Très Bien, Charlie!

In view of the entertaining RTE series on Charles Haughey it is worth considering Charlie’s role in the Irish Peace Process. The following account is from ‘Resurgence – The Catholic Predicament in ‘Northern Ireland’, 1969-2015’ which is due for publication in the spring:

An important development occurred in the 26 Counties in December 1979 when Jack Lynch was replaced as Taoiseach by Charles Haughey. Haughey immediately set his stall out in relation to the North in a famous speech at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in which he said:

“We must face the reality that Northern Ireland, as a political entity, has failed and that a new beginning is needed. The time has surely come for the two sovereign Governments to work together to find a formula and lift the situation on to a new plane, that will bring permanent peace and stability to the people of these islands.” (IN 18.2.80)

Haughey stated that his Government “sees Northern Ireland as the major national issue, and its peaceful solution as our first political priority.” He talked of “enlisting the support of all our friends in support of our interests,” and working with the British Government to declare “their interest in encouraging the unity of Ireland.” This represented a vocal departure from Dublin’s policy of timidity since the fall of the Executive.

Haughey also communicated a message to the Republican leadership that he was prepared to conduct uisce faoi thalamh talks with them in a Carmelite monastery in New York. But this offer was turned down by the IRA. (Tim Pat Coogan, A Memoir, p. 307)

Haughey was, however, confronted by a new government at Westminster that would initially have no truck with outside interference. Mrs. Thatcher told the British Commons in May 1980 that “The future of the constitutional affairs of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, this Government and this Parliament alone, and no one else.” (IN 21.5.80)

Haughey had a summit with Thatcher to try to persuade her otherwise, of which Mary Holland commented, “Mr. Haughey has embarked on a courtship of Mrs. Thatcher but he is by nature a man who expects some return for his courting.” (New Statesman 30.5.80)

However, Humphrey Atkins then announced another attempt at an internal solution in August 1980 and Haughey’s initiative was blocked off.

However, Haughey persisted and played the most pivotal role in the development of the Peace Process. Without Haughey, who had a deep interest in the North through his father and previous involvement, the efforts of Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern would have been never taken place.

Haughey, though, has been all but written out of the Peace Process.

Here is a typical piece of sneering that has become the stock in trade of those who wish to do down Charles Haughey in favour of those who were recreating West Briton in the Republic. It is written by a History Professor:

“With a self-image that seemed to blend the Renaissance prince and the Gaelic chieftain, Charles Haughey did not regard himself as bound by the conventional values that applied to ordinary mortals… The many rumours about how Haughey financed such a lavish life-style did not damage his immense popularity with a substantial section of the party and the electorate. Like the ‘whiff of cordite’ associated with the Arms Trial such rumours made him appealingly dangerous. As the Irish political journalist Stephen Collins has noted, Haughey’s popularity revealed the continuing influence of ‘deep ambivalence to politics and law, coupled with the atavistic anti-English strain in Irish nationalism’ amongst many Irish people.” (Henry Patterson, Ireland Since 1939: The Persistence of Conflict, pp.276-7)

Prof Patterson furthermore states that Haughey “positioned his party on the side of traditional Catholic values and irredentism” (p.290)

What Haughey actually did was to return to De Valera’s policy with regard to the North, rejecting the disastrous Lemass/Whittaker/Lynch era of non-politics in the 26 Counties, and in doing so helped kick-start the Peace Process.

Haughey, De Valera and Lemass

De Valera had been convinced that the manner in which ‘Northern Ireland’ had been established, with its unique form of semi-detachment from the British State and the role imposed on the reluctant Unionists to act as subjugators of the Catholic minority, was purposefully designed as a lever for British control over the Free State, and a curb on its potential sovereignty. Britain teased the new State with the “unity” it could have if only it ditched its longing for “full sovereignty”.

