A colossus of Irish politics

This is not an appropriate occasion for a comprehensive review of Charlie Haughey's contribution to public life. But one thing is sure: he made a substantial contribution, to the economy, to the Northern peace processes, towards social stability and to the care of the elderly.

He was perhaps the most gifted politicians not just of his era but since Irish independence, with the possible exception of his father-in-law, Sean Lemass. He had a great intellect, a capacity to absorb material very quickly, a wonderful memory, was a brilliant manager and organiser, great analytic capacity. And he was hugely ambitious.

Many of the adverse commentaries since his death has spoken of his drive to power and office. But is that not what all politicians in our political culture ar encouraged to have? He was ambitious from an early age, perhaps because of the illness of his father which meant the family had little of the luxuries even by the standards of the Ireland of the 1930's and 1940's. He wanted more than that, even though he said the happiest time of his life was when he had nothing, aside from football, his academic life at St Joseph's, Marino, his family and his friends.

So much of his life however occurred by chance. He did commerce at UCD only because he met a former classmate on his first day at college and the class -mate was doing commerce. Through that chance occurrence he met Maureen Lemass, did accountancy, entered politics.

His political career was marked by his abilities, rather than by chance, although his misfortunes were attributable, in part, to chance. He gained cabinet office and promotion on his abilities. He might have become Taoiseach in 1966 on his abilities, had it not been for the far more impertinent ambition of his rival, George Colley. He probably would have been a bad Taoiseach then, too impulsive.

His dismissal from cabinet office in 1970 over the arms trial was a disgrace but his disavowal of any knowledge of the planned importation of arms was also a disgrace.

It was inevitable he would be restored to a senior position in cabinet on Fianna Fáil's return to power in 1977 and his succession to the leadership of the party in December 1979 was also inevitable because of the spectacular mess the Lynch-Colley-O'Malley-O'Donoghue wing of the party made in managing the country in the years from 1977 to 1979.

He was awful as Taoiseach from 1979 to June 1981 but on his return to office in March 1982 he led potentially the best government the country had had, a government now much reviled by his opponents and much remembered for that series of grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unpredictable events of that period.

He was reckless in opposition from 1982 to 1987 but majestic on his return to office in 1987, restoring the economy, building the peace process and establishing social coherence and stability. But he solved the economic crisis at the expense of the vulnerable by the cut backs/restraints in health, education and social welfare.

His acceptance of £9m in donations from benefactors over the years was imprudent and inappropriate but after nearly a decade of inquiry by tribunals nothing has emerged to suggest this was corrupt, for there is no evidence he did any favours in return.

He was a colossus in Irish politics and those of us who got an opportunity to know him were hugely privileged.

Vincent Browne