Haughey triggered process of Ireland’s political change

Changing landscape...former Taoiseach, the late Charles J Haughey.
Changing landscape...former Taoiseach, the late Charles J Haughey.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Back in the early 1970s, Charlie Haughey walked into the Dame Street branch of AIB and opened an account. Twenty five years later, a senior AIB official recalled at the Moriarty Tribunal that Haughey would have been considered a KBI at the time – or in a fuller explanation of marketing jargon, a key business influencer, no less.

He was a key business influencer alright, but not in the way that AIB imagined. The only business he influenced was the bank’s own and not in a good way. He ran up debts of £1 million on the account with never any intention of paying it back.

All of the correspondence between the extraordinarily brass-necked Haughey and AIB, was released by the Moriarty Tribunal in 1997. The bank kept on issuing Haughey with new cheque books and he kept on using them to write massive cheques.

When, in desperation, the bank threatened him with no more cheque books he went nuts, and started shouting and threatening them. The bank backed off.

When Haughey became Taoiseach in 1979, his finance adviser Des Traynor went in and struck a deal with the bank to repay the debts (the businessman Patrick Gallagher funded most of the repayment).

Two years later, journalist Des Crowley learned of the debt and wrote a story in the Evening Press about the £1 million debt that the bank had dealt with. The bank denied the allegations as “outlandish”, when in fact they were substantially correct.

Haughey gave that famous television address of January 1980 warning people about tough times ahead. He could very well have been talking to himself.

“The figures which are just now becoming available to us show one thing very clearly. As a community, we are living way beyond our means,” he intoned.

For there was one person in Ireland who was living so far beyond his means, however, that it made everybody else’s excesses seem negligible.

Haughey, in the space of a decade, had moved from a modest suburban house in Raheny to the vast Abbeville estate in Kinsealy — all seemingly on a politician’s salary. But nobody felt emboldened to probe him too much where he got the money.

This isn’t a column about Haughey, really, rather about the slow but continuous decline of the two big tribes of Irish politics, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, since the 1960s.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.