This made De Valera come to the unavoidable conclusion that he had to ignore the North to minimise any leverage its politics gave Britain in disrupting the establishing of full Irish State sovereignty. This included ruthlessly excluding any role for the State in assisting the Northern Catholics in their predicament of imprisonment in their Six County confinement. In establishing southern sovereignty he was undoubtedly right in this.

Lemass, as Taoiseach, naively pursued a political rapprochement with Stormont in the misguided belief that joint business dealing would wash away the political problems of the pseudo-state. Economics would over-ride politics. In encouraging Captain O’Neill to start running the place as if he was the actual Prime Minister of an actual State— a fantasy activity his Unionist predecessors had scrupulously avoided—Lemass, intentionally or otherwise, unleashed political energies that “Northern Ireland” could not cope with, ending in the events of 1969.

Having helped stir up things in the North, the Southern State could no longer absolve itself from the fate of those it claimed jurisdiction over. But the erratic turn-about performed by Lemass’s protégé, Lynch, through incitement in 1969 followed by disengagement in 1970, and culminating in the great lie of the Arms Conspiracy Trial, had the effect of thoroughly disorientating the State.

The other Lemass delusion, that the business of politics was largely business, was also found wanting as the brief economic rise gave way to further stagnation and economic gloom in the 26 Counties. Within a decade, the 26 Counties found itself in a spiral of social and economic crises, along with being incapacitated politically by the ongoing Northern situation which had the effect— as predicted by De Valera—of a substantial growth of British influence in Dublin affairs.

Haughey succeeded in breaking both the cycle of economic decay and the creeping return to British dependency of the ‘non-political’ Southern State. His Governments of 1979-81 and 1982-83, represented a turning point in the overturning of the two decade experiment in Lemass’ non-political Government, in which economics was seen as the remedy for all problems. And then Haughey helped produce the Republic’s greatest ever economic boom – that was later squandered by those of a lesser ability.

For Haughey, the issues of the Northern Insurrection, the Republic’s sovereignty, and the chronic economic underdevelopment of the South were all inter-related, parts of the whole. He outraged the opposition and Dublin media, by taking the tiny secretariat known as the “Department of the Taoiseach” and turning it into the all-dominating Chancellorship of the Southern State. “Strategic” matters of foreign policy, Northern policy and the management of the Social Partnership strategy (based on the German model) he was attempting to kick start, were removed from subordinate Departments of government and centralised under his leadership at the Department of the Taoiseach.

Haughey’s achievement lay in reviving the Southern State so that it had a purposeful direction with regard to the North that kick-started the Peace Process.

The New Ireland Forum, though launched by Fitzgerald, was based on principles established by Haughey when he had engaged with Thatcher during 1981-2. Haughey opposed the subsequent Hillsborough Treaty, despite considerable pressure even from within his own party, on the basis that it was a purely inter-governmental arrangement that excluded the internal political forces of the North. Haughey’s view was proved to be fully justified by the extent of Unionist opposition to it. Taking it was an established fact he moved toward lukewarm support of it. And when he returned as Taoiseach he kept the apparatus of it in being but operated it in the mildest possible form in co-operation with Tom King, the new British Secretary of State, who also saw it as an antagonising influence on the North.

Haughey wished to transcend rather than implement the 1985 Treaty and offered to convene a committee to take up possible changes in the Constitution that would establish better relations between North and South (IT 25.3.87). He also offered to meet with Unionists and at the 1988 Ard Fheis declared his belief that the framework within which the North was being administered needed to be broadened with the establishment of more widely representative political structures. (IN 22.2.88)

This was very different from the SDLP/Dublin establishment’s objective of forcing the Unionists into a new phase of devolution through the Hillsborough lever. Both former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and Tánaiste, Dick Spring wanted suspension or the creating of a window to allow the Unionists to submit to devolution with the SDLP under the auspices of the Hillsborough Treaty.

Haughey was thoroughly opposed to devolution of this kind. He wanted a much wider settlement rather than the same-old journey down the path of failure.

