Charlie Haughey underestimated PJ Mara. Underestimated the extent to which PJ softened Charlie's public image, made him more electorally and media friendly. Underestimated PJ's intellect, his strategic prowess. Underestimated even PJ's loyalty. He was mean and, at times, cruel to PJ.
They were never close personally. Charlie never confided personal matters in PJ and visa versa. When PJ's biographer, Tim Ryan, made contact with Charlie seeking an interview about PJ, Charlie was incredulous. He thought the request was impertinence. Even towards the end of his life, he was ungenerous in his estimation of PJ. Also wrong.
At one time PJ said to Charlie he (Charlie) was mistaken in his electoral strategy in running too many candidates in constituencies. Charlie told him to mind his own business, if he wanted political advice he would ask his friend, a Senator in Kerry. Had Charlie had the wit to appreciate the capacities of PJ, his political career would have been very different. PJ could have secured over majorities for Charlie again and again. He (Charlie) need never have lost an election, for, while he was leader of Fianna Fail, the party never won less than 43 per cent of the vote, enough to secure a handsome overall majority. Provided.
Provided it never ran too many candidates in any constituency and it was that mistake that means Charlie Haughey never secured an overall majority for Fianna Fail. Nothing to do with transfers, as the pollsters repeatedly insist.
In the 2002 election it was PJ Mara's strategy that almost secured an overall majority for Fianna Fail with just 41 per cent of the first preference vote. It was because the party maximised the return on its vote in constituencies throughout the country, by running as few candidates as possible.
But, curiously, in this election, the strategy has slackened. In Dublin North there are three candidates – there should be only two; in Louth three, arguably there should be just two and in Tipperary South three candidates, certainly there should be just two. However, elsewhere the strategy has held and Fianna Fail will end up with more seats than the polls suggest.
In contrast Fine Gael's strategy is chaotic. It is running too many candidates in 13 constituencies. Two too many in Clare, Galway east and Galway west, one too many in Cork South Central, Dublin South, Kerry South, Laois-Offaly, Longford-Westmeath, Louth, Mayo, Meath East, Meath West and Waterford. It is a certainty Fine Gael will lose seats it otherwise would win because of this. It is a testimony to Enda Kenny's weak leadership.
But there is something casual about this Fianna Fail campaign and PJ's demeanour conveys this. He seems less involved than he was, for instance, in 2002. There appears to be less focus to the effort, no strategy to deal with the explosive issue of Bertie's finances, a serious miscalculation that the issue would go away after a few days – The Irish Times poll of Friday, 11 May, shows this remains a serious issue for over half the electorate.
Perhaps it is his involvement in the Caribbean that ahs distracted PJ. He is a director and small shareholder in Denis O'Brien's Digicell and, on paper, is now worth millions and expects to be worth many more millions in a few years.
He was (characteristically) hugely supporting and caring of his late wife, Breda, in the years before her death and he was greatly grieved at her passing. Now however he is “in love” again, although no talk to another marriage.
In his deliberations about his personal finances, Bertie Ahern would have consulted PJ only on the outline of the issue, there are not that close that Bertie would confide in PJ. They rarely have a pint together (actually, PJ is a gin and tonic man) and, generally PJ's lifestyle would be very different to that of Bertie (PJ's being more into posh restaurants and plush pubs, Bertie into Fagan's and Beaumont Inn).
Whatever the election outcome will make no difference to PJ. He won't be in receipt of (nor will be seek) any preferment. His personal financial focus now is on Digicell from which he expects to make multi-millions once it expands in Central America and on into the Pacific. It makes a change for him, for his previous business ventures were not financially successful.