Charlie my hero
Charlie my hero Charles Haughey is a cultured, intelligent, dedicated, patriotic man. He is no crook. By Catherine Butler
Charles Haughey was no crook. He never used his public office for his personal gain. Whatever monies he received from others, it must have been given and received on the understanding that no favours would flow from their generosity. He was challenging to work with at times and I recount that in these recollections. But overall, he was courageous, he was generous, loyal, often very soft and emotional.
The traducing of Charles Haughey in the last decade has been one of the gross injustices inflicted on a public figure in Irish history since the State was founded. The only comparison could be Parnell. He set the basis for the Celtic Tiger and did so by taking hard decisions on the public finances which won him no popularity. He introduced the Public/Private Partnership in the late 1980s that gave stability to the economy. He risked his career and reputation by opening up a contact with the Republican movement to encourage them to give up violence and join the political process. The success of that process which he initiated has been the other great achievement in recent Irish history.
This was and is a cultured, intelligent, dedicated, patriotic man. I am putting on record here my time with Charles Haughey, telling truths that have been submerged. Of course the story is not wholly glorious, whose is? But it is more glorious than inglorious by a long way.
Catherine Butler: Haughey's loyal assistant
Catherine Butler became personal assistant to Charles Haughey in July 1981, shortly after he lost office following the June 1981 general election. She remained his personal assistant until he retired as Taoiseach in February 1992. During that time, Charles Haughey confided in her on all aspects of his life and she was a witness to several crucial political events during his turbulent political career. Now, for the first time, she tells the story of working with Charles Haughey and of some of the crises of his career. These series of articles are based on interviews with Catherine Butler and she has had final say in the material being published. Charles Haughey was unaware of the interviews but, it is hoped, he will be aware of the impending publication before it happens.
These accounts are based on interviews with Vincent Browne © Village Communications
How Haughey was driven from office by lies
A few hours after the Nighthawks programme had been broadcast in January 1992 [in the course of which Sean Doherty said the tapping of journalists' telephones in 1982 had been raised “in the highest boardroom in the country”] Martin Mansergh contacted me about half 12 or one o'clock. I told him Ray McSharry could verify that Mr Haughey didn't know anything about the telephone-tapping but Ray wouldn't do it. He said he didn't want to verify the events of December 1982 and January 1983 because Maura Doherty was also present at one of these meetings and she would challenge it and he didn't want to get into that scene. The McSharrys were very friendly with the Dohertys – they socialised together.
There had been a major difficulty concerning Sean Doherty in the summer of 1982 and I am not going to get into specifics about it. I raised this matter with the Taoiseach, Mr Haughey, and he told me: “I've had so many complaints about him Catherine that when I come back from holidays I'm going to get Brian Walsh [that was Mr. Justice Brian Walsh of the Supreme Court] to chair an inquiry into Sean Doherty's handling of his Justice portfolio.” Mr Haughey had been very concerned about Sean Doherty's conduct from around July 1982 onwards. He said to me once at that time: “Doherty wants to be Garda Commissioner, not Minister for Justice.”
But the inquiry never happened because of intervening events: the discovery of Malcolm MacArthur in the home of the then Attorney General, Patrick Connolly, the death of Bill Loughnane [a popular Fianna Fáil TD from Clare] and we had Jim Gibbons seriously ill [Gibbons was a former Fianna Fáil minister who had given evidence against Charlie Haughey in the 1970 arms trial and who had been a determined opponent of Charles Haughey from then onwards, but whose vote in the Dáil was crucial for the survival of the then minority Haughey government]. Then we had an election, so that inquiry didn't happen.
There had been a tradition that the cabinet would meet every Christmas for a “working dinner” in a restaurant. And, although the cabinet had gone out of office, it was decided to go ahead with a similar arrangement in Johnny Opperman's restaurant in Malahide. So when we were back in opposition in December of 1982 there was a cabinet dinner, or former cabinet dinner.
