Haughey was a crook, a megalomaniac, a thug, the worst thing that happened to Ireland in the last fifty years, a two-faced, thieving, bullying gangster who looked after all his crooked buddies and got huge sums of money from them in return.
How did he look after his crook buddies? Very simple: he made their problems go away.
And what were their problems?
They had only one: democracy.
I am tired of listening to people justifying Haughey. A bit of a boyo. A bad lad. A complex character. A great intellect. A mercurial temperament.
Forget the thieving for a minute. Just look at his manipulation of people’s private lives.
This is the hypocrite who screwed all around him and then lectured us adults about Irish solutions for Irish problems. For younger people who don’t remember this lunacy, there was a time when you needed a doctor’s prescription to get a condom in this country, and Haughey presented this as a great advance. Before that, you couldn’t buy them at all! Can you believe that? Refer to my earlier letter to the bishop. An Irish solution to an Irish problem, in Haughey’s immortal shit-eating hypocritical words. This is the man who used the misery of thousands of Irish people by manipulating the first divorce referendum to his own venal grasping toadying advantage.
Haughey believed he was above the rule of law, as it related to everything from drink driving to paying tax. The small people had divorce problems. The small people had contraception problems. The small people paid interest on loans.
Every old man I see reminds me of my father.
The poem is called Memory of my Father, and Paddy Kavanagh was a lucky man to be in a position to write such a piece. I hope he wrote it with some affection. Many men today would be unable to write this line, and it isn’t because they can’t express themselves well, or don’t want to, or simply because they can’t write. It’s just that their fathers never lived to reach old age, and this was no accident. A hard life does that to you.
Many men in the fifties and sixties went to England, and lost their names on the building sites of East London and Birmingham and Milton Keynes. No longer Eamonn or Dan or Peter, they became Dublin, and Kerry, and Galway, and came to believe these were the names they had been given at birth. They lived on a diet of Woodbines, Guinness and dust. Some of them are still there, though most have died early in some freezing bedsit or laneway, and the ones who remain have no family, no friends and no home in Ireland that would want them back.
For the men of my father’s generation who were fortunate enough to find a job at home, life shaped itself around the factory siren, or the six-in-the-morning bus to some industrial estate, or the slaughterhouse, or the tearing at blue sucking mud, knee-deep in some Irish building site. You knew the sound of a working man’s trudge and you saw the exhaustion in his eyes. But you also saw honesty and an earnest desire to raise his family the best way he could manage. Men of my father’s generation made their twice-weekly pilgrimage to the City Library and came back home with their quota of two fiction and one non-fiction book: as permitted by the censorship board. This is why intelligent men such as my father read a great amount by Zane Grey and Louis l’Amour.
It was an authoritarian state. A place of great deference to powerful figures. A place where any minor Council official stood in high regard. A place where a priest was beyond reproach, no matter what he did.
It was Albania.
Now. Here we have men like my father, and the fathers of my friends, and working-class people all over Ireland, trudging to work, and home, and being laid off and taking the boat, and most of all, trusting in Authority. Trusting in the greater wisdom of the Church and the State. Trusting and starving and emigrating and dying. They thought they were the citizens of this land and they couldn’t have been more wrong. While these poor bastards were slaving away, another class of people were quietly carving up deals and buying up land and looking after each other and building up a gigantic network of corruption that was eventually to cover the entire country.
The Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes, for example, supposedly a charity, was operated to the benefit of a single family, and made them immensely rich. When one brave journalist, Joe MacAnthony, exposed the scam, and then went on to expose Ray Burke, work dried up for him and he was driven from the country.
Roadstone somehow came into possession of all the quarries formerly operated by County Councils and began to sell them back the chips they had previously made for themselves. This was a corrupt transaction that laid the foundations for the vast wealth CRH enjoys to this day, and which the taxpayer still funds.
