Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Charlie Haughey dies

Former Taoseach, Charlie Haughey, has died. This won't be a big deal to most people outside Ireland but Haughey was one of the most controversial political leaders in the short history of the Irish Republic and was both loved and reviled in equal measure. Vast acreages of Irish news space will be devoted to recounting his life and no doubt his many biographers will be looking to get some free publicity for their books, though I don't expect his death will raise more than a small blip in the UK media.

My father likes to tell the story of when he used to work with Haughey on the building sites and how he showed early signs of an ability to acquire things for his own benefit, like the other lads' sandwiches. Now you don't get away with that for too long on a building site, so one day a couple of his victims put some sand and other tasty morsels between two slices of bread and left this treat out for their friendly neighborhood lunch thief. Sure enough Haughey bit into the trap and got a mouthful of sand but he learned a lesson and in his public life had a teflon like ability for slipping away from responsibility for alleged major transgressions, ranging the full gamut from the personal to the financial, political and criminal.

It took Machiavellian skill of the highest order to outflank Haughey in any situation, which is why the current Taoseach, Bertie Ahern, who eventually succeeded Haughey as leader of the Fianna Fail party, should not lightly be underestimated. (Ahern ousted Albert Reynolds who was Haughey's immediate successor). Ahern has paid his own tribute to the man who, amongst other things, became known as The Boss.

Update: John has a wonderful piece on Haughey at his blog. I hadn't spotted that the former Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, Garrett Fitzgerald said that Haughey was: "a man of formidable political skills. Despite their public political differences, their relationship was always marked by courtesy and absence of personal antagonism." Fitzgerald was widely thought of as a bumbling but honest intellectual in his time in public life. A long time political foe of Haughey, he absolutely despised 'The Boss'. Fitzgerald basically held Haughey responsible for putting the 'banana' in 'Irish Republic.'

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