There were dreadful rumours circulating absolutely everywhere in Leinster House on the evening of that former cabinet dinner that the new Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, had information that telephone-tapping or bugging had occurred and that Sean Doherty was responsible. So I was asked to find him. He was with his wife, Maura, and Ray McSharry in the Dáil restaurant. It was around about five o'clock. Sean Doherty, Maura Doherty and Ray McSharry went up to Mr Haughey's office and I brought in tea. Sean Doherty was absolutely denying to Mr Haughey that he had anything to do with that and that it was rubbish, lies, a Fine Gael spin, that sort of thing. But then the rumours continued and around about half past six or so Mr Haughey was going home before going to the restaurant and he said to me, “Will you find Sean again, some people have told me that this is really a hot issue.” Actually the phrase he used was “a red-hot issue” and I went to get him and I heard him say to Mr Haughey, “No, there is no truth in it.” This was in Mr Haughey's office on the fifth floor in Leinster House – they were talking in the doorway and I was nearby.
Then in January of '83, around about the time that Clem Coghlan was killed, there was a parliamentary party meeting.
Anyway around that time Ray McSharry and Sean Doherty were in Mr Haughey's room. It was about 11 o'clock in the morning and there was a parliamentary party meeting at 11.30. Ray McSharry came out to me and said, “Would you come in Catherine, he's not very well.” So in I went and Sean Doherty was sitting down at the very long table, a boardroom table that was in the leader's office on the fifth floor and McSharry had his hands in his pocket and Mr Haughey was standing looking out at the Department of Agriculture, breathing very heavily, in a dreadfully distressed condition and I asked him what was wrong and Sean said, “Oh he'll be alright, he's just had a bit of a shock.” I said to him will I get Dr Alton for you and he said, “No, Dr Alton cannot fix what's wrong here.” He said “I've just been told that my minister was bugging people.” And the two guys left the office and I went out and made him a strong cup of tea and he went into his little private loo for about 15 minutes, composed himself and then went into the parliamentary part meeting.
So it's absolutely clear Mr Haughey had no knowledge of the telephone-tapping. A few days after Fianna Fáil had left office in December 1982, Sean Doherty categorically denied any such phone-tapping had gone on when they were in government and it was the following month that Sean Doherty admitted it had gone on. Mr Haughey was terribly shocked.
What Sean Doherty said in 1992 was wrong. Mr Haughey knew nothing about the telephone tapping and even after Fianna Fáil had left government in 1982 Sean Doherty still denied it had taken place.
Sean Doherty said, for instance, that he gave Mr Haughey transcripts of the telephone conversations that were tapped. I never saw transcripts in Mr Haughey's briefcase, in his desk, in his home or anywhere in his files. Sean Doherty said in one interview that Mr Haughey had put the transcripts in his pocket. Mr Haughey never put anything in his pocket bar his silver comb which he wore on the inside breast pocket and his handkerchief, which he put in his trouser pocket because he didn't want to ruin the line of the suit.
Eileen Foy [a senior assistant in Haughey's office] and I had access to Mr Haughey's briefcase at all times, and to his papers, and never did any of us come across any transcripts on his desk or briefcase.
When Sean Doherty made his statement in January 1992, alleging that Mr Haughey had known all along about the phone-tapping, I wanted to make a public statement saying this was false and outlining what I knew. But Mr Haughey thought this would be a sign of weakness. Mr Haughey was going to retire in April; what difference did 12 weeks make. He told me his health was in decline and that he was tired; I just looked on in horror.
Sean Doherty was Minister for Justice in the Haughey government from March 1982 to December 1982. He was a former member of the Garda Special Branch. It transpired that while minister he had ordered the tapping of the telephones of two journalists, Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold, who were writing stories damaging to the government and which were believed to have been based on information they were receiving from members of that government.
