Haughey: ‘a gentleman to his fingertips’
Whenever I interview Government Ministers, or indeed any politicians, I like to ask them which politicians – past and present – they admire. It’s not a tough question, but the answer can often provide some interesting insights.
Some of them find it easier to sing the praises of politicians who are no longer on the scene than to speak well of their peers, I’ve found!
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern of Fianna Fail chose former SDLP leader John Hume, saying: “He would be one that I would sort of look up to.” (The interview from June is here http://bit.ly/bffKnN although I’ve included more detail in this blog post.)
And among the current crop? I listened back to the tape last night. A long pause followed this question and I ask: “Nobody?” Ahern smiled and shrugged a little, before saying of former British prime minister Tony Blair: “I was incredibly impressed by the interest that he took in Ireland and the time he gave. Very, very, very impressed with him.”
Speaking of being impressed, in the course of the interview Ahern mentioned Charles Haughey showing up at a selection convention in 1986. What was his impression of Haughey? “I was very impressed by him. I thought anything that he did in the Oireachtas, like he appointed me chief whip, I was always impressed that he was an extremely good parliamentarian. And in any of my dealings with him I found him to be a gentleman to his fingertips,” he said.
Minister for Children Barry Andrews of Fianna Fail selected the former Fine Gael Tanaiste and minister Peter Barry, as well as the former SDLP deputy first minister Seamus Mallon. (The interview with Andrews appears in today’s paper http://bit.ly/daaTyU but again I’ve included some extra detail here.)
“Strangely enough I admired Peter Barry, which was a heresy. He was the Fine Gael foreign minister, I admired him and that government. I suppose that was the time when I was waking up to politics a bit,” Andrews said, with a laugh.
“Seamus Mallon is a person I have a lot of time for and any of the SDLP people who came out of that time who had the same background as people who resorted to bombs and bullets. I was really impressed with them as a young person.”
Then almost as an after-thought, he mentioned his father, former Minister for Foreign
Affairs David Andrews, and his late uncle Niall, who was an MEP and TD. “Obviously I had a lot of time for my father and his politics and his common sense. And also Niall obviously had a big influence, a big strong human rights mandate and interest that he had.” Which politicians of the present does Andrews admire? “I’ve huge admiration for Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen.”
Fianna Fail Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith (http://bit.ly/bbRtau) chose Ray MacSharry of Fianna Fail, the former European commissioner and minister for finance. “Ray MacSharry did excellent work in regard to our public finances and also Ray MacSharry was a very, very formidable European commissioner for agriculture…I would have to say that in Europe I would often hear reference made to Ray MacSharry in regard to the excellent record he had…he was highly thought of and left great achievements behind him.”
Smith also mentioned Haughey. “There has to be great credit given to Mr Haughey as well for the work that he did, particularly in leading the government from ’87 onwards and tackling the very difficult issues and his great achievement in putting in place the social partnership at that particular time in 1987. And he was the author of the first plan for national recovery.”
He also spoke warmly about the late former Tanaiste John Wilson, who he went to work for when he left UCD. What political skills did he learn from Wilson? “Well I wouldn’t have the communication skills that he had. He had the fluency to speak in so many languages and he was an excellent communicator.”
Among the current generation he chose Taoiseach Brian Cowen. So far, so tribal. Funnily enough though, later on in the interview Smith also spoke about being impressed by Peter Barry’s “commitment, knowledge and good judgement”.