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Terry Prone: Scandal sticks like superglue. I should know - half of the public still thinks I had an affair with Charlie Haughey

Lying and scandal and spindoctors trying to manipulate media. That's what we talked about this week at the Parnell Summer School. The lies are political lies, and, yes, I was once asked to craft a lie for a politician.

The man was a former Minister for Justice, the late Fianna Fail TD Sean Doherty. He had half-revealed in a TV programme that his boss, Charlie Haughey, knew all about the tapping of journalists' phones done by Doherty. The journalists included Geraldine Kennedy, now editor of the Irish Times, Vincent Browne and Bruce Arnold.



Ordered

Doherty arrived at our offices looking, he said, for a "formula of words" that would get him out of the problem he'd created for himself.

"Did you tell the truth on the TV programme?" I asked, and he nodded. At which point, I told him I wasn't in the business of helping politicians to lie, and invited him to leave. His wife ordered the two of us to sit down and made it clear to him that he'd carried this particular can long enough and was now going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It nearly killed him, so deep was his loyalty to Haughey. But he did it. And brought CJ down in the process.

The point is that, while commentators always credit politicians (and spindoctors) with major conspiracies, half the time, what makes history is a series of accidents. Or misunderstandings.



Rumour

Here's just one of those misunderstandings. I've been dogged for more than 20 years by the rumour that I was Charlie Haughey's mistress, based on the fact that his real mistress, Terry Keane, shared a first name with me. Once, at a party, a man nudged my husband, pointed across the room at me, and muttered "Charlie's mistress." My husband acted surprised and asked for details. He got them in spades. When the poor rumour-seller ground to a halt, my husband shook his head wonderingly.

"Never knew that," he said. "Did you know she's also my wife?"

He was immediately sorry, because he thought he was going to have to do CPR on the poor guy, so he took him off the hook by explaining the coincidence of names. Not that clearing up the facts always clears up the image. One of my younger employees mentioned to me a couple of weeks back that her granny, watching me on Vincent Browne's programme, opined that she'd never liked me because of my affair with Haughey. Her daughter and grand-daughter explained that I'd never had a relationship with CJ and how the myth had started.

"OK, I accept that," the granny said. "I still don't like her, though."

Scandal, you see, sticks like superglue. Even if you've never done anything scandalous. The nearest I've ever come -- personally -- to scandal was when I was on the council of Dublin Zoo. Leaving a meeting late one evening, I encountered a goat. A very large goat. A very large impressive goat with curly horns that could do you no end of damage if you were on the receiving end of them. I greeted the goat civilly, as was appropriate for a council member, but he wasn't having any relationship-building. This goat was clearly pissed off at the world and prepared to take it out on me. He pawed the ground in melodramatic fashion, lowered the lethal horns, and charged. That was when I lost all sense of responsibility. I belted him with my briefcase. I have to confess it. Not only did I belt him once, but when he didn't get the message and took another run at me, I belted him again. This time he retreated and I got into my car and out of the zoo. But, because belting goats isn't really appropriate behaviour for a member of the zoo's council, I resigned immediately.

Ivor Callely, please note.


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