In January 1983 the new Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, in the Garret FitzGerald-led government of 1982 to 1987, revealed that these tappings had taken place, outside the normal procedures for phone-tapping. He also revealed that a Garda tape recorder, supplied by Sean Doherty, had been used by Ray McSharry to record surreptitiously a conversation McSharry had with a leading Fianna Fáil dissident at the time, Martin O'Donoghue – McSharry said he recorded the conversation because there were insinuations at the time that he could be “bought off” as an ally of Haughey.
These revelations caused a major crisis in Fianna Fáil, almost leading to the overthrow of Charles Haughey as leader in February 1983. At the time Sean Doherty denied he had informed Charles Haughey of the phone-tappings. Ray McSharry was Minister for Finance in the Haughey government of 1982 and Haughey's closest ally with the party and cabinet.
Following the failed leadership coup in February 1982 against Charles Haughey, Haughey excluded both Sean Doherty and Ray McSharry from the front bench of the party. Both greatly resented this. Doherty further resented his exclusion from government when Haughey returned to power in 1987, especially as, again, Ray McSharry was returned to the position of Minister for Finance. McSharry became EU commissioner in 1989.
In January 1992, when a further attempt was being made by Albert Reynolds and others within Fianna Fáil to overthrow Charles Haughey as leader, Sean Doherty, who had become alienated from Haughey and had become an ally of Reynolds, reversed his story and said Charles Haughey had known all along of the telephone-tapping. Arising from that Charles Haughey was forced to resign as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil, to be succeeded by Albert Reynolds.
Sometimes impossible, always challenging
Catherine Butler tells how working with Charles Haughey could be fraught at times, but there was a more tender side to him
I started working for Mr Haughey in July 1981. This was just after Mr Haughey had gone into opposition following the June 1981 general election. He had come back into Opposition with very little administrative support – all this had been provided by the civil service while he had been Taoiseach from December 1979.
I was working in what is now DCU. My office was beside his on the fifth floor of Leinster House. I sat at a desk, which had a full view of the corridor on the fifth floor and I had a full view of who came and went.
At that time we never knew when Mr Haughey was coming in or leaving. If I turned my head around to the phone, he could go missing so we actually decided we would install a pressure pad under the carpet so when he stepped on it, a little bell went in my office.
I arranged all his appointments, I did some of his correspondence. I did all the protocol work, that sort of thing. If he was going somewhere, I would make arrangements and at times I might do an advance trip, that sort of thing, I did that in Government as well. I saw all of his correspondence.
When Mr Haughey returned to government in February 1982 I went with him to the Taoiseach's office and I worked very closely with Padraic Ó hAnnrachain, who was the number two at the Taoiseach's department – Pádraig Ó hUiginn was the Secretary of the Department. Dermot Nally was Secretary to the Government. Nally would have been highly regarded by the Jack Lynch wing of the party as anti-Haughey but nothing could have been further from the truth as Dermot Nally's farewell speech [in 1992] to Mr Haughey indicated. It was very emotional, very warm. He paid tremendous tribute to him as did Pádraig O hUiginn.
I had to do a contact list every Friday of where the senior civil servants would be at the weekend and every Friday. Occasionally Pádraig Ó hUiginn would go to play golf at about half two on a Friday, so I used to tell Mr Haughey that he was on a course, which wasn't far from the truth. Padraig Ó hUiginn and Dermot Nally were two of the finest public servants I have ever met.
Mr Haughey trusted me. On one hand he could embarrass, upset and annoy me; sometimes all in the same day, sometimes in one sentence. He knew I would never retaliate. One time I remember I got a roasting in front of the British Ambassador. He felt so terrible, he sent me white roses the next day. I did take it personally I suppose, like all women. On the other hand, he amazed me with his vision, his courage, his independence of mind, his sense of fairness, his ability to inspire, his sense of history, his love of Ireland.
I remember one time I had been accused of opening a letter for his eyes only and blamed in the wrong and we communicated by note for three months. I suppose I was like the office wife. We made up when one day he opened up his arms – of course I sobbed uncontrollably, so much so that the padding in the shoulder pad of his suit was soaking wet and I remember Sean Moore [a Fianna Fáil Dublin TD] walked in and he said, “Oh Jesus,” and he walked out again. He didn't know what he was walking in on.