Our extensive rail network was torn up by a Fianna Fáil appointee to the chair of CIE, Todd Andrews, and to make sure that future generations wouldn’t be able to reinstate it, he sold off strategic stations, and destroyed crucial bridges. Why? So that nothing would ever threaten Fianna Fáil’s cronies in Roadstone, who had been corruptly given a monopoly over the supply of road-building materials.
Into the middle of this ferment came Haughey. We needn’t dwell on his relationship with business, big or small, even though it appears that he did all his banking with a private, exclusive and wholly illegal institution run from the head office of Roadstone. Ansbacher, by name. Likewise, we needn’t dwell too long on the sources of his wealth, although I’d like to mention one small thing. Allied Irish Banks were afraid to take him on and demand back the money he owed them. Well and good. But the same Allied Irish Banks entered a stupid business venture in the eighties and bought a British insurance company which subsequently collapsed. What happened? Simple: the government of the day, a Fine Gael government, decided this could cause the collapse of the Irish banking system, and so they imposed a levy on my income tax, and yours, and that of everybody else in the country. There ya go, AIB, have a big pile of the taxpayer’s money to get you out of the hole you dug for yourself. The same year, AIB announced huge profits.
I’d like my money back, please.
Around that same time, I bought my first house, and well remember having to show my EBS book to some nineteen-year-old girl in the tax office, to explain exactly where I got all the forty- and thirty- and fifty-pound lodgments. This was while Haughey was getting £150k and £300k from Ben Dunne. Right. I’m not going to mention belt-tightening here. It’s too clichéd. It is.
I’ll say it anyway. Haughey went on national television and told us to tighten our belts, while he was robbing the country blind. Treating his mates to grub at le Coq Hardi or Patrick Guilbaud’s, buying shirts in Paris, having pipelines built to his North Dublin estate to increase the land value, and all at whose expense? That’s right. At your expense. And at mine. They loved him in Dingle: they think he gave them a marina. They’ll tell you Charlie gave them their marina and they won’t hear a bad word said against him. Now let’s be clear – Charlie took the money from somebody else – some other Irish taxpayers – and diverted it to Dingle, not out of the kindness of his heart, but so that he could behave like some beneficent feudal lord.
It wasn’t his money. It was our money. But tighten your belts, gobshites.
Gobshites like my father, who trusted in Authority.
And when it came to a divorce referendum, Haughey came home from Paris where he’d been with another man’s wife at our expense, and announced his great belief in family values, thereby shafting the whole thing, and shafting all the desperate gobshites who only wanted to regularise their lives.
More gobshites who – like my father – trusted in Authority.
And when Ben Dunne (God bless him and God bless the cocaine that finally blew the whole filthy business wide open) took to a Florida jacuzzi with two Russian hookers and a pound of marching powder, and Margaret Dunne said What the fuck happened to our fuckin money? and when the Tribunals were finally set up and made a lot of lawyers rich and when Haughey was finally BUSTED! When that finally happened, and it turned out he owed the State a huge pile of tax, do you think he crouched outside a hatch where some nineteen-year-old girl demanded to know where he got this fifty pounds and that twenty pounds? No. They waited for years to give him a chance. They imposed no penalties and they didn’t take the full amount of tax he owed us. They also decided not to prosecute him, but waited instead for him to die, as he has now done, taking all the embarrassing details with him. An Irish solution to an Irish problem.
I feel no personal animosity towards CJ Haughey. Naturally, I think he was a ridiculous little man, a strutting coxcomb and a bully. I don’t think he could have risen as he did but for the climate of deference in Ireland at the time, and I’m amazed it took so long for people to see through him. But he was a man of his time, and he was a man beset by the same insecurities that plagued my father’s generation, of which he was a part, so I can understand his desperation not to fall back into the morass. However, Haughey was not a fool, and he understood every nuance of this issue. It didn’t stop him using people’s personal troubles to bolster his own political position, and in the final analysis, that’s what made him a cynic.
I think Haughey exemplifies everything that is venal and dishonest in Irish society, and that’s why I hated every second of his time in power.
Haughey was poison.