#11: Charles J. Haughey

Name: Charles J. Haughey
Party: Fianna Fáíl
Terms of Office: December ’79-June ’81, March ’82 –September ’82, March ’87-February ‘92
 
Little piece of advice. Say you’re a politician and they decide to make a TV series about your life. If the guy they cast to play you is Lord Petyr Baelish himself, consider that you may have been a shady motherfucker.
“I did warn you not to trust me.”

“I did warn you not to trust me.”

CJ was already fairly synonymous with shady motherfuckery before he even became Taoiseach. As Minister for Finance in the late sixties under Jack Lynch, Haughey became embroiled in the Arms Crisis. See, it was around this time that the Troubles were being particularly Troublesome, by which I mean things were threatening to blow up into a full on civil war and hundreds of Catholic refugees were fleeing south to escape the violence. Haughey and another minister named Neil Blaney were put in charge of a committee to distribute humanitarian aid to Catholic communities in Northern Ireland that were under siege and apparently at some point the group decided: “Know what this situation needs? Guns.”
 Spongebob
Soooo…a plan was hatched to import weapons into the country to be given to the IRA with the help of a Belgian Nazi (I am not making any of that up).

While that plan would, no doubt, have worked BRILLIANTLY, the Garda Síochána (the fuzz) sussed it out and informed Lynch what Haughey had been up to. Lynch did……………….nothing, so the Gardaí instead went to our buddy Liam Cosgrave and essentially said “look, there’s all kinds of treasonous shady motherfuckery going on here, can SOMEBODY do some governing or is that too much to ask?” Cosgrave put pressure on Lynch and Haughey and his co-conspirators were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for supporting terrorism.
Homer Laughing
No, of course not. Haughey was expelled from the cabinet but remained as a back bencher, slowly rebuilding his political influence and waiting for the right moment to strike like a cancer in remission. He was eventually recalled to the front bench in 1975, became Minister for Health in 1977 and after Lynch resigned in 1979 Haughey was chosen to succeed him as Taoiseach. The frustrating thing about Haughey is that, unlike Cowen, he absolutely had the ability and the intelligence to be a fantastic Taoiseach. He did really good work in the Ministry for Health, spear-heading the first anti-smoking campaigns and legalising contraception.
Thanks Charlie! No. Seriously. Thank you.

Thanks Charlie! No. Seriously. Thank you.

Plus, in a country where politicians tend to be less “Hollywood ugly” and more “circus ugly” he actually cut a rather dashing figure. He was charming and charismatic in a line of work where charisma and charm are in very short supply and he inspired incredible loyalty from many of his followers. But Haughey had ambitions and ego far beyond what could be satisfied by the premiership of a small, peripheral European state. Haughey dreamed of leveraging the relatively modest position of Taoiseach and becoming a statesman of global significance.

Know what’s crazy? He kinda…sorta…did? Unlike almost every other Taoiseach on this list, Haughey had a huge impact not just on Ireland but on the world at large, even though he’s certainly not famous outside of this island. How did that happen?

Okay, little bit of backstory required. And apologies, it involves the European Union which means it’s going to be super complicated.

See that circle? It's the starry rabbit hole of madness.

See that circle? It’s the starry rabbit hole of madness.

So, the upper house of the European Parliament is the Council of the European Union, and it’s run by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, to be confused with the President of the European Council. Yes I said “to be confused” because face it, you’re going to confuse them and that was probably the point. Anyway. The presidency is rotating which means that every country in the EU gets a turn at basically running the entire continent.

And if you could not tell Greece we'd really appreciate it.

We keep sending Greece on a beer run when it’s their turn and if you could not tell them about this we’d all really appreciate it.

Right, so. In 1990 Ireland held the presidency and there was a big summit in Dublin to discuss piddling inconsequential political minutiae like trade reform and tarriffs and oh yeah THE BERLIN WALL HAS JUST COME DOWN REALITY AS WE KNOW IT HAS CRUMBLED WHAT DO WE DO!!!!?!

This might prove to be of some lasting significance.

This might prove to be of some lasting significance.

Weird as it might seem now, after the wall came down German reunification was by no means a sure thing. Most countries in Europe were decidedly less than giddy at the idea of Germany once again being large and in charge   (jeez, you make one mistake). The British were particularly opposed, because Margaret Thatcher is a monster from European folklore who sneaks in through the cracks in the windows to feed on the tears of disobediant German children before snatching them away to her cottage in the forest that runs on chicken legs. The French, more understandably, were also opposed but more in a “well I suppose we could be convinced.” kind of way. What the French wanted was closer economic and political integration for Europe, essentially the basis for the modern EU and it was Haughey, in his capacity as president of the European presidency of the Council of the European Union council, who was able to get enough of the other nations on board in exchange for French support for German unity. This, then, means Haughey played a crucial role in both the reunification of Germany and the foundation of the European common currency, i.e. two of the most important events in the history of post-war Europe.

