Haughey settled bill for 1979 postal strikers’ food and drink

Strike played significant role in undermining then taoiseach Jack Lynch

Pickets outside Sheriff Street sorting office, Dublin, in 1979: copy of a cheque used by Charles Haughey to settle a large bill for food and drink consumed by the strikers was passed on to the Department of Justice. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Pickets outside Sheriff Street sorting office, Dublin, in 1979: copy of a cheque used by Charles Haughey to settle a large bill for food and drink consumed by the strikers was passed on to the Department of Justice. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

 

Gardaí discovered in 1979 that striking postal workers had their bar bills paid by Charles Haughey, then a member of the government locked in a bitter struggle with the strikers.

The Irish Times has established that a copy of a cheque used by Haughey to settle a large bill for food and drink consumed by the strikers in a city centre pub was passed on to the Department of Justice.

The department was given a copy of the cheque by a senior garda who was concerned that Haughey was attempting to sabotage the policy of his own government.

An 18-week postal strike in the spring and early summer of 1979 turned into a damaging test of strength between the government and the Irish Post Office Workers Union.

The strike played a significant role in undermining the authority of the then taoiseach Jack Lynch, who was forced from office later that year by supporters of Haughey.

In his recently published memoir Conduct Unbecoming, Des O’Malley, a member of that government, records: “When the postal workers went on strike Charles Haughey, who was minister for health and social welfare, ensured that they were paid social welfare at once. It was a move intended not just to ease the burden on the strikers,” he wrote.

Since the publication of Mr O’Malley’s book, The Irish Times has learned that a substantial cheque drawn on the Kinsealy number two account was used to settle the bill run up by striking postal workers at Keating’s pub on Store Street in Dublin.

The pub was close to the central sorting office in Sherriff Street, which was being picketed around the clock by strikers. The strike committee met regularly in an upstairs room in the premises.

An arrangement was made with Keating’s pub by the union leader Mickey Mullen that strikers would be provided with free food and drink and the bill paid when the strike was over.

Copy of cheque

At the time Haughey sanctioned the payment, he was overdrawn to the tune of almost €1 million. His AIB bank manager, Michael Phelan,, wrote to his superiors in August 1979 saying: “The account appears to be out of control.”

It is not known whether Jack Lynch was ever informed of the cheque, but it was never mentioned by any of his supporters in the ensuing months.

The postal workers went on strike for 18 weeks in 1979. The Irish Post Office Workers Union lodged a claim for a pay rise of more than 30 per cent and the ensuing strike stopped postal deliveries and disrupted some social welfare payments.

The then minister for posts and telegraphs, Pádraig Faulkner, was authorised by the cabinet to resist the strikers’ demands.

The strike was eventually settled for a modest pay increase, much less than originally sought, but only after serious damage had been done to the government’s authority and to Lynch’s standing.