Fr. Reid’s Letter to Haughey

Adams and Fr. Reid ruled out the possibility of contacting the Taoiseach, Fitzgerald in 1986, about their Peace initiative after previous attempts at contact were rebuffed. They instead contacted Haughey, although he was in opposition at the time.

The Haughey/Fr. Reid dialogue began in late 1985. Through Fr. Reid, Adams began sending messages to Haughey which explored various ideas. The first was a note written by Adams on jotter paper contained in a plain brown envelope. It was the first direct written communication between the Northern Republicans and a Taoiseach and was an endorsement of Haughey’s stance on the Hillsborough Agreement. It said that Fitzgerald’s signing of the 1985 Treaty had involved a copper-fastening of Partition with internment waiting in the wings. This helped convince Haughey that his political instincts on the North were correct in the face of the huge opposition mounted in Dublin against his anti-Treaty stance.

Haughey had been impressed by the Republican Army’s operation at Brighton. According to Tim Pat Coogan he had said: “Think of it… What an operation! If it had come off, they’d have got nearly the whole British cabinet. It would have been greater than 1916.” (A Memoir, p.308)

Fr. Reid met Haughey at his base in Kinsealy:

“The Fianna Fail leader listened to Reid outline a scenario detailing how the IRA could be persuaded to call a ceasefire… Reid argued that the Adams-led Republican leadership could be convinced to lay down their arms, but that this could only come about through face-to-face discussion. Talks had to be aimed, in the first instance, at ending the isolation of the Republican Movement. Adams and his supporters had to be shown that a broad constitutional and nationalist family existed which they could join to pursue the objective of a united Ireland. But this would only come about when the IRA no longer felt that it was out on its own.” (Kevin Rafter, Nicholas Mansergh, A Biography, p. 182)

In May 1987 a significant letter was communicated between Adams/Fr. Reid and Haughey, setting out Adams’ terms for an IRA ceasefire, 7 years before it happened. Within it were the principles and compromises that formed the basis of what became the Agreement of 1998.

These were that dialogue between Republicans and the British should be “open-ended” and that the Republican Army would only end its campaign through the creation of an acceptable “alternative method” which involved “the right of the Nationalist and Unionist people of Ireland to decide their own constitutional and political future through dialogue among themselves and without dictation from the British authorities”. Within This sentence altered the key demand of the IRA for a British declaration of intent to withdraw to something very different.

Fr. Reid revealed to Haughey in a letter dated 28 November 1986, on Clonard Monastery notepaper, the principles on which the Insurrection rested and on which a peace could be made with the British State to end it:

“These principles as I understand them may be set out as follows:

“1) The aim of ‘the armed struggle’ is to establish the right of all the Irish people to decide their own political future through dialogue among themselves. The establishment of a 32 county socialist republic is not therefore the aim of this struggle. From the Sinn Féin point of view this is a political ideal to be pursued and achieved by political strategies only.

“2) The British must in some formal and credible way declare their willingness to set aside the claim enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 that they have in their own right the power of veto of the democratic decisions of the Irish people as a whole. In practice it would be sufficient for then to declare their willingness to set aside the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 in view of any agreements that the representatives of the people of Ireland in dialogue among themselves might make about their constitutional and political future.

“Such a declaration would set the scene for a ceasefire by the IRA.

“This principle relates only to the right of veto which the British authorities claim in Ireland on the basis of the 1920 Act. It should not therefore be taken to mean that Sinn Féin want the British to withdraw from Ireland at the present time. On the contrary they accept and would even insist on the need for a continuing British presence to facilitate the processes through which the constitutional and political structures of a just and lasting peace would be firmly and properly laid by the democratic decisions of the Irish people as a whole.

