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Charlie Haughey

Charles Haughey, a towering figure in Irish politics, served as Taoiseach for four terms from December 1979 to February 1992. Born in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1925, Haughey was the third of seven children. His father, Seán Haughey, was an Irish Republican Army member during the War of Independence. Haughey’s political journey began when he was elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD in 1957, representing various Dublin constituencies until his retirement in 1992.

Haughey’s political ascent was swift. Known for his charisma and ambition, he held various ministerial positions, including Minister for Justice and Minister for Agriculture. However, Haughey’s tenure as Minister for Finance was not without controversy. He arranged foreign currency loans for the government and left them on deposit in foreign countries, a move deemed unconstitutional. Haughey later introduced legislation to retrospectively legalize these actions, facing little opposition in the process.

During the late 1960s, when tensions in Northern Ireland were escalating, Charles Haughey was viewed as a pragmatist within Fianna Fáil. As Minister for Justice, he took a tough stance against the IRA, using internment without trial. However, a crisis erupted when Haughey, along with ministerial colleague, Neil Blaney, was dismissed from Lynch’s cabinet amid allegations of using funds to import arms for the IRA. Lynch acted only after being informed by the Garda Special Branch, prompting Leader of the Opposition Liam Cosgrave to threaten exposure in the Dáil. Lynch requested Haughey and Blaney’s resignations, which they refused, leading to their dismissal by President de Valera. Haughey and Blaney were tried but acquitted, though doubts lingered, marking a setback in Haughey’s career.

In 1975, Haughey returned to Jack Lynch’s opposition front bench, later becoming Minister for Health and Social Welfare in 1977. He introduced progressive policies, including anti-smoking campaigns and legalizing limited access to contraception. Following Lynch’s resignation in 1979, Haughey won a close leadership contest against George Colley, becoming Taoiseach for the first time.

Facing an economic crisis, Haughey increased public spending, leading to higher borrowing and taxation. His popularity waned, and in the 1981 election, Fianna Fáil failed to secure a majority. Haughey’s government collapsed, and a Fine Gael–Labour coalition came to power.

In 1982, Haughey returned as Taoiseach after a second election. But his leadership was further challenged by controversies, including his alleged involvement in phone tapping. Despite facing multiple no-confidence votes, he managed to hold onto power. In Haughey’s final term as Taoiseach (1987–1992), he faced various scandals and challenges. He led a minority government and introduced tough economic policies in collaboration with Fine Gael. However, controversies arose regarding financial improprieties and allegations of obstruction of justice. Haughey’s involvement in the appointment of officials and his handling of the phone-tapping scandal damaged his reputation.

Following calls for his resignation and internal party conflicts, Haughey eventually stepped down as leader of Fianna Fáil in January 1992. He continued as Taoiseach until February, when he was succeeded by Albert Reynolds. Haughey retired from politics after the 1992 general election. His later years were marked by legal battles and revelations of bribe-taking and financial misconduct. In one notorious example, one of Haughey’s lifelong friends, former government minister Brian Lenihan, underwent a liver transplant which was partly paid for through fundraising by Haughey. The Moriarty tribunal found that of the £270,000 collected in donations for Brian Lenihan, no more than £70,000 ended up being spent on Lenihan’s medical care.

Haughey died in June 2006, leaving behind a legacy tainted by scandal and controversy.

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  • more of a ‘force for good’

  • Less of a ‘force for good’


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