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Revision time June 13, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Irish Politics.

In the inevitable outpouring of analysis, op-eds and obituaries of Haughey we have to look forward to, it's hard to imagine a more bizarre piece (well, apart from what's published by Independent News and Media) than this, quick-off-the-mark, article by Jason Walsh in the Guardian's Comment is Free section.

Walsh begins with the kind of sentiment we can expect to see repeated ad nauseam over the next few days, but which remains broadly true: Haughey is, or was, a very divisive figure; for all the criticism he attracted, he still retained a good many devotees; whatever his personal failings, he had some remarkable achievements; history will judge him etc. 

However, the writer seems to be a little out of touch with the reality of public sentiment in contemporary Ireland:

More important, though, is what the people of the Republic of Ireland make of him. For now Haughey remains popular. He is credited with lifting Ireland out of the doldrums, laying the foundations for its current economic boom and his pensioner-friendly policies such as free travel guarantee his passing will be mourned by the over 65s.

Again, this is true, but only to an extent. Haughey is popular among some, but to say that he 'remains popular' is surely an exaggeration. There are very few who retain their admiration for him without qualification, and even those who credit him with the economic boom of recent years, or with laying the seeds of the Peace Process, will tend to acknowledge the less savoury parts of his history, albeit just to stress that (in their view) his influence, on balance, has been a positive one.

Walsh, however, doesn't seem to acknowledge, or realise, that Haughey might actually have had any flaws at all, or that a significant number of Irish people absolutely despised him (and not without cause). No, Walsh invokes the favorite confrontation of the lazy hack: the 'ordinary people' vs. the 'establishment'. It's the ordinary people (apparently representative of what Walsh terms 'the Irish psyche') who admired Haughey because he was a bit of a chancer. And obviously, there's nothing the 'establishment' hates more than ordinary people.

For many in the media and the academy, as well as on the opposition benches – and even for a few on the government benches – in the Dáil, this is exactly why Haughey must be cut down to size and if it must be done after his death, all the better. At least he won't be popping up to remind the public why they liked him in the first place.

Again, Walsh seems oblivious to the fact that Haughey's been massively villified for the past ten years. He did have serious questions to answer (and, due to his more recent ill-health, he didn't face quite as much scrutiny as he possibly should have). Still, if 'the media and the academy' (which 'academy' exactly is he talking about here, or is it just 'Class of Political Correctness Gone Mad 2006' again) say something, obviously it must be wrong.

Towards the end, though, it becomes pretty clear why Walsh seems so intent, not, perhaps, on defending Haughey, but on attacking his critics:

No doubt in forthcoming work by some celebrated commentators, Haughey's personal failings will be exaggerated in order to stomp on the republican consciousness of ordinary Irish citizens. His foibles will be held aloft as conclusive proof of the double-dealing and untrustworthiness of republicans, even of the soft variety found in Fianna Fáil. In death he will become an easy target for smears and attack stories. For Ireland's growing band of revisionists, Haughey represents the latent republicanism of the citizenry. At the very least he must be portrayed as outmoded.

This, to me, seems one of the most bizarre things I've ever read on Haughey, alive or dead. Apparently Walsh believes that criticism of Haughey is synonymous with an anti-republican position, or that critics of Haughey are motivated by anti-republicanism. 

What utter rubbish. Certainly many of Haughey's harshest critics were also critics of the Provisional movement, but it's quite a stretch to see the two as linked. There's no need to dwell on the darker aspects of the Haughey era right now; no doubt that'll be thrashed out in the weeks, months and years ahead. But we're still living with the consequences of the poisoning of the Irish political landscape , which must be seen as a significant part of Haughey's legacy (time will tell if it will be seen as the dominant part).  This isn't a figment of the imagination of 'the media' or 'academics' or even the dreaded 'revisionists' (a shadowy group of ne'er-do-wells which Walsh decries but never defines or names, content in the belief that anyone who challenges an accepted view – well, accepted by him – must automatically be suspect).

Never once in the piece does Walsh mention corruption, or Ansbacher, or the Moriarty tribunal.  Indeed, there's little to indicate that he's even aware of them. Instead, all he can bring himself to say is:

Whether Haughey made, on balance, a positive or negative contribution to Irish history, I have no idea.

In that case, perhaps he might do well to save his hysterical 'republican' paranoia, and his denunciations of the dread 'revisionists' and leave the analysis of Haughey's legacy to those even vaguely familiar with the facts.


1. joemomma - June 13, 2006

With my busy modern lifestyle I tend to give up on these pieces after the first unforgivable howler — in this case, “For now Haughey remains popular.” However, I am indebted to smiffy for encouraging me to persist, as further reading reveals another gem: “His penchant for pricey meals and expensive clothes was as much part of his appeal as was his trial for conspiracy to send arms to the Provisional IRA during loyalist attacks in the 1970s”.

The author doesn’t seem to have much familiarity with Irish politics or society, outside of a simplistic metanarrative in which republicans battle revisionists.


2. Pidge - June 18, 2006

Reading the article, you’d get the impression that it was written by someone in the UK with a passing knowledge of Haughey, Irish politics and just what the mainstream opinion in Ireland is/was.

Surprisingly, it seems the author is based in Dublin and Belfast. Is this article simply out of touch or is it an unashamedly revisionist piece for a relatively oblivious UK audience?


3. WorldbyStorm - June 18, 2006

That’s an interesting point Pidge. It certainly seems to be an attempt to attach the Haughey legacy to Republicanism, and imply that an injury to one is an injury to the other, which is pretty absurd considering that most Republicans would consider Haughey as – at best – a sort of souped up Nationalist…


4. The Last High King and his Faithful Bard « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - June 28, 2011

[…] least the previous Haughey piece we looked at tried to make some sort of case, albeit a spurious one. Waters, however, sticks with his […]


5. 5 Years ago this month on the CLR: The Last High King and his Faithful Bard « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - June 29, 2011

[…] least the previous Haughey piece we looked at tried to make some sort of case, albeit a spurious one. Waters, however, sticks with his […]


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