REVIEW: The Broderick Lectures at Waterford Museum of Treasures
CHARLES J. Haughey posed well. He always had that touch of Rodin’s “Thinker” about him. A man destined for greatness that was dreaming of the future and legacy and that was owed a great deal by life and by the society he served.
Waterford’s favourite historian Dr. Eugene Broderick is packing the Museum of Treasures for his lunchtime talks on Charles J. Haughey. Amazingly, everyone seems to know everyone else. And, just in case they don’t, they introduce themselves because familiarity here is the order of the day.
‘His mother remarked to him about all those empty buses going around Dublin and he introduced Free Travel’
By any standards, Haughey was impressive. A reforming and capable Minister for Justice, promoted to Minister for Finance at the age of 41 and described by one secretary of the Dept of Finance as “the most capable politician he had ever served.” He was the first accountant to serve in Finance (Waterford Crystal’s CEO Noel Griffin wrote to congratulate him) and regarded the much feared TK Whittaker as his intellectual equal.
He was innovative. His mother remarked to him about all those empty buses going around Dublin and he introduced Free Travel – much to Whittaker’s dismay – but greeted with cheers from today’s gathering. No marks for guessing the audience’s age profile here. He introduced Tax exemptions for artists and writers and was regarded as a Minister with vision. Charley was ruthlessly ambitious and worked hard. Very hard.
And then the Arms Crisis exploded in May 1970. A plot to import arms to be used by the IRA was uncovered by the Special Branch and three ministers were involved. Or so it was alleged. Trials were held, accused were all acquitted for lack of evidence. Happy days. Except… Jack Lynch needed someone to carry the can. Neil Blaney and Charles Haughey were fired from the cabinet and Capt Kelly was discharged from the army. Kelly – a man of principle – maintained his innocence until the day he died and his family were impoverished by his dismissal. Half-a-century on and no one really knows the truth because everyone lied. Haughey never spoke about it; never gave interviews about it and ignored all discussion of it. Lynch, more or less, did the same.
Haughey’s ambition never wavered and immediately set about his redemption. He embarked on cultivating grass roots support and showed up everywhere on the rubber-chicken circuit. Supper-events, fetes, dinner-dances, retirement parties. You name it and Haughey was there and stayed chatting until the early hours. Next day, he began it all again.
When FF were returned to power again in 1977, he was back as a Minister. This time for Health and we all got free toothbrushes for a clean sweep!
There were other freebies too. For Charlie. He bought his Abbeyville Estate for £147,000 and set about renovating it. Fountains, fine art, horses for stud, a yacht. And an island. One of the Blaskets: Inishvickillaun for £25,000 and set about renovating that also. And all this on a TD’s salary of £3,500/annum.
He had expensive taste and his 27-year love affair with columnist Terry Keane didn’t come cheap either. His restaurant bill exceeded his annual income and his wife Maureen and family were devastated to hear of the relationship when kiss-and-tell Terry Keane appeared on the Late Late Show and spilled the beans. The Sunday Independent reported: “Social diarist, Ms Terry Keane, is to receive a financial package worth almost £600,000 over two years from the Sunday Times for her act of ultimate betrayal against the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. A Sunday Independent telephone poll reveals that two thirds of the public disapprove of her decision to sell her story.”
That was the thing about Charley; never a dull moment.