“Once the representatives of all the Irish people, Nationalist and Unionist, could meet together in accordance with the principle of independence outlined in (2) above, all options for a settlement of the national question, for organising the constitutional and political structures of a just and lasting peace would be open for dialogue and decision.” . (IT 5.7.07)

This was very much what happened in the subsequent staging of the Peace Process

In the conclusion to his letter Fr. Reid wrote to Haughey:

“I can….say that the opportunity which now exists is the best that has presented itself since the present Troubles began in 1969 and that it is an opportunity not just for a ceasefire but for making final peace with the IRA and taking the gun out of Nationalist politics forever”.

Fr. Reid’s letter outlined the core of the new Republican proposal to Haughey of the creation of a Nationalist political consensus which would begin with talks between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail aimed at agreeing a common approach to the North. Haughey was informed that Adams would consider calling on the IRA to implement a ceasefire if the Irish Government would pursue the issue of Irish reunification (BBC Panorama 30.1.95).


Adams trusted Haughey as “a genuine nationalist” and Cardinal O’Fiaich indicated that he would give Haughey the necessary political cover if the initiative was discovered and attempted to be shot down by Fine Gael or other anti-Republican elements in the South.

Haughey was indispensable to the Peace Process that developed in the North and should be given every credit for his efforts, which were conducted against the Dublin establishment, which hated him.

Haughey had to proceed carefully. Irish Special Branch and the Gardai were penetrated by British agents and knew nearly everything that went on. His first choice for negotiator was Padraig O’hAnrachain, but he died in 1986. Martin Mansergh acted subsequently as go-between for Haughey with Adams. Secret meetings were held between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein in Dundalk during 1988 but Haughey denied his Government were involved in talks with Republicans when questioned by Fine Gael in the Dáil.

Mansergh remembers what Adams said at the first meeting:

“The point was made that northern nationalists were alienated from Dublin… They needed an alternative political strategy, if violence were to stop. The view was expressed that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was not worth the candle, as the cost of the provocation of unionists was not commensurate with any substantial gain.” (Martin Mansergh, p.188)

Both Haughey’s men and the Republicans agreed that the Hillsborough Treaty was an obstacle to the development of the Peace initiative and Fr. Reid maintained that it delayed the political process. Mansergh told Fr. Reid that Dublin being a sovereign government had to respect the international obligations left to it by its predecessor (p. 191)

Haughey had to contend with an unfavourable political atmosphere for risk-taking on the North. There was the Enniskillen bombing in late 1987 and then in 1988 the events at Gibraltar and Milltown cemetery and the public killing of the British undercover soldiers in Andersonstown that Fr. Reid got caught up in, to administer Last Rites to the victims.

The period after the Hillsborough Treaty was one in which “moderation” was urged on the two communities by both London and Dublin as a solution to the conflict. That was the typical absence of thought that had reigned in Southern establishment since the Whittaker era – moderation up North for a quiet life down South. But in order for “moderation” to have broken out within the ‘Northern Ireland’ cauldron there would have had to have been political structures available to the communities to harness social energy in a manner that diverted it away from communal conflict.

Political normality which makes “moderation” possible is political activity connected with the electing of a party to govern a state. It could not develop in the absence of such normal political activity in a situation where communal parties within communal blocs harness communal grievances against the other community in a political system disconnected from governing a state. Normal politics could only exist within the UK or an Irish Republic but not in such a concoction as ‘Northern Ireland’.

In the South only Charlie Haughey seemed to recognise this fundamental fact. He kept emphasising that ‘Northern Ireland’ was not a “viable entity” and he refused to follow others in fishing in the dangerous waters of the North. The implication of Haughey’s view was that the Six Counties could only settle down within the political system of one or other of the states which asserted sovereignty over them and if Britain was not going to do the necessary it should not obstruct what could be necessarily accomplished in the other direction.

The later meetings organised by Haughey between an Irish Government delegation and Sinn Fein, during March and June 1988, encouraged Haughey in his the belief that the Hillsborough Treaty should be transcended.

Most significantly they re-established relations between the Northern Catholic community that lay outside the Constitutional sphere that Lynch authorised and then had broken off in 1970. From this time on the Department of Foreign Affairs had a relationship with the SDLP and an official policy of non-contact with Sinn Fein.

