The GUBU man

Sally Richardson reviews Haughey’s Millions: Charlie’s money trail by Colm Keena, Gill and Macmillan, £7.99 pbk

THE NAME of Charlie Haughey has become a byword for corruption. As taoiseach he siphoned off Fianna Fáil party funds and shamelessly solicited huge donations from business people to keep him in Charvet shirts, champagne and racehorses.

Colm Keena’s remarkably lucid and readable account of these inglorious carryings-on takes us from Haughey’s origins as an ambitious lower-middle-class boy. Like the archetypal stage-Irishman he claimed descent from the Kings of Ireland, and he set about setting himself up as a country gentleman with expensive tastes without the income to match them.

By the time he became taoiseach in 1979 he owed the Allied Irish Bank more than one million pounds. The bank’s timid attempts to recoup the money were treated with cavalier disdain; he grew “quite vicious” when asked to give up his chequebook. He got away with it.

Haughey’s behaviour on being caught out displayed his character at its lowest. He tried to pin the blame on his late friend and financial adviser, Des Traynor. He told the McCracken Tribunal that he knew nothing of his personal finances; Traynor took responsibility for them so “I would be free to devote my time and ability to public life”.

When the Moriarty Tribunal demanded his presence he fell back on the trick of claiming that he was old and ill and in no fit state to account for his actions. He did indeed have cancer of the prostate — but few will feel anything but contempt for his claims that he “couldn’t handle” the stress of being questioned.

You couldn’t make this sort of stuff up. Keena maintains a moral stance without too much overt moralising and his treatment of this often-sensational material is all the more effective for mostly allowing the facts to speak for themselves.

This book takes us to the rotten core of Irish politics and the unhealthy symbiosis between the political establishment and business, though as recent event have shown, we in Britain needn’t feel too smug.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 15:00:58.
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