So why isn’t he further up the list? Well, not to get judgey or anything, but he was kind of a crook. And by “kind of” I mean “holy shit”.

 Haughey was famous for buying things like fancy suits, race horses and…um…an island.

Haughey's island

Now, the Taoiseach’s salary is generous, but it’s not “Bond villain” generous so people were understandably confused as to how he could afford all these clothes, mammals and landmasses on a civil servant’s salary. Now, there were only really three possible scenarios for how Haughey got the money.

1) He saved up his confirmation money like his mother told him to.

2) He was too crafty for the fairy king.

3) He was on the take.

By the time a tornado of various scandals (a “scandalnado” if you will) had forced him from office, if was pretty obvious that he’d been accepting bribes from businessmen both domestic and foreign. However, this being Ireland, we decided to be sure in the usual manner; a series of tribunals that cost the taxpayer millions and were only completed several years after Haughey’s death in 2006. As is the way of our people.

Of the many, many, many shady deals that came to light, it emerged that Haughey had accepted a five figure sum from a Saudi businessman to support his application for Irish citizenship. This, to me, was the worst betrayal of all. Irishness is not something you can buy. It’s something that’s earned by Americans whose lives have spiralled out of control until the village judge orders them to rebuild the wall of the stern but kindly farmer they crashed into while DUI and over the course of the summer the American learns the simple ways of the villagers while in return helping them attract tourists to their sleepy hamlet until one day the farmer puts his hand on the American’s shoulders and mutters “Now, you are one of us.” That’s the way it’s supposed to be. And Charles J. Haughey forgot that.

Pros
  • As you can imagine, he’s quite popular in Germany.
  • As Irish politicians go, he could be fairly progressive. For example, he’s the reason why Irish artists don’t have to pay taxes on any income that comes from creative work. Which, as someone trying to make a living as a writer, I am quite okay with.
"Thanks Charlie! No. Seriously. Thank you."

“Thanks Charlie! No. Seriously. Thank you.”

  • He was pro-business to a degree that bordered on the unladylike but he did make Ireland a more attractive place to do business.
  • Margaret Thatcher hated him. Hated him. Loathed every particle in his being. So, you know. He can’t have been all bad.
Cons
  • Haughey often gets compared to Richard Nixon but in some ways he was an even more formidable an animal. Haughey had Nixon’s intelligence, drive, and ruthlessness but he also had something that Nixon famously lacked; Charm. But all of that talent, drive and ability was put in the service of one cause: Charles J Haughey. It’s often said of Nixon that he could have been a great man if he had been loved. Charles J. Haughey could have been a great man if he’d loved anything other than himself.

***

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7 comments

  1. Also founded the Aos Dana (I know there should be a fada in there somewhere, but it’s late, and I don’t know how to make them on my new laptop anyway), and ended VAT on books (or newspapers…one of them). He had a good eye for the little details that can make a big difference – something a lot of our Taosigh have lacked, safe to say. I suspect the contradiction between his brilliance and (utter, utter) venality is why Irish artists of a certain generation keep going back to him. (There’s some interesting stuff about his dealings with IRA in the 80s, but I’ve never heard it explained particularly well – just that it was important – I suspect because the papers haven’t all been released yet).

    (Also, I thought this would be Reynolds…not that he was necessarily worse than Haughey, but if ever there was a more moronic way for a Taoiseach to get himself thrown out of office, I don’t want to witness it).

  2. Hmmm. As you say, couldn’t have been all THAT bad. And yet, also as you say, if only he had loved someone or something other than himself. It sounds like he had a tremendous amount of potential that he wasted. And few things infuriate me more than when people do idiotic/selfish things, especially when they could do and be so much more.

  3. Nixon may not have been charming but he could sound honest and hard-working when he wanted to. Seriously, listen to the Checkers Speech and tell me that he doesn’t sound like a good upstanding sort guy who is being unfairly attacked by his opponents. Also, as loath as I am to back up Thatcher on anything other than the Falklands, she might have had a point with Haughey.

  4. So it was a Taoiseach that made the Euro, eh? I’m probably incorrectly picturing the Euros as being presented to the continent from out of a pot at a rainbow’s end, but I’m finding it too funny to correct at the moment.

    In any case, that Greece bit cracked me up. How many Greek readers do you have? Hopefully this doesn’t let the cat from the bag.

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