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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Obituary: Charles Haughey
Charles Haughey

For three decades, Charles Haughey dominated the narrow stage of Irish politics. He held every major office of state and was prime minister (Taoiseach) in three administrations.

Known by the people simply as Charlie, he ruled with skill and political guile, spinning a web of patronage and corruption that brought him enormous wealth but eventually disgrace.

Charles Haughey was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, where his parents took refuge after the family farm in County Londonderry was burnt in a sectarian attack.

He studied accounting and law in Dublin, then worked as an accountant and dabbled in real estate, amassing a fortune from land transactions.

He joined the Fianna Fail Party and in 1961 he was made minister of justice, the first in a succession of posts that culminated in the top job. His period in the justice ministry was regarded as significant, and he introduced a range of important social legislation.

His first election as Taoiseach in December 1979 capped one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern history.

Charles Haughey

Just a decade earlier, while minister of finance, he had been arrested and tried on charges of gun-running for the Provisional IRA.

Although he was acquitted of all charges, he spent several years in the political wilderness.

He fought his way back by tenacity, skill and cunning.

He was expected to take a hard line on the Northern Ireland issue, but he publicly condemned the violent tactics of the IRA and his approach to re-unification was restrained and conciliatory.

His meeting with Margaret Thatcher, in May 1980, was seen by many as another step in his campaign to kill off the popular British media image of the erstwhile gun-runner and replace it with that of statesmanlike politician.

Political survivor

But over a period of 18 months he lost two elections, and won another only by dint of some curious deals with fringe independents.

His party was shaken by a series of scandals. Of these, perhaps the most notable involved the 1982 case of an impoverished Dublin socialite, Malcolm MacArthur, who had turned to robbery and murder.

Haughey with Margaret Thatcher
Mr Haughey with Margaret Thatcher
When he was finally apprehended, after having killed twice, it was on the property of Attorney General Patrick Connolly, with whom he had been staying for some time as a guest.

Haughey famously described the episode as "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented," and the acronym GUBU passed into the Irish political lexicon.

There followed revelations of phone-tapping and the bugging of sensitive conversations while the party was in office.

Again, he survived against the odds. He even survived when his boat sank off the south-west of Ireland in 1985 and he had to be rescued by lifeboat.

He was a great surviror and I hope his legacy will be a positive one
David, Belfast

Haughey lost power to Garret FitzGerald but regained it when the former lost the confidence of the electorate in 1987 in the wake of public discontent with the economy.

Investigated for corruption

In 1992 Mr Haughey resigned from government, following accusations of his involvement in interference with the courts and the Garda, and the bugging of journalists' phones 10 years earlier.

Haughey with France's President Mitterrand
Mr Haughey the statesman with France's President Mitterrand
Several official investigations into his private life revealed that he had received millions of pounds from a number of top businesses, including payments from the Irish Permanent Building Society, the hotelier PV Doyle and the property developer Patrick Gallagher.

Ben Dunne, head of Dunne Stores, acknowledged that he had paid him more than 1million in donations which began within weeks of Mr Haughey's election as Taoiseach in 1987. Haughey denied this but later admitted it was true.

He was also accused of using money donated to Fianna Fail for his own personal expenditure.

Long-term affair

Haughey certainly enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, with luxury foreign holidays, expensive meals and fine wine. He wore shirts bought for 700 each in Paris.

He also owned several racehorses and an island off the coast of County Kerry. A clear picture emerged of a Taoiseach indebted not only to a number of top business people, but also to Ireland's largest bank.

In 2000 he stood trial, on two counts of obstructing the McCracken tribunal, one of the several inquiries which had been investigating his alleged financial irregularities.

But this trial never happened, as Haughey's health problems apparently began to take their toll.

Even so, in 2003 he agreed to pay 5m euro to the country's Revenue Commission to settle outstanding tax liabilities.

Aside from his financial improprieties, Charles Haughey faced scandal in his personal life, with the revelation of his long-term affair with the journalist Terry Keane, the wife of a judge he had appointed.

She shared his luxurious lifestyle, and for several years wrote a society column in the Irish Independent which hinted at the liaison.

Mr Haughey was accused of sexual hypocrisy. He had been a strong opponent of proposals to remove the prohibition of divorce.

The revelations severely damaged his reputation, and that of politics in Ireland. The Irish Times described Mr Haughey as a "symbol of the degeneracy of political culture".


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