Taoiseach Profile: The man who would be King, Charles J Haughey

The renegade...

Charlie, Charles J Haughey, Lemass, Sean Lemass

Charles Haughey. Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

With the General Election nearly upon us, we take a look back at some of the Taoisigh that have graced the halls of the Leinster House, what their greatest political achievements were and how this has impacted directly on Ireland.

From Eamon DeValera to Enda Kenny, the careers of these Taoisigh changed the course of Ireland's political history and helped form this little nation.

The seventh Taoiseach in our series is Charles J Haughey, the former leader of Fianna Fáil.

Who was he?

Born in Castlebar in 1925, Haughey was the son of Seán Haughey, a member of the IRA and Sarah McWilliams, both from Derry. The family eventually moved to Donnycarney and the young Haughey was educated in Fairview where he became a keen sportsman, winning a senior football championship medal. He took Commerce in college in UCD where he met among others Garrett FitzGerald and his future wife, Maureen Lemass, daughter of Sean.

Although he joined the Local Defence Force during the war and later became an accountant, it was in UCD that Haughey became increasingly interested in politics, becoming auditor of the Commerce and Economics Society. He ran for election in 1951 but was unsuccessful and was only successful in 1957, becoming a Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Justice and hugely influential in the role, some even pointing to the fact that he had basically taken over the brief.

However, no matter how talented he was, Haughey is often considered arguably Ireland's most controversial politician, a shadow which dominated most of his political career.

The Minister of... Everything

Serving as parliamentary secretary for the Minister for Justice in the early part of his career meant that Haughey became the automatic choice for the job when Oscar Traynor departed his post. He introduced important legislation like the Succession and Adoption Acts and also ensured the Special Military Courts were set up to deal with the issue of the IRA.

However, his tenure as Minister for Agriculture wasn't as promising. The farmers en masse were not supportive of a Minister who didn't hail from a rural area and Haughey proved to be deeply unpopular with them. After a controversy with the NFA and a creamery association, a number of farmers staged a protest outside Leinster House. What became known as the Farmer's Strike resulted in a massive alienation of the rural community from Haughey.

His time as Minister for Finance, on the other hand, proved to be the most controversial of his career. Following the retirement of Lemass, the opening for leader of the party was recreated. Haughey ran but lost out to Jack Lynch and was promoted to Minister of Finance.

The Arms Crisis

It was during his time as Minister for Finance that Haughey suffered his biggest, and near career-ending political setback. On top of the fact that he had secured two loans and then kept them deposited in foreign currency, an act that was deemed unconstitutional, he was sacked by Lynch for his involvement in the Arms Crisis.

Northern Ireland had erupted into violence in the 1960s. Haughey was generally seen as one of the members of Cabinet who had no involvement in the North. In fact, as mentioned earlier, he was responsible for using internment without trial for members of the IRA. However, in 1970, the Minister for Finance and Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, were informed that Haughey and another party member, Neil Blaney, were responsible for raising funds in order to import arms into the North. Charlie spent his time on the backbenches, remaining a figure in Fianna Fáil but convinced this was the end of the career he craved. He had Jack Lynch to thank for being permitted to remain there much to the criticism of many supporters and party members.

However, in 1970, the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, was informed that Haughey and another party member, Neil Blaney, were responsible for raising funds in order to import arms into the North. He was sacked thereafter and spent his time on the backbenches, remaining a figure in Fianna Fáil but convinced this was the end of the career he craved. He had Jack Lynch to thank for being permitted to remain there much to the criticism of many supporters and party members.

The State of Affairs 

As Jack Lynch's influence started to lose its grip on the government and on the people, Haughey found himself within a relative position of power. When Lynch announced his retirement, Haughey won the leadership with a relatively comfortable margin of 44 votes. Suddenly, the man who was almost one of the most disgraced politicians of all time thanks to the Arms Crisis found himself in a position of power. 

One of the main reasons for Lynch's decline in popularity was the economic situation. Ireland had massively faltered in the lead up to the 1979 election and fortunately for Haughey, this was somewhere he had great expertise. He essentially took over the Finance brief as well as his own position as Taoiseach. He delivered this famous address to the Irish people, telling them that they were "living away beyond our means."

However, his involvement only made the situation worse and he was forced to call a General Election in 1981 which resulted in him ending up in Opposition.

1982 Election

Garrett FitzGerald's government didn't remain in power for that long and when they tried to introduce VAT on children's shoes, it spelled the beginning of the end. After the government was dissolved, Haughey begged the President to allow him to set up an interim government.

Following the 1982 election, he once again found himself as the Taoiseach but on very shaky ground. Fianna Fáil hadn't won a majority and many questioned his ability to lead the party. It was an aspect of leadership that Haughey wasn't fond of but would have to become used to. He faced a third leadership crisis during his time as head of the party when a report leaked stating he had the phones of political journalists tapped.

Following a withdrawal of support by the Workers Party, Haughey once again found himself in opposition, again to Garrett FitzGerald's Fine Gael.

During Haughey's time in Opposition, FitzGerald along with Thatcher and Northern leaders forged the Anglo-Irish Agreement, essentially providing a place for the Republic of Ireland a place for discussion on the North and a commitment to the path for peace. Haughey opposed the bill in parliament, later supporting it when he returned to government.

In 1987, FitzGerald called an election.

Haughey's final hurrah

Returning to power in 1987 was never going to be an easy task for Haughey. The government had support but had failed to win an overall majority, the economy was in a dire state and Haughey could barely leave the country without a contest for leadership and votes against his government. He was even forced into coalition with the Des O' Malley led Progressive Democrats in 1989, something Fianna Fáil swore they would never do.

However, the scandals became too many for Charlie. Already under pressure from the party, his former Minister for Justice claimed that although Haughey said he knew nothing about the tapping of journalists, he was very much aware of it. Fianna Fáil also lost out on their nomination for President and Albert Reynolds was very much biting at his heels. 

O'Malley, who was sacked from Fianna Fáil and became leader of the coalition partner, the PDs, put significant pressure on Haughey to resign but he insisted he would do so in his own time, eventually retiring as the party leader in 1992 and retired from politics before the next General Election.

Impact on politics 

There is no doubt that although Eamon De Valera was nicknamed the Long Fellow, it was Haughey that left the long shadow on Irish politics.

In a final speech in the Dáil, Haughey quoted Othello, saying inter alia "I have done the state some service, they know it, no more of that." However, many have pointed to the self-serving nature of a lot of his political policies, his positions always providing him with another step on the ladder to success and power. His wealth and extravagance came under the spotlight eventually, an issue that jarred with the Irish people. Haughey had claimed in the past that we were living beyond our means yet he personally was quite wealthy with even his own personal island to his name. He embezzled taxpayers' money that was destined for party use, received monetary gifts from businessmen and spent a large portion of money on an extravagant lifestyle. His reputation was also tarnished by the revelations that he had an affair with the former Chief Justice's wife, Terry Keane.

However, it's hard to imagine an Ireland without the involvement of Haughey. Even though he constantly faced leadership issues, he found that he always won votes of confidence, much to the surprise of pretty much everyone. His economic policies from his 1987 government essentially began a switch in the bad fortunes of the country and he was instrumental in the future of Northern Ireland and the peace process.

Charles Haughey passed away in 2006 at his home following a battle with prostate cancer. He was given a state funeral and buried in Sutton in Co Dublin.

Best Speech, Resignation as Taoiseach, Tuesday, 11 February 1992

"A Cheann Comhairle, tá orm a chur in iúl duit gur éirigh mé as oifig mar Thaoiseach inné trína chur sin in iúl don Uachtarán de bhun an Bhunreachta.

Yesterday, I resigned from the office of Taoiseach by placing my resignation in the hands of the President, pursuant to the Constitution. I would like on this occasion to thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your unfailing courtesy and assistance to all of us and for the dignity you have given to our proceedings.

Over 35 years in Dáil Éireann I have developed a deep affection for this House and its traditions. I recall the great figures who have passed through its portals in my time and who are no longer with us. I remember vividly the many important parliamentary occasions this House has witnessed through the years. Dáil Éireann is the democratic forum of this nation, to establish which our forefathers made many sacrifices, and of which they would be proud. I would urge all Deputies to continue to stand up for and enhance the standing of the Dáil and the status of its Members and to foster a sense of pride in all our democratic institutions. When we look around this troubled world [1510] I think we can consider ourselves fortunate that we have these democratic institutions.

We have introduced many important reforms in recent years to make Dáil Éireann more responsive and to bring it closer to the people under modern conditions, and I have no doubt this process will continue. For my part I have done a fair amount to improve the conditions of Deputies, to enable them to carry out their duty of representing the people more effectively and to facilitate their work as legislators.

I wish to thank all those colleagues who have served with me in Government, and I would also like to thank Deputies both from my own party, from the Government side and from the Opposition who have contributed to our work in the public interest over the years. I want to thank the large number of dedicated public servants for whom, as they know, I have always had the highest regard, and who have served the Government and the country with diligence and dedication. I would also like to pay a very special tribute to the social partners for their enlightened approach to our economic and social affairs, which has been of such enormous benefit to our country over the past five years.

Above all, I thank the people of Ireland for the support they have given me over such a long period of years and indeed for the great deal of affection they have shown me from time to time. As I leave office, I bid them a fond farewell and wish them every success and happiness.

The work of Government and of the Dáil must always be directed to the progress of the nation, and I hope I have been able to provide some leadership to that end in my time. I have always sought to act solely and exclusively in the best interests of the Irish people. Let me quote Othello:

I have done the state some service; they know't

No more of that.

As to all those who have frequently and vehemently disagreed with me in this House, I have always accepted that they did so in pursuance of their own interpretation of the public interest and in accordance with the constitutional duty of an Opposition party in a democracy to put the alternative view.

The past 35 years have seen a total transformation of Irish society. Even if not all our high hopes have been realised, there is much to be proud of in the economic and social progress that has been made, and in recent years I believe we have laid good foundations for durable advance.

We should always keep in our minds, too, that Government has much wider dimensions than merely managing an economy. There must be concern and commitment that all shall participate in the fruits of progress, a caring attitude towards the least advantaged, a love of our heritage and culture, a desire to protect our environment, a deep attachment to the values that are precious to us. There is also the need to respond constructively to the great universal yearning for peace in Northern Ireland.

Apart from that tragic situation, I am sure we are proceeding broadly in the right direction, and that Ireland can look forward to a great future in a united Europe, exceeding anything in our past, if we take the right decisions and stay on course. The Irish people have the means and the character to lift themselves out of present difficulties, and in my estimation they will certainly succeed in doing so. I believe, too, that there is in Ireland today a great flowering of creativity in all aspects of our national life which enhances the quality of our lives and uplifts out morale.

I would like to wish my successor and the Government he will nominate well in tackling the many problems they will face. I say farewell, as Taoiseach, to the Members of this House and salute them as the freely elected, democratic representatives of the people of Ireland whom we are honoured to serve.

This is not the time to outline any special list of claims or achievements. Let the record speak for itself. If I were to seek any accolade as I leave office it would simply be: he served the people, all the people, to the best of his ability."