This gave Adams and his colleagues important leverage with the IRA in encouraging movement toward an unarmed strategy, with the power of government behind him. It was Haughey’s crossing of the Rubicon with regard to Dublin’s relations with the Northern Republicans that provided the big breakthrough that enabled Dublin Governments to provide what was necessary to the Peace Process to make it a going concern.

Part of the reason why Haughey was able to engage with Adams was because the Leader of Fianna Fail was a substantial Republican himself who had confined the Sinn Fein vote to less than 2% in the Republic

Albert Reynolds replaced Haughey as Taoiseach in February 1992 and continued his Northern policy. Reynolds had entered politics as a supporter of Haughey in the wake of the Arms Conspiracy Trials of 1970. He was an outsider to the Dublin establishment, and understood Haughey’s purposeful Northern policy that replaced the disastrous legacy of the Lemass and Lynch era which had incapacitated the Southern State. But Reynolds only continued what Haughey had managed to ignite.

During the times of Haughey and Reynolds the Northern Catholics had the allies in Dublin necessary to finally effectively pursue an ending of the Insurrection.

This understanding of the necessity of allies in the wider Nationalist movement for a successful conclusion to the struggle was a product of the isolation Republicans suffered in the Truce of 1975 and the advantages seen in allies during the H-Block campaign. The letter suggested a Nationalist front that in its effectiveness would persuade the members of the IRA to trust in a political struggle that would establish a momentum to the situation. Haughey was also told that the Sinn Fein objective was ‘national self-determination’ rather than ‘a 32 county socialist republic.’ It was up to the Irish people to determine their own future in free negotiations after that, according to Adams.

Adams wanted the British to set aside section 75 of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act that he claimed gave Westminster supreme authority over ‘Northern Ireland’. But Adams stressed that he also wished Britain to remain in the province to oversee a political settlement and an orderly disengagement.

Adams signalled that Sinn Fein was prepared to accept the need for unanimous consent to a United Ireland and it was redefining self-determination away from the simple all Ireland majority towards general agreement on the island. This was the first indication that the consent principle was being accepted by Republicans, although they were unwilling to say so explicitly.

Adams and Haughey decided on a ‘stepping stones’ policy that choreographed the phased entry and participation of nationalist Ireland into a process for Peace, and this formed the basis of the Peace Process with slight modifications as events took place.

The Republican Army Council made the decision in 1988 to abandon the demand of the British that they should withdraw from ‘Northern Ireland’ within the lifetime of a single parliament. This had been a key demand of the southern Republicans who had led the Provos in the early 70s and its withdrawal signalled another retreat from their position.

It was decided to set no new deadline on a British withdrawal and rely on it taking place ‘within a generation’ in the event of a settlement.

This was apparently kept a close secret from the Republican Army rank and file and it later led to accusations of deception and betrayal by some republicans. However, peace feelers had to be kept a closely-guarded secret because the revelation of them at that point had the potential to disorganise the movement when it was vulnerable and to reduce the momentum of the War when that momentum was required to bring home a political settlement.

The first part of the Peace initiative involved Adams and Fr. Reid. The second part involved Adams/Fr. Reid and Haughey. The third part involved Adams/Fr. Reid/ Haughey and John Hume.

For a long time afterwards it was presumed by the media, and the SDLP Leader was of the belief, that his talks with Adams had begun the Peace Process rather than, as it really had, through the Adams/Fr. Reid/Haughey axis. Hume had been ‘protected’ from this information for his own good at the time, lest his party colleagues and others in Dublin should learn of the tentative growth and ruin it all.

It all remained hidden from the SDLP and from those outside of Haughey’s close circle to prevent it being assailed by the mainstream of ‘Constitutional Nationalism’ and destroyed, until Fr. Reid was instructed, by Haughey, to made tentative contacts with Hume, who was felt trustworthy enough to be let in on what was going on.

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