divert attention during the GSOC scandal. Or the summer of 2012, when he came back from the EU claiming to have got agreement on a write-down of billions in debts, wrongly forced on the Irish state.

Or the time he tripped over a flower pot and his aides insisted he was "attacked" by a journalist.

Enda, the drama, could depict Kenny and those around him as serial liars, but that would be wrong. I believe he has fantasies, in which he imagines these things actually happen.

We could populate the drama with stalwart characters such as John Deasy TD, who took a courageous stand - on, eh, his right to smoke indoors.

Or Senator Catherine Noone, who last week called for the banning of a sport she's never seen, then backtracked when fans were outraged. (No one has previously stood up to be counted on such issues as the regulation of ice cream vans - authentic quote: "Not that I'm against ice cream".)

To create a drama which portrayed Enda in such a manner - a fantasist leading a party of renegade smokers and ice cream haters - would be unfair to viewers. Worse, it would help create a political legend at odds with the truth.

It would leave out the over-arching political truth of the era, that politicians conspired with bankers, bondholders and EU enforcers, to transfer tens of billions of euros in private debt to the state.

The remarkable political reality of our era is that this occurred seamlessly over the period 2008-2015, regardless of which parties were in office.

To ignore all this, to concentrate on the fine detail of passing political rows, and the personal inadequacies of a single politician, would be politically illiterate.

Similarly, the over-arching truth of Haughey's era was one of widespread corruption. Charlie, and the commentary on it, creates a sanitised account of the past. It was all about the singularly dishonest "Black Prince".

The truth of Haughey's time, and the truth of today, are startling enough. We don't have to create ogres.

'TV portrayal is not like the Terry Keane that I knew'

Whatever you might think, he did the State some service 

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