Haughey cloud returns to mar Bertie's horizon


It's only a week since Drapier saw a cloudless sky and no pitfalls ahead for Bertie Ahern's Government. Full steam ahead and the devil take the hindmost, or words to that effect.

Drapier had a word of caution last week about watching out for the unexpected, but in truth he was half-hearted about his warning. And then out of nowhere - well, more accurately, out of Ursula Halligan's article in Magill - came the new spate of "revelations" linking Mr Dermot Desmond to Mr Charles J. Haughey.

The allegations themselves will be referred on to the Moriarty tribunal and will, no doubt, be pursued in full to whatever is the appropriate conclusion. Drapier will not rush to judgment one way or the other - there are enough doing that already.

But what the Magill articles are doing is opening up another can of worms and putting the focus back on the Haughey years. Already we have had a fair bit of journalistic picking over the entrails of the Carysfort affair, and this latest article continues the drip, drip, drip process of examination of the Haughey era and the Haughey style of government.

The Haughey court challenge when it comes will inevitably mean more of the same, with days of highly-charged, dramatic court action. And all that before Judge Moriarty even sits down.

Drapier is not going to prejudge either tribunal. They may turn out to be damp squibs or they may make McCracken look like a vicarage tea party. Only time will tell. Drapier's point is that the long-drawn-out process will undoubtedly create vulnerabilities along the line, especially for those most closely associated with Mr Haughey.

Most, maybe all, of these vulnerabilities will prove to be harmless; the danger is that it only takes one genuine depth charge to blow everybody out of the water. That's the danger and that is why the months ahead - even with the booming economy, the new cohesion in Government, and the buoyancy in the polls - has an element of built-in danger and potential instability.

As Drapier said at the start of the McCracken tribunal, when many felt little would emerge, tribunals take on a life and a momentum of their own and often end up going in directions nobody expected or intended. And, from what Drapier has seen of some of the lawyers assigned to the new tribunals, there is a sharpness and an edge to their approach that will ensure that there will be momentum, if not a lot more. And our friends in the Fourth Estate are not likely to let up either.

Some of this may explain the exchange this week between Ruairi

Quinn and John Bruton on extending the terms of reference of the Moriarty tribunal and the squabble over who was right and who was wrong when the original terms were agreed last September. Drapier didn't quite get the point of it all, especially when Mr Quinn pointed out on Thursday's Morning Ireland that it was neither Fine Gael nor Labour which prevented a tribunal examination of the Ansbacher accounts; it was the combined votes of Fianna Fail, the Progressive Democrats and some Independents.

For his part, Drapier will be surprised if anything much will stick to Mr Desmond. As Drapier sees it, he is one of the great - and generous - geniuses of our time but, one way or other, he is now in the firing line and the Haughey factor will continue to dominate our headlines. And that in itself is enough to guarantee some sleepless nights.

It's been very quiet in here all week. Mr Ahern took a well-earned rest in the sun and in Drapier's view it was more than deserved. Mind you, with the word coming from the North he can hardly have relaxed all that much, and the general feeling in here was of a dangerous vacuum opening up and being filled, not by the governments and the constitutional politicians, but by the prisoners and the extremists.

Drapier has no criticism to make of the near-invisibility of our Government's performance during the past week. The problem at this point essentially is elsewhere and, while most people who have met Mo Mowlam like her, there is great unease about her decision to talk directly to the loyalist prisoners. In view of the result maybe she got it right but how

can the pace of the talks be dictated by people who - to be blunt about it - are guilty of brutal and heinous crimes? And what of the relatives of the victims of these crimes? The question is: has she embarked on a dangerous, possibly even fatal, course of action?

The two governments are going to have to assert themselves over the coming weeks, right from the start of the recommencement of talks. It's going to test the mettle of Mr Ahern and his team as nothing has before, especially if Bertie is serious - as Drapier believes he should be - about bringing the talks to a conclusion by March or April.

The reality is that by this stage most people know what needs to be done and what is possible. It is a question now of taking some very hard decisions and facing up to the consequences because, one way or other, the decisions will have to be taken and the consequences will not go away.

We still have no date for the by-elections, and as far as Drapier can see there is no great enthusiasm on any side about rushing them. Canvassing in the dark, cold nights holds little attraction for anyone, and most of us feel we have had our surfeit of electioneering over the past 12 months.

Drapier's only prediction at this stage is that he expects low polls in both by-elections, a strong Fianna Fail emphasis on stability and not rocking the "prosperity" vote, and that whoever gets in front on the first counts will probably win. But let's wait until the traps are up.

Meanwhile, on a very different note, Drapier has to record his indignation at the treatment being meted out to Albert Reynolds by Mgr Leonard, of New York Archdiocese, over Albert's selection as grand master of the St Patrick's Day parade in that city. Clearly the good monsignor is an eminent man of the cloth but Drapier has to say he finds his attacks on Albert intemperate and offensive.

Albert Reynolds is Albert Reynolds and in some ways he can be his own worst enemy (although there would be some competition for that title). However, his work for the peace process will stand the test of time and, if for no other reason, he is well entitled to lead the parade.

Some cynics may say that at least we will know where he is on that day, but Drapier thinks that Albert has much that he can be proud of during his time as Taoiseach and advises him to pay no heed to loud-mouthed monsignori and to go ahead and do his own thing - as he always did and always will.