Haughey: last of an old breed…

Richard Delevan writing in the Sunday Tribune hopes that the subjection of government regulation to the individual ambition of politicians that became associated with the Haughey era is a thing of the past:By Richard Delevan:

“AN iconic figure representative of Ireland’s brash new capitalist class” was one British commentator’s obit for Charlie Haughey. Jesus, let’s hope not.

Whatever his virtues, to allow Haughey to be remembered as the “father of the Celtic Tiger” would be to launder his legacy in a way that would do Ireland’s international reputation, and ultimately the ability of Ireland to maintain its economic trajectory, no favours.

A shudder goes through Dublin financial circles when the city is labelled “the Wild West of European finance” by the New York Times . . . a soubriquet that still gets up the nose of our market referees who keep the playing pitch level. Can our reputation be helped by identifying what the British press deems this country’s tendency to find a rogue irresistible with the foundation of our economic success?

Isn’t that taking things just a bit too far?

Ireland’s public culture has learned from recent hard experience that, while the church and most of her Latin may be lost to us, the dictum de mortuis nil nisi bonum (speak no ill of the dead) is a rule that still commands respect.

As an aside, this rule apparently does not apply for those outside the tribe, something that has always struck this outsider as odd. Like when the British singer Morrissey announced from the stage in Dublin Castle in July 2004 that Haughey contemporary Ronald Reagan had finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. The news was greeted with a rapturous cheer from a crowd of thousands, but there was practically no follow-up comment about the incident afterwards in the Irish media, never mind an outcry. Even when the former Smiths frontman added that it was a pity the current American president had not also died.

One can only imagine what will be said when Maggie Thatcher passes from the scene.

So when we reflect on the need of so many to adhere to the rule ‘speak no ill of the dead’, it’s worth remembering that this enforced deference is not about some sense of revealed morality, but shoring up loyalty within the tribe. It makes any rational assessment of Ireland’s recent past impossible, trapping us in the paradigm of myth and protecting the powerful from being subject to the same justice applied to the rest of us.

All of which might be fine, as long as no one else is paying attention.

But perhaps there’s something to the disquiet that kept threatening to bubble through the layer of hagiographical make-up being slathered on Haughey’s legacy last week, with radio programmes in particular receiving by Friday a torrent of calls from listeners frustrated by the media coverage.

Perhaps the discomfort was shared by the people who opted not to file past the coffin at Our Lady of Consolation in Donnycarney, keeping attendance figures lower than government expectations; and among the people who left the barricades unneeded along the motorcade route Friday morning.

Again, none of it would matter if what the world thinks of this island mattered not a whit . . . something that was once true, but can no longer be said to be accurate.

Senator Ted Kennedy, in a statement marking Haughey’s passing, lavished praise on his role in the Northern Ireland peace process . . . even giving CJH the ultimate Kennedy accolade “profile in courage” for his efforts. But Kennedy used a phrase that bears repeating to describe Haughey’s role vis-a-vis the Celtic Tiger: “present at the creation”.

That seems closer to the reality, and an elegant phrase that perhaps describes the economic policies sanctioned by Haughey in his last years in office, in which he got the government to stop trying to kill the economy . . . at the precise moment in 1987 when, economically and politically, he had no other choice.

Put in a less decorous way, with the exception of some of the stewardship of Haughey’s father-in-law Sean Lemass, Ireland had been shooting itself in the foot economically since the foundation of the state. Charles Haughey happened to be left holding the gun when the country finally couldn’t afford any more bullets.

We do ourselves no favours if we let observers believe Haughey to be the first of a new, current breed, rather than the last of an old one . . .

and one whose ways of doing business should be buried with him.

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