Charlie (Haughey)…Is Mise Charlie

So a three part drama series on RTE on Charlie Haughey.The name is associated with political graft and corruption. Former Taoiseach Haughey is dead. Libel laws only apply to the living so it is obvious that this is a hatchet job. Safe enough in 2015. But a slightly uncomfortable feeling that RTE bravery in tackling the subject is tempered by the fact that Haighey was never really tackled when he was alive…and he had enough cronies around him to ensure that he remained untouchable.
There is a narrative in Irish Politics. Fine Gael is sophisticated (metropolitan) and honest. Fianna Fáil is unsophisticated (rural) and dishonest.
FG is a party driven by “policy”. FF is a party driven by “populism”.
All this is underscored by “civil war politics” FF (anti-Treaty) is more ruthless than FG (pro-Treaty).
And of course the most honest and sophisticated people in Ireland are the intellectuals, academics, journalists and the “creatives”.
Well at least thats the narrative.
Gerry Adams is the Charles Haughey of 2015
In twenty years time, there will be a drama called “Gerry”. It will be the revenge of the “creatives”.
All these bio-pics depend to a certain degree on the ability of the lead actor to convince us.
Patricia Hodge was in “Maggie” (Thatcher)…convincing. Julie Walters was in “Mo” (Mowlam)….unconvincing. Liam Neeson was in “Michael Collins” and aided of course by the passage of time was convincing.
So Aidan Gillen as “Charlie”? There seemed little physical resemblance. But the mannerisms and speech pattern seemed right.

I am a man of 62 years of age. In my middle years, Charlie was in his prime. In the eraly 1970s and in the heady days after the Troubles broke out in 1969, he was an Irish Government minister, put on trial by his own government for arms smuggling into the North of Ireland. He was acquitted but understandably for the rest of his life (and a lot of other lives) there was bad blood between Haughey and the party colleagues, who put him on trial. Fianna Fáil never really regai its former dominance of Irish politics. In the 1970s, Charlie was in the wilderness of Opposition or middle ranking in government. So the TV mini -series begins in 1979 as he plots successfully to become Taoiseach …a revolt from the back benches sees him to victory.

At the heart of Charlie Haughey is a contradiction. He is the Irish equivelant of an Irish-American big city boss. For Charlie, Ireland is to be run for the benefit of his people. And especially for those people close to him.

It was strangely uneven. By RTE standards it was lavish…but only in parts. The series concentrated on his relationship with his senior Fianna Fáil colleagues…George Colley, Des O”Malley, Brian Lenihan, Sean Doherty, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahearn….and his PR Guru (O’Meara). Oddly it showed Haughey with senior Europeans like Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand. His long time mistress Terri Keane featured strongly.

But strangely absent was Haugheys wife. And indeed his children.

His own financial corruption was clear enough. The corruption of others was hinted at, rather than overtly stated. Yes signed cheques and cash in brown paper envelopes.

Also absent were Fine Gael politicians. While there were robust exchanges between Haughey and his Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, it would have been interesting to see some exchanges between Haughey and his real enemies.

What did we learn about Charlie?

Well circa 1973, I was in Dublin and a taxi driver told me all about Charlie Haughey and Terri Keane (then a journalist and gossip columnist with a Dublin Sunday newspaper). Seemingly everybody knew. How this never became officially public or used by his enemies to discredit Haughey seems strange. But the TV series reveals that Haughey had Keane had a private room constantly available at a leading Dublin hotel.

And oddly Fianna Fáil members routinely referred to the Fine Gael party as “the Blueshirts” a reference to that party’s brief flirtation with fascism in the 1930s. Of course the “nice” FF people like Colley and O’Malley didnt do this. Only the “nastier” element like Haughey.

Haughey….well what can we say. He had endearing qualities such as hating the Brits and distrusting the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. He wanted “patriots with balls”.  And he hated the Blueshirts in Fine Gael. And he firmly believed that Britains difficulty is Irelands opportunity…the Malvinas (Falklands) for example.

On the plus side he loved his mammy and looked after his constituency and genuinely slipping some cash to the distressed. And his political achievements such as decent old age pensions, free transport for pensioners and free TV licences for the elderly….stand the test of time.

So….on the minus side, he was ….a bit….ya know…..corrupt.

 

 

 

 

 

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