Charlie: Remembering the Haughey era

Two reasons I bring this up now, the first is the annoucement of the Charlie drama which will be hitting RTE on 4th January 2015. and second, today is the 35th anniversary of the election of Charles Haughey as Fianna Fail leader.

For any of you not familiar with Irish history, Haughey beat his long time rival George Colley with 44 votes-38. His win a huge shock to the senior figures in the party, all but two of the cabinet backed Colley in the ballot and the outgoing Taoiseach Jack Lynch was hugely opposed to Haughey taking over. However, with a slow campaign over 9 years he had built up a network of support amongst various sections of party which enabled him to win over the new generation of TDs elected in the 1977 landslide.

Anyone who I know in Fianna Fail, who was in the party before he became leader, has said that this election changed Fianna Fail. It was unheard of to have open dissent against a sitting Taoiseach and Haughey did not come from the traditional side of the party that previous leaders had come from. This notion of being an outsider conditioned Haughey’s approach to most issues, but as his advisor PJ Mara said about Haughey’s opponents in the 1979 ballot;

 

They thought it was their f**king birthright and we nailed them to the cross

If you look at the press conference that followed you will find a depressed looking Seamus Brennan, who was the party general secretary at the time and has subsequently admitted he was “devastated” by the election of Haughey. Likewise, Haughey commented in his speech that Colley had given an assurance of loyalty, which Colley subsequently rejected ever saying, telling Haughey he would get the same loyalty from him, that he had given Jack Lynch. This bitterness didn’t stop Haughey giving Colley a veto over who he could appoint as Minister for Justice or Defence.

So, 35 years on since the start of the Haughey era, what is his enduring legacy? Is it corruption? Or more reforms such as free travel for OAPs, IFSC, beginning talks with the IRA?

 

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs