This article was written for Reaction.Life.
Haughey – The Charles Haughey Documentary (RTE, YouTube)
One of the great delights of YouTube is that it contains a vast treasure trove of political documentaries, the existence of which is usually spread by word of mouth. A couple of weeks ago a reader of this column got in touch to recommend a four part documentary series made in 2005 by the Irish state broadcaster RTE on the life and political times of Charles Haughey. Haughey was what the Australians would call a Larrikin - a man with a lot of blarney and who sailed close to the legal wind throughout much of his adult life. He served three separate terms as Taoiseach of the Irish Republic over seven years between 1979 and 1992. In the three hours and forty two minutes it soon becomes clear that Haughey was a wrong’un from the start, getting involved in arms shipments for the IRA in 1970 and all sorts of financial shenanigans, each of which he seemed to escape from to continue in his rise through the ranks of Fianna Fail. By the end of the documentary, you’re left wondering how on earth he got away with it for as long as he did. It wasn’t until years after he left office that various enquiries uncovered the full extent of his fraudulent financial dealings – dealings which he consistently maintained he was blissfully unaware of. Using contemporary interviews with a host of Haughey’s political allies and enemies, the documentary lays out al the evidence and leaves the viewer to be judge and jury.
Growing up in the 1980s I took an instant dislike to Haughey. He seemed to me to be everything that was wrong in a politician – no principles, just full of expediency. His attitude to the IRA seemed equivocal to say the least and the stench of the 1970 Arms Scandal always hung over him like a fart that just wouldn’t go away. At first, Margaret Thatcher was charmed by him, but that soon changed when he distanced himself from the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. She regarded that as a complete slap in the face, given she had gone out of her way during his first term as Taoiseach to try to reset Anglo Irish relations. She even led a big British delegation of ministers to Dublin, which was the first time this had ever happened. After his overt criticism of the Anglo Irish Agreement, when he returned to power in 1987, their relations were never the same again. John Major didn’t trust him either.
For Haughey, everything was about him. He preached the virtues of sound money but was so desperate to be liked by the voters that he spent their money as if it was going out of fashion – not least on himself and the trappings of power. He used taxpayers’ money to buy Parisian shirts at £16,000 a throw.
In the end, the electorate and his party tired of him and he was thrown out of office in 1992 and was replaced as party leader by Albert Reynolds.
If you like your politics raw, you’ll love the close on four hours that you’ll spend watching this. It will leave you wondering how the Irish people fell for it all.
The Fortunately Podcast (BBC Sounds)
I might as well admit it right from the off that his is my favourite podcast of those I make sure I listen to each week. Hosted by Radio 4 presenters Jane Garvey and Fi Glover it never ceases to entertain and provoke giggles and the odd guffaw. Garvey delights in being a tad curmudgeonly, sometimes railing against Glover’s consistent attempts to stay on the right side of wokery. The secret of any good podcast is the relationship between the presenters, and here it’s almost as if these two are revelling in their release from the shackles of the studio and the need for perfect production. They delight in regaling each other with entertaining stories from their everyday lives, and even though the podcast is clearly mainly aimed at female listeners, the male of the species never feels excluded. When ‘Fortunately’ started its life three years ago it was used by Radio 4 as a vehicle to showcase their programmes, but that format was ditched and they now interview a guest in each episode after spending twenty minutes chatting away to each other. The guests are often much younger that the fifty-something presenters and this often leads to some hilarious banter. My personal favourite was their recent encounter with the rapper and disc jockey Amplify Dot, known to her friends as Dotty. I’d never heard of her, but her political insights and views on the decline of public discourse were both eloquent and at times revelatory. This is the joy of the podcast interview. There is no time pressure, and they’re conversations rather than interviews. There’s no pressure to get the gurst to deliver a news line, merely to be engaging and amusing. Perhaps the most revelatory guest they’ve had on recently was the male comedian who didn’t manage to raise a smile either from the presenters, or me, during the course of a half hour chat. They tried their best, but he appeared to be a humour free zone. I’ll save his blushes and not name him, because I’m kind like that.
If I was awarding stars in these reviews, this would get five of the little blighters. Give it a try. I promise you’ll become a regular listener if you do.