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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 3, 2010 @ 9:35 am

    Haughey: ‘a gentleman to his fingertips’

    Mary Minihan

    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”.

    • Robespierre says:

      Wow Fianna Fáil TDs impressed by Republican/Nationalist/Fianna Fáil politicians. Hold the front page.

      The fact that Peter Barry was probably the greenest member of that FG government is neatly skipped over.

    • Keith Martin says:

      Time to update your question to ask which currently active member of a different party do they respect!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Pretty pathetic Mary – its that kind of attitude that let the likes of CJH get away with what he did – did he compliment you on your hair or nail polish or something else that made you giggle like a schoolgirl – yep thought so. Not such a professional media person now it seems.

      Maybe if you’d asked them proper questions like why they are incapable of taking a stand against those who are patently doing wrong you’d be getting somewhere or is that expecting too much of the modern media.

    • James Sullivan says:

      No big surprises but I suspect the mention of Brian Cowen is purely because he’s their current boss

    • kynos says:

      They say the Devil is a gentleman too.

    • sjbyrne says:

      Two FF ministers admired Haughey, one of them also admired MacSharry. How interesting! It speaks volumes. Sadly, we still have a long way to go in this parochial country of ours.

    • Mary Minihan says:

      Many thanks for your comments all. You’re right Keith I should try that! Robespierre, when you describe Peter Barry as green (small ‘g’ I note!) do you mean he was naive? (Assume it’s not a reference to tea!)

    • kynos says:

      What’s interesting about it? I would call it banal.

    • Michael Stamp says:

      In response to Desmond Fitzgerald I would like to say his aggression is misplaced. Haughey is the shadow hanging over this (admittedly light) piece and it would have been fairly easy to leave his name out of it completely. My impression of the entire item is the innocuous “by numbers” responses of Ahern and Andrews. A mention of Haughey’s name is now political poison and the byline “A gentleman to his fingertips” is slightly akin to the comments on Hitler and his kindness to dogs.
      But I’ll remember the article for the nasty, cheap comment : “did he compliment you on your hair or nail polish or something else that made you giggle like a schoolgirl” It seems the mindless machismo of the “Mohair Mafia” are with us still. This is the real undercurrent we should worry about – the cause, not the symptom.

    • sjbyrne says:

      @ kynos

      My post was edited. There were references to certain politicians which were removed before the post was published so I meant interesting in the most sarcastic sense of the word.

    • kynos says:

      Now that is interesting sjbyrne. Could you give us a clue til we see Moddo’s PRejudiCes?

    • klyarification says:

      Ah no moddo it mightn’t be yer prejudices might be just An Dlíodoir’s hey?

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @9: I think I made a perfectly valid point.

      The media is also responsible in its own way for some of the problems Ireland faces due to its fawning coverage of politicans, especially those in power and especially Fianna Fáil ones. You would never ever see a UK politican interviewed in the way Irish ones are – there isn’t a single Irish media personality (let’s be honest they’re not really journalists) who comes close to Jeremy Paxman or John Humpries or even Nick Robinson or Jon Snow.

      I read the interview with Andrews and not once was he tackled on why he has completely and utterly failed to push through reform of child services – all he does is commission yet more reports. Nothing has changed for those in the care system (just ask a social worker) and as you read this you can be sure there are dozens of children still – despite all the horrors that were revealed – suffering the extreme end of abuse and neglect but I’m sure they’ll feel comfort that Andrews is on the case – not!

      So to be honest I don’t want to see any more soft focus interviews with Irish politicans when there is not one single government department that would pass a ‘fit for purpose’ test. Ireland can’t afford the luxury of the fawning interview so beloved of the Irish political media.

      Perhaps you’re one of the lucky people for whom the recession is someting you read about so you have time and energy to allow your sensibilities to be offended. Or maybe you’re one of the many Irish still in denial about the implications of unquestioning deference to those given authority on our behalf.

      When Andrews completes reform of the depth and scale (60% of which doesn’t even require money but achange in attitude to information from the top down) required in his department then I’ll doff my hat to him and acknowledge his achivements.

      The first thing he could do is get the 500 absolute worst cases in the system and start from there, getting each social worker assigned to do a memo of what they need or thinks needs to be done and then sign off on it without question. Then he might at least have some credibility to ask for some breathing space to deal with the bigger issue but of course he won’t and when he skulks off his Dun Laoighaire home in his state car no doubt the fact he’ll pass by children begging or young people taking drugs or sleeping rough – he’ll do what most people like him do and turn the other way.

      People like Ms Minihan have a professional responsibility to hold those in positions of power to account not to be their pal – leave the soft focus nonsense to rubbish like VIP.

    • Kynos says:

      Let’s just say he could be a gentleman provided he wanted something off you or you were otherwise on the right side of him. Good test of character to see how people treat other people whom they don’t have to be nice to.

    • mary says:

      Hi thanks again all…perhaps I should have linked to front-page news piece which is where I put the ‘harder’ news elements of the Barry Andrews interview? It’s here: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2010/0803/1224276089029.html (sorry about the long link – technology not co-operating today!) All the best, Mary

    • robespierre says:


      I was referring to Barry’s nationalist credentials within FG. Joint sovereignty etc. were things he very much pushed Garret to push Thatcher on.

      Garrett is on record on many, many occasions talking about his dissapointment when Ireland left the commonwealth (which meant FG had to change its byline).

    • Gearóid Ó Loingsigh says:

      So Haughey was a gentleman to his fingertips? Would these be the same fingertips in the till and our pockets? Fagin was a gentleman to his fingers as were his young apprentices such as the Dodger. There was no Oliver Twist around Haughey, just Fagin-like apprentices. This piece was short on hard questions and shorter on answers

    • Eoin Darcy says:

      I dont know how many were asked but three government ministers commented on this eh?wonders will never cease!I can recall watching primetime or other political shows numerous times where important questions needed answers and the responsible minister or official was ‘unavaillable for comment’.Its clear our ‘task masters’ will tow the party line to the end.if their loyalties and concerns were with the Irish people there would be no contributors to this piece as they would be busy (or are they still on their summer holliers ?)its sad and shamefull how little we get for our money from this bunch,we should ask them to return the shirts off their backs,if they’re anything like charlies we might get some cash!

    • Thorsten Zeler says:

      Of all i know of this time is must be a provocation.
      The Junkies in the Dublin. door ways are slowly appearing again.

    • Austin says:

      ………and corrupt to his toes.

    • Kelly,William says:

      Always give credit where due, & let he/she who is without sin,throw the first stone.Re CJH, he did do a bit to promote the arts in Ireland.Anyway, I have always thought Wilde’s “The picture of Dorian Grey” could have been set in Kinsealy,with the Squire in the main role!

    • Conor says:

      It is interesting that some current Fianna Fail politicians still admire Charles Haughey. The man was highly (and inexcusably) corrupt!

    • Conor says:

      Haughey was not “a gentleman to his fingertips”!!

    • jo blogs says:


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