political career of Charles Haughey straddled the
three decades from 1961-92, a period dominated by
events north of the border. Yet if one examines
Charles Haughey's political career one can find
no ideological consistency on the national question.
His approach, at any given time, was the product
of a deep-seated cynical opportunism and was almost
always determined by his proximity to political
power. Periods in opposition witnessed incessant
republican rhetoric, while periods in office produced
bouts of sterile Anglo-Irish 'teapot' diplomacy:
diplomacy which always underpinned the southern
state's primary objectives of developing new ways
of curbing armed struggle, ensuring internal stability,
and maintaining partition within an acceptable paradigm.
Unity was never seriously sought or explored. Republican
rhetoric was the silage unsheathed for the electoral
Six months after having become leader of Fianna
Fail, in a May 1980 Panorama interview, Haughey
urged British politicians to withdraw "the
constitutional guarantee to unionists, the major
stumbling block to progress." This traditional
republican critique echoed similar sentiments previously
expressed by Cardinal O'Fiach. This analysis was
sustained in opposition throughout 1985 when Haughey
rejected the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It had "copper-fastened
partition" and would be renegotiated if the
party regained power, Haughey promised the Fianna
Fail faithful. However, upon returning to power
in January 1987, far from renegotiating the Agreement,
Haughey embraced the entrenched unionist veto and,
more importantly from a British perspective, implemented
a series of measures designed to enhance what was
at the time euphemistically referred to as cross-border
Ideological inconsistency, cynical opportunism,
defeating armed struggle, maintaining southern internal
stability, exploring new methods of operating partition
- these were the hallmarks of Haughey's northern
One always had to separate Haughey's garrulous commitment
to unity from the grimy realpolitik that was his
relentless pursuit and retention of power. His handling
of the 1981 hunger strike epitomised this characteristic
more than any other event during his tenure in office.
The election of anti-H-Block candidates ensured
Haughey's removal from power in June 1981. As far
as Haughey was concerned, here lay the real crisis
of 1981. His weasel-mouthed attempt at H-Block mediation
was motivated by a desire to manipulate vulnerable
prisoners' families into terminating the hunger
strike, lest it frustrate his electoral prospects.
As Bobby Sands wrote: "Mr. Haughey has the
means to end the H-Block crisis and has consistently
refused to do so, I view his prompting of my family
as cynical and cold-blooded manipulation of people
vulnerable to this type of pressure". Never
once throughout the entire prison protest did Haughey
threaten to break-off diplomatic relations with
Britain or terminate cross-border security cooperation.
And when asked by an RTE interviewer if he agreed
with Sile de Valera, who said that if hunger strikers
died it was Thatcher's responsibility, Haughey replied
that he did not concur. Haughey's handling of the
H-Block dispute was shameful.
Fianna Fail's response to the eruption of the northern
conflict spawned the Haughey myth, a myth which
eventually helped elevate him to high office. Prior
to 1969 Haughey exhibited no republican inclinations.
Indeed in 1962, as Minister for Justice, he re-activated
the Special Criminal Court to smash the IRA's Border
Campaign. Thereafter he maintained a conspicuous
silence on the north. However, in 1969, Lynch gave
Haughey control of £100,000 to assist beleaguered
northern nationalists. Around this time Charles
Haughey met Cathal Goulding, the then IRA Chief-of-Staff.
Goulding later alleged Haughey offered him a deal
whereby the IRA would desist from radical political
activity in the south in return for financial support
and a free hand in the north. This meeting fuelled
a persistent rumour that Haughey indirectly helped
form the Provisionals.
The 1970 Arms Trial temporarily halted Haughey's
ministerial career and seemingly put paid to any
prospect of high office. Haughey denied any knowledge
that guns were being imported. But Jim Gibbons,
the then Minister for Defence, implicated Haughey
in the attempted importation. Some argued that Haughey
acted out of a patriotic empathy for northern nationalists.
Others believed Haughey viewed the northern crisis
as an ideal opportunity to remove an indecisive
Lynch from office. One thing is certain, while Blaney
and Boland seemed only too happy to fall on their
republican swords, Haughey was devastated by his
post-acquittal demotion. Brought to heel, he voted
in support of Jim Gibbons in two post-trial confidence
motions in Leinster House. This was a step too far
for Blaney and Boland, both of whom resigned from
Fianna Fail in disgust. Haughey rebuilt his political
career and commenced his long path to power.
In May 1987 Tim Pat Coogan visited Kinsealy and
handed Haughey a Gerry Adams authored 7,000-word
document outlining the terms for an IRA ceasefire
and the creation of a pan-nationalist alliance.
Haughey coaxed the Provisionals along while extraditing
their political prisoners to Britain: a classic
case of carrot and stick. Ed Maloney wrote: "no
single Irish politician did more than Haughey to
start the Provos on the path that eventually resulted
in the ceasefires". It is a crowded stage but
Haughey could, with some justification, claim to
be one of the main architects of the peace process.
He was central to the events that led to the creation
of the Provisionals. After having served eleven
years in senior ministerial portfolios and nine
as Taoiseach, who would have predicted that Haughey
would also be central to the creation of a process
that has witnessed Gerry Adams lead the Provisional
movement back down the path to the very point from
which it originally split from Cathal Goulding?
Charles Haughey, the connecting thread, the alpha
and omega, in the ignominious Provisional saga.