Catherine Butler's Memories of Charlie

Catherine Butler, Charles Haughey's personal adviser and assistant from 1981 to 1992 concludes her memoir

I started these memoirs because I promised Mr Haughey that I would put certain facts into the public domain before his death. Unfortunately, he read only the first installment. In 2004 he asked me to cooperate with Miriam O'Callaghan on her Haughey documentary series for RTÉ. I told Miriam what I have recounted in this series but most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. Mr Haughey told me he thought that no one would ever tell the truth about him. I asked him if he meant the real CJH and he said "yes, with all my imperfections". I have kept my promise.

Doing the deal with the PDs

Running a banana republic with no bananas. By Catherine Butler

At the start of the 1987 general election campaign Mr Haughey sought to meet officials from the Department of Finance and Garret FitzGerald readily agreed. I remember the three officials coming over. Mr Haughey said to me afterwards, "we can't make any promises, it's a banana Republic with no bananas". So I presume he meant by that that finances were in a terrible state.

He was very focused on getting the public finances right. There were no Brutus' within the cabinet then, they had dropped away or gone to the PDs. The cabinet was united for the first time and because of that it was highly effective. The disloyalty of previous cabinets did so much damage, disloyalty borne of an absolute unwillingness on the part of George Colley, Des O'Malley, Martin O'Donoghue and others to accept the democratic decision of the party, reaffirmed on several occasions, ironically because of their own initiatives in instigating the various "heaves".

The Manifesto for the 1987 election made very few promises, simply because there was nothing available to finance promises.

He had chosen his cabinet well in advance. But at the time he was going down to the Dáil for the election of Taoiseach he did not know whether he would win the vote or not. He said: "I will win it by one or lose it by one." Mary O' Rourke was present when he said this at the lift on the fifth floor of Leinster House, (this was where the Opposition, which he still was then, had their offices).

After the vote he arrived back to the party rooms for the victory celebration. I did not know where I stood and I went home. The following day I got a call asking me, with a familiar epithet, where I was. He said he was appointing me as a special adviser.

In March 1987, the day after he became Taoiseach, Mr Haughey asked me to join a meeting he was having in his office with Padraic Flynn, who was Minister for the Environment. He said he had arranged to fly over the Ceide fields in Mayo. I told him he couldn't do that as the National Lottery was being launched. Padraic Flynn had to explain the National Lottery concept to him.

He met regularly with the backbenchers, a weekly luncheon meeting with ten of them in government buildings.

He played a key part in the release of Brian Keenan from captivity in the Lebanon in 1990. He made contact with Colonel Gadaffi, who in turn made contact with the Syrians who were influential in Lebanon. Mr Haughey spoke to an executive in the Purcell group there – Abdu Fatah Sherrif, who was also able to make contacts through intermediaries. Word came back that if Brian Keenan held an Irish passport the Syrians would act as facilitators. Mr Haughey arranged for this. Then word came back that Brian Keenan was going to be released.

Gerard Collins, who was Minister for Foreign Affairs, accompanied by Brian Keenan's sisters, flew out to Lebanon to greet the released Brian Keenan and bring him back to Ireland.

Mr Haughey suffered from kidney stones all his life and they seemed to manifest themselves more when he was under stress. In the summer of 1988 he had several bouts of this and his doctor, Brian Alton, recommended new treatment in the Mater Hospital. He did not want to stay in as an in-patient. He wanted to go in as a day patient but underwent an anaesthetic. In October of that year he suffered a serious respiratory illness and was taken to the Mater Private. Dr Alton flew a specialist in from London to consult with the Mater doctors. Mr Haughey was very ill and was in ICU for a number of days. He was in the twilight zone for about three days and was in hospital for about three weeks. Members of the cabinet telephoned me at home to ask was he on life-support. I said "no".

When he recovered sufficiently enough he was put in a small room and was allowed just two or three visitors a day. I was in the room next door to enable him to do some of his work as Taoiseach – this went on for about ten days.

He received many letters and phone calls during that time. I remember in particular a warm note from Dick Spring and a gift from him of Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

I typed up a "thank you" for Mr Haughey to sign and delivered it to Dick the next day. Dick said to me in jest: "Tell the Taoiseach I accept the (EU) Commissionership". I passed on this information to Mr Haughey who thought it very funny.

Mr Haughey went on a visit to Japan in the Spring of 1989 and on his return he was told of an imminent Dáil defeat on a private members' motion. Within the next few days he had called a general election encouraged by Padraig Flynn.

