Catherine Butler's memories of Charlie

Two weeks ago we commenced the serialisation of Catherine Butler's memoirs of her time as personal assistant to Charles Haughey. Catherine's intention was to publish this material in advance of Charles Haughey's death. While he saw the first installment (published on 8 June), we do not know if he read it before he died on 13 June.


We withheld publication of the second installment last week and now resume it with Catherine Butler's account of the presidential election of 1990 and the sacking of Brian Lenihan, and also her recollections of treachery within the Haughey cabinets. The series concludes next week with Catherine Butler's memories of the events that led to Charles Haughey's resignation as Taoiseach.

Catherine Butler has received no payment from Village. However, we are making a donation to the Mater Hospital Foundation on her behalf.

These articles are based on interviews conducted with Catherine Butler by Vincent Browne

In 1990 Brian Lenihan, the then Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, was nominated by Fianna Fáil as its candidate in the presidential elections that were to take place in November of that year. Mary Robinson had already been nominated by the Labour Party and Austin Currie was the Fine Gael candidate.

Earlier that year, on 19 May 1990, Brian Lenihan had given an interview to a UCD research student, Jim Duffy, in which he said that on 27 January 1982, when the Garret FitzGerald government was defeated in a budge vote in the Dáil, he and others in Fianna Fáil had tried to telephone the then president, Patrick Hillery, to persuade him to exercise his constitutional prerogative by not calling an election.

During the 1990 presidential campaign Fine Gael contrived to make this a central issue. Brian Lenihan went on television and, facing directly into the camera, said that his "mature recollection" was that he did not make calls to President Hillery on 27 January 1982. The recollection of others was different [although it seems now he did not personally make such calls] and Fianna Fáil's partners in government, the Progressive Democrats, then led by Des O'Malley, made it clear they would vote in favour of a Fine Gael motion of no-confidence in the government if Brian Lenihan did not resign as Tánaiste and as Minister for Defence.

Charles Haughey tried to persuade Lenihan to resign but he refused. Eventually Haughey sacked Lenihan and the government survived.

Vincent Browne


Brian Lenihan: in sickness and in trouble

Even after he was sacked from the cabinet by Charles Haughey in 1992, Brian Lenihan went into Haughey's office and hugged him. By Catherine Butler

In December 1989 in Malahide Castle, after the Christmas cabinet dinner, I was there with some security people and on the way out, Des O'Malley said to Brian Lenihan, "You won't have any opposition from us if you go for the park, in actual fact, we will endorse you." But it was O'Malley who forced the crisis over Brian a few months later. A senior civil servant in O'Malley's department rang to tell me that O'Malley was packing his bags and clearing out his desk. This was over the calls made to President Hillery in January 1982.

I remember that night when the Garret FitzGerald government fell. I was in the lift with Mr Haughey, Brian Lenihan, Michael Woods and there was somebody else, whom I can't remember. Mr Haughey asked Brian Lenihan to "get Hillery, talk to Paddy Hillery. I know he won't take a call from me." And Brian went off to do that.

Mr Haughey also asked Sylvie Barrett [a former Fianna Fáil minister from the constituency that Patrick Hillery used to represent, Clare] would he contact President Hillery. Paddy Hillary wasn't having any of it. So it was true that phone calls were made to the Áras that evening.

But back to 1990 and the near collapse of the government then. I said to Mr Haughey, there was nothing happening, the government stopped, the civil servants were silent. Brian was staying out in the house of Peg Fogarty, who used to work for him.

The previous day, Mr Haughey had called me in and said to me, "I want you to go around to a senior civil servant's office and he is going to ask you to do something and I want you to do it and I don't want you to let anyone see you doing it." I went around and the civil servant drafted up a letter of resignation [to be signed by Brian Lenihan] and a letter of dismissal [to be signed by the Taoiseach and delivered to Brian Lenihan] and I typed up the letter of resignation and then Mr Haughey told me to hold back on the letter of dismissal.

