Haughey displayed pride in his law to safeguard wives

 

FORMER TAOISEACH Charles Haughey regarded the law he introduced to prevent husbands disinheriting their wives as one of his most important legacies.

The former taoiseach told journalist and broadcaster Cathal O’Shannon he introduced the legislation after being lobbied on the issue by the Catholic hierarchy, which was concerned about farmers leaving property to the church instead of making provision for their families.

Details of the discussion are contained in the personal papers of Mr O’Shannon, who died last year. The contents of Mr O’Shannon’s Dublin 4 home, including the Haughey file, will be auctioned by Mealy’s of Kilkenny next month.

In 1998, Mr O’Shannon tried to persuade Mr Haughey to grant him a major television interview prompted by his “eternal regret” that “RTÉ failed to make one on Dev; or, for that matter, on a number of other significant Irish historical figures.”

Although Mr Haughey agreed “in principle”, he deferred a decision. But the project never came to fruition.

Mr O’Shannon kept detailed notes about the project. In June 1998, the two men discussed the idea in a Malahide restaurant, Bon Appetit, over a lunch – paid for by Mr O’Shannon – of turbot washed down by an unidentified 1972 wine.

Mr Haughey asked him: “Do you think you have the intellectual capacity to deal with me?” to which Mr O’Shannon replied: “Do you think you have the capacity to answer my questions?”

Mr O’Shannon’s memo summarised Mr Haughey’s comments – which he had hoped to formally capture for posterity on camera.

Mr Haughey said that “when people write to me they most often mention the free travel” (which he introduced for all pensioners) but believed his “family law change” was “most important”.

When he was minister for justice in the 1960s, Mr Haughey introduced legislation, the Succession Act, which gave a wife the automatic right to inherit assets even if her husband had written a will excluding her. Children’s automatic rights to a share of the inheritance were also recognised.

Mr Haughey claimed the Catholic hierarchy had “begged” for the change citing the fact that “old farmers dying used to leave money, maybe the farm, for Masses to be said in Killarney Cathedral” instead of making provision for their wives and children.

He had been told that “they had so many demands for Masses in Killarney that they just couldn’t cope with the sheer numbers”.

Mr O’Shannon also records that Mr Haughey believed that a campaign “against him” – following his public disgrace at the tribunals – was conducted by the “government and its press bureau . . . so that Bertie could have fire drawn away from him”.

Two months after Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair signed the Good Friday agreement, Mr Haughey said he saw “no way the settlement can work; that it will be totally destroyed by the Unionists and that the Brits just don’t see this”.

Mr Haughey also revealed that “the script for the Gubu speech was devised by Tony Cronin”, his cultural adviser.

A discussion about “Jews in Ireland” may have been prompted by Mr O’Shannon’s documentary, Hidden History: Ireland’s Nazis, which was broadcast by RTÉ in 2007.

Mr O’Shannon told Mr Haughey he had once gone “to Edmondstown Golf Club to chase a Jewish girl he fancied”.

According to the journalist’s notes, Mr Haughey responded: “God, I never thought to join a golf club for a girl. Of course, I didn’t have to do that to get a ride. Maybe you did.”