The loneliest day for any leader of a party is the day of the count. And every count day was a dreadful time for Mr Haughey so we used to organise a lunch in either the Berkeley Court or the Westbury, latterly the Westbury. I remember the day of the count in the 1989 election and Frank Wall (then general secretary of Fianna Fáil) rang me with two particular results. He said: "We're not going to do it". I went in to give Mr Haughey the tallyman's projections and he just put his hands on his head and said "where are you taking me today?" and I said we were going to the Westbury at 12.30. It was terrible that day.

Fianna Fáil lost four seats in that election and it was obvious it could not get back to government again on the basis it did in 1987 with the support of a few Independent TDs. The issue was whether the Progressive Democrats, who had also done badly in that election (Michael McDowell, among others, lost his seat) would support a minority Fianna Fáil government, without there being a coalition. He also spoke to Labour and Fine Gael but that was not on. Dick Spring said he wanted there to be a "rotating Taoiseach", Mr Haughey said he appreciated Dick's sense of humour.

There were Parliamentary Party meetings chaired by the late Jim Tunney and these meetings mandated Mr Haughey to act in the best interests of the country and the party.

The PDs were holding out for seats in government and there was very strong opposition to this from within Fianna Fáil.

Des Hanafin acted as a sort of an honest broker between Mr Haughey and Des O' Malley (the leader of the PDs). Des Hanafin said of Des O'Malley's attitude to Mr Haughey: "You know, Catherine, it's not just personal, we're talking about hatred here, he hates him".

Mr Haughey was looking for a neutral venue for discussions with Des O'Malley, so I suggested the Berkeley Court, The Presidential Suite no doubt, I don't know what it was but they met there. The negotiations went on over many days and eventually everything was agreed except whether the PDs should have one or two seats in cabinet.

Mr Haughey on one afternoon asked me to go to the back of the Dáil Chamber and wait for Mary Harney. Mary came over with a letter for Mr Haughey and she put her arms around me and she said: "Thank God it's done". I replied; "well, I don't agree with you – I was against coalition with the PDs". She said "well you've a lot of growing up to do" or something like that. I'd always liked her, she was always a very straight woman.

I brought the letter around to Mr Haughey who said to me "it's done" and I replied "well, may I ask...", and he said "you may not ask anything", I continued "is it one or two seats?", he said "it's one".

The following morning, 12 July 1989, around a quarter to ten, Bobby Molloy, Des O'Malley and Pat Cox came in to see Mr Haughey. The meeting lasted five minutes and they left. I was in my office and Donagh Morgan (Haughey's private secretary) rang and said they'd gone. Moments later Mr Haughey rang me and said "stop them, stop them, stop them". They were in the lift and I ran down the stairs to meet them going down on the ground floor. I remember the lift doors were closed and I banged on the lift shouting "don't go, don't go, I've a message, I've a message" and I ran down to them. The lift was moving so I ran down two flights and met them and told them that Mr Haughey wanted to see them. Molloy smiled from ear to ear. Mr Haughey conceded about a quarter past ten on the second cabinet seat.

Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern did everything possible to hold for one seat (for the PDs) and so did Mr Haughey. Padraig Flynn looked as if someone had died. He was beside himself, as was Albert Reynolds.

I went into Mr Haughey's office and said I'd like to go on six weeks holidays to Australia and I mightn't come back, or words to that effect and his response was "sit down". He said to me "I had to do it, I had responsibility to hold the baton for Fianna Fáil in order that Fianna Fáil will be elected into government because we're never going to achieve that figure again (an overall majority) the way things are going with PR".

There was a chill in the air immediately after that.

Charlie's last year in office

Haughey intended to tell the cabinet in September 1991 of his intention to resign the following Spring but events intruded. By Catherine Butler

Padraig Flynn had misgivings about challenging Mr Haughey for the leadership or removing him before his time. He came to see me in October of 1991 to ask me did I know when Charlie was stepping down and that he could detect by Charlie's demeanour that he was thinking about it.

I had a terrible row with him and threw him out of the office but he had said to me that if I was willing to help him and Albert that I could write my own ticket. He said "I could call it off". I put him out of the office and went in to tell Mr Haughey about it and he just looked sort of very sad. He didn't say anything to me.

I'd never been on Inis Innisvicallaun but Mr Haughey invited me down n August 1991. I went down with the air corp. There was some papers to be signed, papers for his eyes only which his Assistant Private Secretary, George Shaw, asked me to take down to him. I got some French bread and cheese the night before.

We went on a walk and he showed me around and told me that this would be his last summer as Taoiseach on Inis Innisvicallaun, that he'd just like to spend the day, and he had a group of other visitors there – the O'Connors, and some of his children on the island.

