Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Charles Haughey

Given my Irish background(both parents Irish) and my considerable interest in the country, I could not let the passing of Charles Haughey one of its most famous Taoiseach (prime minister in English) since independence go without a mention.

While I would not necessarily agree with the politics of Charles Haughey or some of his more dubious financial dealings, he has to be given credit for helping to create the dynamic prosperous economy that exists in Ireland today. It is hard to believe now but the Irish economy was pretty much a basket case with the economy practically bankrupt with high unemployment, low growth and borrowing out of control and believe me that was situation up until the mid eighties. Charles Haughey in his term of office from 1987-92 saw the Irish economy emerge from this dark picture of a stagnating economy and set itself on a path of growth that has continued ever since.

In terms of political survival Haughey was a master, time and time again like Lazarus he came back from the brink. Many in his party Fianna Fail were sworn enemies from the start, but Charlie would know how to escape tricky situations and his opponents nearly always came off worse in any battle. When he became leader of Fianna Fail in 1979 nearly all of his cabinet colleagues were supporters of his opponents who was a sworn enemy of him, to win a leadership battle against this showed the skills he had in persuading people to back him and his considerable charisma and political skills.

Margaret Thatcher was also his great nemesis with various battles over Northern Ireland including Charles Haughey description of Northern Ireland as 'a failed political entity'. Charles Haughey was a great nationalist who did stand up to Thatcher and fought Ireland's corner hard. Reflecting back, it hard to believe now what an issue Northern Ireland actually was, being myself from a nationalist background and spending many Summer holidays on a farm right on the border showed how intense many people in Ireland felt about the situation. The background of the arms trial of the early seventies when Haughey had been accused of arms running (later acquitted) did not help the relationship, but this remember was in a country where many people felt aggrieved by the situation in Northern Ireland. Issues like the Hunger strike of 1981 brought out huge waves of support for the nationalist cause and mistrust in Thatcher which Haughey in many ways reflected the views of many people. Thankfully today the relationship is much changed and Northern Ireland as an issue has practically gone off the political radar which in know small part is due to the work of Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

Since leaving office, Charles Haughey record has been tarnished by the financial issues, it is quite clear that many of the issues discovered showed that various loans/bungs of a dubious nature had been made to Charles Haughey. Many of these matters were still the subject of ongoing investigation at the time of his death, though my knowledge of Irish politics is that many politicians in Ireland were up to no good(some still are) with various dubious deals being a part of the political process. If you thought sleaze exists in Britain you should see some of the stuff that was going on in Ireland, probity it was not and Haughey despite his accomplishments has contributed to this and this is what many people will remember him for.

His passing in a way his is the end of era, he was a huge figure in Irish politics and love him or hate him (and to many it was the latter), he did help create the Celtic tiger and despite his faults he laid the foundations for the modern Ireland of today.


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