He knew I cared about him, he knew I liked him very much, he knew I admired him. And it is very hard not to like someone that likes you and he liked me and I liked him. I also trusted him. I respected his privacy but he didn't hide anything from me, ever. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I didn't handle his money that's the only thing I didn't do.
I went to Paris with him one time on an official engagement. This would have been in 1990. He was going for a fitting at the Chavez store and he asked me to go with him and he bought me a beautiful Chavez scarf, which I still have.
His “roastings” were notorious. It was almost expected of him to give someone a “roasting” at least daily. They were more in fun that in malice. I remember one involving Don Lydon [then and now a Fianna Fáil senator and a psychotherapist in St John of Gods].
I think he had come up with some hair-brained thing anyway and he was invited in to see Mr Haughey and he got a personal roasting. He was confused and he was so upset he couldn't find his way out of the wood-panelled office because he couldn't see the door handle. So he came in to me anyway and he had a black coffee with a shot of whiskey in it.
But Mr Haughey never roasted anyone over a personal difficulty. If a deputy had overindulged the night before and missed a vote, the whip would kill him but Mr Haughey would counsel him, that sort of thing. If there were personal difficultly or illness in a family, he was very supportive. He had very high standards.
I saw him nearly cry with temper after a row with Pádraig Ó hAnnrachain. Pádraig took the door off, banged it, slammed it. CJH was so frustrated, he was nearly crying. Ó hAnnrachain stood up to him quite a lot, quite a lot of expletives on both sides. I didn't know what they rowed about, something quite silly I would imagine.
But he never held a grudge, never, ever, ever. If you had a falling out it could sometimes be volcanic, but CJH never held a grudge. There was a very soft side to him however. I remember he was very distressed one time when one of his sons was ill. He cried when he got news that Eimear was very ill. He cried when Ber Cowen, father of Brian Cowen, died, when Padraig Ó hAnnrachain died, when Clem and Cathal Coughlan died.
Remember when the New Ireland Forum was meeting in Dublin Castle – this would have been in 1984 or 1985? Dick Spring phoned me to say he was very concerned about him: he didn't think he was very well. It was at the time of the publication of the book The Boss. His family were very distressed about it and he had just had enough. He also had a kidney stone around abut that time and he had a bad day and I think someone accused him of leaking something. But if there was anyone leaking anything it wasn't Mr Haughey, but it was somebody working with Fianna Fáil at the forum. But I don't want to go into that.
Mr Haughey is very much a father figure to me. He's played a huge part in my life. He's always kept a confidence. He's always been there in the background and I could talk to him about anything, personal matters, anything. He will always be in my heart.π
PJ was very popular but I was no fan
PJ Meara had a very difficult role as Mr Haughey's press spokesman. His job was to get the journalists to like CJH. PJ traded information with journalists and it made them feel included. He was very popular. I don't know anyone who doesn't like him, aside from myself. He's a very effective communicator and persuader. But there is another side to him and I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of him. Mr Haughey regularly jousted with him. PJ would blink very quickly and I could often see his knuckles turn white. I don't know whether it was in temper or trepidation.
PJ often encouraged Mr Haughey to make the hard decision, like the firing of Brian Lenihan. I think he probably convinced him it had to be, though Brian Lenihan was a personal friend of PJ and PJ was very very fond of him but he knew that Mr Haughey wouldn't survive and the Fianna Fáil government wouldn't survive. PJ was close to Mr Haughey and he was loyal. Certainly I think in the last six months when PJ saw the writing on the wall that Mr Haughey was going to retire as Taoiseach in early 1992 he cast his eye to the future. He's made a very good career, a very successful person. PJ and I never liked each other. I suppose we vied for the same attention, I don't know. We wouldn't be members of each other's fan club.