Brian was helicoptered in to Mr Haughey at Kinsealy. I was out there and Mr Haughey and Brian just kept looking at each other and I left the room. Brian did not sign the resignation letter.

We went back into Leinster House. There were grown men weeping. The following day PJ Mara was in a state of deep distress with tears rolling down his face.

I walked with Mr Haughey and some of his cabinet over to the Dáil and later back to Government Buildings after Brian was dismissed. Albert Reynolds was with Mr Haughey and he said, "I just don't know where we go from here."

Mr Haughey said to me, "Will you get me Lenihan?" and he went into his office. I didn't have to go very far to find Brian because he came along the corridor whistling. He said: "Where is he Catherine? He must be in a terrible state," and I brought him in. Mr Haughey stood with his head bowed in the middle of the room and Brian went up and put his arms around him and I left at that stage.

Mr Haughey said to me afterwards: "They will come for me next." He was so lonely after that decision. The cabinet kept away from him for about two days.

Brian and he weren't socially close. However, they were politically and personally very much in harmony. He told me once Brian, Donough O'Malley [a relative of Des O'Malley, who was Minister for Education and died suddenly in 1968] and he used to be known as the three Musketeers; they were drinking buddies in the 1960s.

He trusted Brian completely and he would bounce an idea off Brian and he'd listen to Brian. Brian had a great brain and Mr Haughey was very aware of that.


Brian Lenihan's health crisis

He was a gorgeous man. I went to see him in the Mater hospital the day before he went to the Mayo Clinic [for a liver transplant in 1989]. I had stupidly brought him chocolates – he couldn't eat them. He was very philosophical. His daughter was doing either her Junior Cert or her Leaving Cert, he was concerned about her. He didn't know whether his health could stand up to the flight across the Atlantic.

Michael Smurfit had offered us his plane to take him out to America. I was on the tarmac awaiting Brian's arrival from the Mater. Brian arrived in his car and we helped him up the steps of the plane and Dr Firth [his doctor] suddenly remembered he had no blood with him so they had to go back to the Mater for units of blood in case Brian needed a transfusion.

Brian was on the plane and he wanted to know who had helped send him to the Mayo Clinic. He felt very positive that he would receive a transplant – he didn't know then but you don't often get a second chance in life and he got it. Brian told me that when he came back he was going to enter into politics as if he were a young man again with the same enthusiasm. He was just such an optimistic man. I remember he had with him the Book of Psalms to read on the plane.

When he returned – Tony Ryan [founder of Ryanair] had provided the plane this time – the plane landed two miles down the runway and a cavalcade went out to meet Brian. Ann [Brian's wife] was with him on the flight. Brian bounced down the steps of the plane and he had hair like an old-fashioned Brillo pad – it was snow white going out and it was jet black coming back after the liver transplant. I remember ringing Mr Haughey and just telling him that and he burst out laughing. He went in to see Brian the following day in the Mater.

One of the issues that has most troubled Mr Haughey in recent times has been the allegation that he took money raised for Brian Lenihan's liver transplant. He is adamant that did not happen and I am certain it didn't happen.



MacSharry: so black and white

Ray MacSharry is so black and so white about most things in life. He would find it hard to forgive a betrayal. He is a true Fianna Fáiler, a republican and a party man to the end.

He was very upset when he wasn't appointed to the front bench in 1983 after the heave against CJH and the revelations about the phone-tapping – and after it emerged that MacSharry taped a conversation in which he felt Martin O'Donoghue had tried to compromise his integrity.

He was crucial to Mr Haughey's survival that time in early 1983. This was when Mr Haughey was supposed to be considering standing down. Ray spoke in a very impassioned voice to Mr Haughey saying, "Outside parties can't be allowed to determine who's the leader of Fianna Fáil. You owe it as leader of Fianna Fáil to protect the presidency of Fianna Fáil, you owe it to future generations – you cannot resign."

