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Modernity and Charles Haughey. June 13, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Odd isn't it to put the word modernity in the same sentence as Charles Haughey, and yet, I can't help but feel that he was one of Ireland's truly modern politicians, someone who but for an accident of birth would have fitted as well into the British Conservatives or New Labour.

He was someone who achieved Ministerial power in the 1960s, who immediately saw how political power and influence can be entwined for the personal, although in fairness that wasn't unknown in this state on any side prior to that. He had an appreciation of the glamour of power (quite an achievement if the photo's from the time do him anything approaching justice) and an ability to project it. In his private relationships he shunned the conventions that middle Ireland held up as the standard. He assumed many of the trappings of wealth in a display which was nouveau riche, and yet was carried off with a wink. The late lamented Scrap Saturday had an entire sketch based on the fact he appeared to claim at least two and possibly more locations as his birthplace…but that was typical, all things to all men…

Does this sound like a eulogy? I certainly hope not.

Yet, I have two friends, both in their late forties or early fifties who knew him well. One was a long-time member of the Labour Party and it was perhaps the way in which they were able to maintain a friendship with Haughey that taught me something about the necessity to look beyond the partisan political at the personal.

However, while looking beyond the partisan political to the personal is good, it is sometimes necessary to look beyond the personal and consider the broader public good. On that score serious questions remain. Yet he remains a man of his time with all the vices and virtues that came with that.

In a way he was a sort of anti-Enoch Powell, a politician of rigorous principle who on one particular occasion allowed that principle to go to his head and allow him say something utterly reprehensible. Haughey was not, I suspect, a man who even his closest friends would have claimed was a man of rigorous principle. Yet, in broad terms his populism was remarkably restrained. So much of what he projected was a facade, a facade of nationalism, a facade of populism, a facade of gentrification. In a more real sense he was the personification of the old jibe about Irish independence being little more than a thin coat of green paint applied to the post boxes. No more or less meaningful than that.

However, if there is one thing I think he contributed to this society, and something that I suspect was no facade, it was in the late 1980s when the country was far from recovery. I think his approach to the issue of heritage and the arts was as important, perhaps more important than the IFSC (and I've often wondered was that a little dig at Tony Gregory seeing as it was sited in the same constituency – or was it indeed yet another element of the Gregory deal?). This developed from a genuine appreciation of these areas on his part. I'd argue that it was the support he gave to the state, and state cultural institutions and arts institutions which in part mitigated the more right-ward drift of his economic policies and perhaps demonstrated that the state wasn't merely something to be cut away but could become an enabler – that we could at least to some degree have our entrepreneurial cake and eat it with a side order of a relatively vibrant state supported sector. That indeed the state had a duty to provide such support as it disengaged from the nostrums of Keynesian support for the traditional semi-state sector. The contemporary economy, one built less on the old concept of industrialisation and more on services owes something to that.

That was a very modern lesson to teach – however short term it proves ultimately to be. And one that, perhaps far more than the man, has served us well in the intervening years…

…Regarding the Dáil eulogies. I thought Enda Kenny gave a measured and and balanced piece. The same is true of Trevor Sargent. However that given by Pat Rabitte appeared fractious and divisive, with the customary 'not the day for discussing the dark side' followed by 'on the other hand I would be a hypocrite'. One wonders is this yet another attempt to mark out a unique spot on the Irish political terrain. If so it's a bitter place…


1. Mark - January 16, 2008

love your site!


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