Serious illness made Haughey look for place in ‘history’

US ambassador’s secret assessment was made to secretary of state James Baker in 1989

A bout of serious illness led to a dramatic change in Charles Haughey’s leadership style as taoiseach, making him realise it was his “last chance to make his place in Irish history”, US ambassador Margaret Heckler told secretary of state James Baker in a confidential cable in March 1989.

She said the illness made Haughey "determined to rise above his hitherto dominant image as the ultimate political boss".

In 'firm control'
A few days later another cable sent in advance of Haughey's St Patrick's Day visit to the US described him as being in "firm control" of Irish politics.

“The only cloud on Haughey’s horizon is his health. He has not recovered fully from a severe respiratory infection last fall and will consult a specialist during his Washington trip.”

Haughey had spent time in the intensive care unit of the Mater hospital in October 1988 and the Cork Examiner reported that his heart had stopped but this was vehemently denied by a government spokesman.


The cables were obtained under the US freedom of information Act on foot of a request to the state department for any records from 1989 relating to Charles Haughey. Some records were refused for US national security/foreign policy reasons.

Many of the cables from 1989 deal with the fallout from Haughey’s disastrous decision to call a surprise general election in June which resulted in Fianna Fáil losing seats.

To retain power he formed a coalition with the Progressive Democrats, the first time Fianna Fáil ever participated in a coalition government.

Great survivor
Heckler wrote on July 15th, the day the coalition was formed: "In the end, it would seem, after all, that Haughey, the great survivor of Irish politics, has once again fashioned a victory from defeat . . . In entering a coalition he has put national interests above sectarian party concerns."

In the cables, Heckler complimented the “measured statesmanlike tones” of Haughey during his ardfheis speech in February1989, which she said were “in strong contrast to the stridently partisan speech of Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes at his party conference”.