In government they got on very well together. Ray implemented government policy. Ray MacSharry was a great Minister for Finance. Mr Haughey was a great Taoiseach – they worked hand in glove on the economy.


Treachery within the Haughey cabinets

For the first years of Haughey's leadership of Fianna Fáil there was nothing but intrigue, involving George Colley, Des O'Malley, Martin O'Donoghue and Bobby Molloy

I wasn't there when George Colley withheld his support from Mr Haughey shortly after Mr Haughey became Taoiseach in December 1979. In September 1981, shortly after I joined Mr Haughey's staff, Mr Haughey was away from the office for two days – he was working from home. He'd had a huge volume of correspondence. He handed me a pile of letters and said, "See what you can do with those – draft something for my approval."

I had no experience of drafting replies to matters concerning the hunger strike or Northern Ireland. In my innocence I went down to Mr Colley's office, which was down the corridor, and I said to Mr Colley, "I wonder if I could ask your advice." Mr Colley seemed almost stunned but he offered some advice and later he came up to my office and said: "Did you have tea yet?" and I said, "No, would you like a cup here in my office?" and he said, "No, we'll go downstairs." So we went downstairs and he asked had I received any instructions from Mr Haughey never to contact him or anything like that and I said, "No, absolutely not." So we were down there and about half an hour later I got a few calls saying what were you doing talking to George Colley and I said "Oh good God, maybe I've done something terrible." The next morning CJH arrived in at about 10 minutes past 10 and I had all the correspondence drafted. He said, "I heard, you had had tea with Mr Colley." I asked had I done something wrong. "No, quite the contrary, you've done something very right. He's the deputy leader of the party and I just want that to continue – I want that ambience up here all the time."

But there was always something up with what was known as the Colley camp, involving Mr Colley himself, Des O'Malley, Bobby Molloy, Martin O'Donoghue and others. Mr Haughey said he wanted me to work across both camps.

I remember Bobby Molloy's father was very seriously ill and his secretary had phoned me to say that he wouldn't be attending a front-bench meeting because his father was ill. I went down and asked him was there anything that we could do and please just let us know and he just looked at me without a word. So Mr Haughey came in about a quarter to and I told him and he said, "Good God is Bobby driving home?" and I said, "I think he is." "Well I'll tell you what, I'll give him my minder's car" – that's what he called his shadow car, he called it his minder's. "I'll give him the minder's car, I mean he couldn't drive home in that condition". So I went down and Bobby Molloy was just gobsmacked and he said, "It's most kind Catherine." He asked, "Did Charlie send you down?" I said, "He did, yes." I said, "The minder's car is at your disposal, wherever you want to go and they will collect you whenever you want to come back." He was just amazed that there could be any sort of human kindness in Mr Haughey.

Martin O'Donoghue's relationship with Mr Haughey was very good at one stage – this was when he was finance spokesman for a while in 1981 and into 1982. I recall Martin coming into the office I shared with Eileen Foy – Eileen previously had worked with Jack Lynch and many in the Colley camp were friendly with her. Martin said to Eileen that there was a very nice atmosphere about our office, that Mr Haughey had gone out of his way to hold out the hand of friendship.

But it was a very divisive time. The Colley side would keep tabs on the Haughey side and the Haughey side would keep tabs on the Colley side. There was nothing but intrigue. I'd get a call from Maire Geoghegan-Quinn to say that Bobby Molloy had has just left Galway, and tell CJH he's in the company of "you know who". I didn't know who but this obviously all meant something. That would go on quite a lot. Maire was quite close to Mr Haughey at that time. He liked her very much.

Where I fell out with her was at the time of the coalition deal with the Progressive Democrats in 1989 when Mr Haughey agreed to a second PD minister in the cabinet and when it emerged that was to be Bobby Molloy [Maire's constituency rival] she locked herself in the office and wouldn't come and talk to Mr Haughey. I was banging on the door outside saying to her: "You're behaving like a woman, not like a minister – go down and meet him, fight your corner." But she didn't and she sulked and it was awful.

