Gary Murphy's new book paints a detailed picture
Excellent summary and commentary, Sam! Particularly enjoyed seeing you include the recommendation that Ireland should aim to be more of a policy sandbox and be more experimental in our approach to problem solving through policy. Wish this was spoken more about, as Ireland is so well positioned to excel at this and will need to look at new ways to strengthen its global position as remote working threatens our FDI-tech base throughout the rest of this decade.
Good piece. It's funny that the hatred for Haughey that persists, like that for Dev, is much more folky shared belief than any specific grievance (not that there aren't many grievances).
Just worth considering, for future posts, and this is definitely the complaint of a local; I think you overstate how unique/unusual Ireland is, politically. I understand it's difficult to write for a foreign audience, when there's little prior knowledge of the subjects at hand, but certain statements here ('I can’t overstate just how parochial politics in Ireland can be', and 'I cannot stress to you how un-professionalised the Irish political class is' in particular) carry, for me, the familiar echoes of Irish liberals apologising for their backwards compatriots.
Plenty of Irish politics is not actually that special; having the nationalists on the Left, for instance (although many in FF would take serious umbrage at the suggestion that they were not nationalists) is not particularly unique in other states with a revolutionary foundation and a colonial past - look at Ba'athists, or Arab Nationalists of Nasser's ilk. You can find FG analogues all throughout Europe (historically the CDU, for instance, at least that's a comparison I imagine Garrett FitzGerald would have sought), and early FF in a variety of religious-populist groups.
Apologies if it sounds like I'm nitpicking - it's great to have someone in this space writing seriously about Irish politics. I've subscribed, and look forward to future output.
I really enjoyed this! I know embarrassingly little about Irish politics
An interesting commentary with some fresh perspectives but I disagree with a few key points and there are some important factual errors.
I would agree with a key conclusion - that Ireland, as a small country, has disporportionate influence internationally and Ireland has been agile and successful in certain policies which could also benefit even the largest countries. However, Irish politics has changed radically since Haughey's day (e.g. the "Celtic Tiger" boom/bust, same-sex marriage, abortion, the Catholic Church). Ireland's economic choices are now increasingly constrained by EU membership. Brexit is a disaster and who knows what will happen the NI Protocol? Support for EU membership is very strong in Ireland but the calculus is changing - Ireland is now paying more than it gets from the EU budget.
Although their policies are now indistinguishable, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had very distinct political philosophies for most of Haughey's lifetime. Fianna Fáil provided a political platform for those who had lost the Civil War (i.e. opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921) but who were willing to work within the structures of the new Irish Free State. Fine Gael are the political heirs to the winners in the Civil War i.e. they accepted the Treaty (plus some proto-Fascists but we don't talk about that). When Fianna Fáil won power, it introduced a new republican Constitution which laid claim de jure to the entire island (that claim was dropped in favour of the Good Friday Agreement). Fianna Fáil also promoted native industries behind tariff barriers and increased social spending (especially social housing.) Fine Gael became more socially conscious through coalition with the (smaller) Labour Party.
Ireland's system of Ministerial appointments is not unusual - it is closely based on the Westminster system with President Higgins in place of Queen Elizabeth. Sometimes Ministers have "expertise" in regard to their portfolio. I can think of many examples where "expert" Ministers have failed (James Reilly, a doctor as Minister for Health, Alan Shatter, a high-powered solicitor as Minister for Justice) but Haughey is widely regarded as having done an outstanding job in both Justice and Finance, drawing on his expertise as a barrister and solicitor.
The arms trial is still shrouded in controversy but two facts need to be clarified here. There were actual shipments of arms and Haughey tried to expedite one such shipment which arrived in Dublin Airport. Secondly, and crucially for the subsequent history, charges were not dropped in the arms trial. There was a second trial and Haughey et al. were acquitted of all charges.
Murphy's book doesn't shed much light on Haughey's central enigma - how did he maintain such a lavish lifestyle when his only declared income was his salary (which, even as Taoiseach, would not cover a fraction of his expenses)? The money we know about (the Ben Dunne donation, the Lenihan medical fund, the AIB overdraft write-off) would not have sustained Haughey for long and Murphy does not support the speculation you mention about his purchase and sale of Grangemore (in Raheny, not Kildare).
Haughey's relationship with Ted Kennedy was fraught. Murphy shows that Kennedy humiliated Haughey when Haughey tried to move our Ambassador in Washington. Kennedy (and Tip O'Neill) also sent Brian Lenihan back to Haughey with a flea in his ear when Haughey tried to persuade Irish-American leaders to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985
Can you recommend a book about the civil war? I enjoyed TPC’s Collins biography, but it doesn’t cover the war in much detail.
Great book review Sam. I had rather hoped you would paint him as more evil than you did. That probably says more about my any Haughey bias than the facts though