I asked him if that mean what I thought it did, he said it did and that he just had a very successful visit with Brian Mulrooney from Canada. Brian Mulrooney had invited him and Mrs Haughey on a formal visit and the plan was that I would accompany him. I asked him when this would be, and he said it would be before the Ard Fheis and it was there he would like to bid farewell. He told me to look to the future.

He said he was very tired and he was finding it more difficult every day. He had had enough. He was going to tell his cabinet on his birthday in September 1991 and something happened.

There was a few members of the cabinet, at a sort of informal meeting and I had asked them for drinks into the dining room to celebrate Mr Haughey's birthday. Albert Reynolds came in and I asked Mr Haughey if he was going to give them some indication (of his retirement plans) and he said "I think I might Catherine. I think I should".

But just then the controversy over the Johnson, Mooney and O' Brien site in Ballsbridge broke (this was the purchase of the site by Telecom, after it had gone through intermediaries). Albert told the gathering about it. Mr Haughey changed his mind about disclosing his retirement plans and said nothing.

Around the same time there was a development involving Dr John O'Connell. A lot of people found Dr John O'Connell a difficult individual to get along with. I found him quite the opposite. John O'Connell would advise Mr Haughey about his health, even though Mr Haughey had his own doctor. John O' Connell rang me to say that he wanted a friend of his to come in to see Mr Haughey and I asked him what was the subject matter, he replied that he (John O'Connell's friend) had noticed a number of ministerial cars outside Ray Burke's house, and was worried there could be some sort of plot.

I delivered the message and John O Connell's friend came in to see Mr Haughey who asked me to get Ray Burke. I did, and Ray said, "what does he want?" – normally if Mr Haughey wanted to see a cabinet minister, he'd get Donagh Morgan to ring his opposite number and make the arrangements but if it was not a Government issue, I would do it.

I told Ray I didn't know but he wanted to see him so I thought it was probably personal. He arrived over and he came into my office and said "what's this rubbish, who told him that there were cars outside my house, who told him that Catherine?" I replied; "well I don't know, I couldn't say". It happened again. This person came in to see Mr Haughey and it was as if they were trying to destabilise him, make him unsure.

It was like a sheep dog worrying the lambs.

And then the Sean Doherty story broke, about which I have written already. Mr Haughey was so sure Ray MacSharry would back him on his assertion he had known nothing about the phone taps while he was Taoiseach in 1982.

The curtain came down when I passed Bobby Molloy and Des O' Malley coming out of Mr Haughey's office. Molloy said to O Malley: "At last we have the little fucker".

Mr Haughey found it very hard to cope with the emotion of saying goodbye. We were inundated with civil servants, politicians, clergy, people form the North, all wanting to say goodbye. John Hume came down to see him and ran and put his arms around him. It was just amazing.

Retirement and tribunals

Like all Chief Executives, Mr Haughey found it very hard to switch off, he found the adjustment from literally being in fifth gear to being in first gear quite a change.

I organised his 70th Birthday in 1995. I organised 70 people to mark the 70th year held in the Berkeley Court. I went to work in Canada shortly afterwards so I missed the years during which the revelations concerning Ben Dunne occurred and the McCracken Tribunal.

I came home in 1998 and Mr Haughey was so shocked. He just couldn't believe it had come to this. He was very upset that Eileen Foy, who had administered the party leader's fund, had been dragged into the situation the way she was. She went through hell.

I didn't help her, which was even worse. Eileen told me she had been contacted by the Moriarty tribunal and she asked me to help her recollect certain things. I initially said "yes" but on reflection I did not want to be charged with collusion by the Tribunal. It had to be Eileen's recollection, not mine. She hasn't spoken to me since.

Mr Haughey tried to effect a reconciliation the Christmas before last but I ended up in hospital, so I didn't get to go out to Kinsealy to see her. I am very sad about that because when you've been friendly with somebody for twenty years, its very hard to cope with the loss of a friendship.

My own dealings with the Moriarty Tribunal were very difficult. My legal team, comprised of Adrian Hardiman (this was before he went on to the Supreme Court, obviously), and Ciaran O'Mara, my solicitor, arranged for me to do the private interviews with the Tribunal lawyers in my solicitor's office.

I felt the Tribunal lawyers didn't want to hear anything positive about Mr Haughey, though I answered each and every question regardless of the consequences or how painful or difficult it was. I had two very heated meetings with them. Highly unpleasant. I think I met them four or five times in private.

Even before I had been contacted by the Moriarty Tribunal, a senior Fianna Fáil official telephoned me at my office expressng his great pleasure in informing me that Fianna Fáil had given my name to the Tribunal as "someone of interest". He laughed as he said it. Certain political interests tried to influence what evidence I would give to the Tribunal. At one stage I could not answer my home telephone or mobile phone; in the end I had to obtain an ex-directory telephone number.