I recall that during the heave against Mr Haughey in October 1982 the Haughey family were very upset. I remember Ciaran, Seán and Conor [Haughey's sons] sitting in the press office very distressed. Des O'Malley came along and I said to him to say hello to Mr Haughey's sons. He did so but he and the others in that camp couldn't accept that Mr Haughey was leader and Taoiseach. Ironically, they worked very well in government in the coalition from 1989 to 1992 when Mr Haughey left.

But that 1982 government was beset by all kinds of misfortunes. The sister of one of the girls who worked in the Senate in Leinster house, Bridie Garvin, was murdered by Malcolm MacArthur. [MacArthur had committed two murders and was being sought by gardaí. He was eventually found in the home of the then Attorney General, Patrick Connolly, in Dalkey – Patrick Connolly had no knowledge that MacArthur had done anything criminal or that he was being sought by gardaí.) This caused a terrible atmosphere around Leinster House. Jim Gibbons was very ill and Bill Loughnane died. Then Fianna Fáil lost the election in November 1982.

Sean Alyward, Mr Haughey's private secretary [now Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform], had organised a presentation to Mr Haughey which all of the personal staff contributed to and the view of the civil servants was that this was farewell Charles J Haughey, he'd never be back in the Government again.

Mr Haughey was pretty miserable, downhearted and he just couldn't understand where it all went wrong. Where it all went wrong was that in trying to run the country, he actually had an opposition within his own government, which was pretty vicious. And the most vicious was Mr Colley.


'He always loved Maureen. She was central to his life'

Amid all the material written about Mr Haughey's private life, one central fact is omitted and, however incongruous this may seem, it is true: he always loved Maureen. She was central to his life and to what he was able to achieve in public office.

I was privy to everything about his life and he told me again and again how important Maureen was to him and in the last few years it is so evident how close they are, not in a cloying, heavy-handed way but in the easy relations between them.

He said to me once, not many years ago and long after he had left office, he wanted and he hoped God would give him enough time to make Maureen appreciate what she meant to him and I think he has been very lucky in that respect.

I sort of acted in a liaison capacity with Maureen Haughey. I would let her known of Mr Haughey's formal engagements, what formal dress he would need, that sort of thing. I would let her know when people were calling to the house to see Mr Haughey. I would keep her informed if he was running late.

She was delightful to deal with, never demanding or criticising. When she herself was to be involved in some formal function she would want to know simply what she was to do and what was expected of her.

She cooked for Mr Haughey every day until recent years. She has also been the one to look after him at home in the last few years of his illness.

They've had great people working in the house over the years. Whatever you can say about how blessed Mr Haughey was with those he had in his cabinet, he was certainly blessed by those he and Maureen had working in their home.

When Mr Haughey was leaving office finally in February 1992, the civil servants who worked with him made a special presentation to Maureen and she was very moved by that.


Martin Mansergh

Martin was very interested in running for politics even back in the early '80s and Mr Haughey wouldn't let him do it because he told me he could not do without him. He had a huge input. He was a one-man government really, one-man policy machine. He could produce a policy document or press statement on any subject, any place, any time. He was totally sincere. He has a professorial air about him.

He is completely trustworthy and CJH appointed him as the liaison person between him and the Republican movement. He played a major part in the culmination of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Across the political devide Martin is respected and liked. On a personal note in 1985 he and his wife, Liz, asked me to be godmother to their youngest daughter, Harriet.

Martin is the eternal optimist – he always saw a way around the impossible and was and is very loyal. Mr Haughey had huge time for him. Being a typical farmer, if they didn't grow it, they didn't eat it. So Martin would go down to Tipperary at weekends and he'd come back on the train on Sunday evenings with a sack full of whatever was in season. He is a lovely man.