Shayla Warmsley reviews Haughey's 40 years of controversy by T Ryle Dwyer, Mercier Press, ISBN 1 85635 426 1, £14.95 pbk
WHEN CHARLES Haughey died recently, obituary writers wore out thesauruses looking for new words for graft. Few bothered to fudge the fact that the recently deceased had been the most outrageous gobshite ever to enter Irish politics.
Dwyer isn't quite trying to buck the trend but he combines recognition of "obvious fraud" (and then some) with a curiously sanctimonious defence of his subject's scant honour. He's critical, for instance, of "snide insinuations" and journalists' inclination "to presume Charlie's guilt, despite his right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty".
The case for Haughey, if there is one, would take better making than this. What is clearly a mendacious, irresponsible economic policy early in the book has become by the end of the book "a number of imaginative yet comparatively cheap giveaways". Dwyer's claim that there was no quid pro quo for the vast sums of cash flowing his way from business is hardly credible.
Likewise Dwyer leniently excuses Haughey's "mesmerising charm" with women - including an unfortunate habit of grabbing strangers' backsides - as largesse doled out to welcoming women the world over (including Margaret Thatcher, though without the goosing).
Journalism is where Dwyer appears most comfortable - the book is apparently based entirely on press reports and Gay Byrne - and he has a hack's tendency for hyperbole. He oversells his case in the preface and passim, comparing Haughey's scandals to Watergate - presumably with an eye to the US market.
Also, in the preface, he tells us this version has been cobbled together from two earlier efforts, with new material thrown in. Apparently the editor didn't get around to reading the revised version. Just to take a random example, in a chapter on Haughey's "torrid" affair with Terry Keane, he introduces the Sunday Independent columnist twice within as many paragraphs.
Some of the prose is execrable. Every other page Haughey speaks in a voice "quivering" with emotion. His biographer thinks "over the top" is "football parlance". A half-drunk copy-editor might have mentioned the 1914-1918 war.
These might be quibbles if it weren't for the author's desire to get Haughey
off. When the evidence becomes overwhelming, it's everyone else's fault. AIB "did not have the guts to act" on an overdraft of close to £300,000; the media stitched him up. That's what comes of biographies that are on first-name terms with their subjects.
"When things went wrong," Dwyer tells us, "Charlie would disclaim responsibility and repudiate [sic] somebody else." There is no excuse for his biographer doing the same.
He almost redeems himself, though not his subject, with this backhander.
"Throughout his career…he bucked the system," says Dwyer. "He may well be remembered as the greatest bucker of all time."
That's one word for it.
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Copyright © 2006 Shayla Warmsley