This Time, Haughey Does Go

February 07, 1992

Charles Haughey's resignation as prime minister of Ireland at 66 will end -- presumably -- a career often compared to Houdini for its escapes, or to cats for its successive lives.

On Monday, Mr. Haughey will hand the resignation to young President Mary Robinson, a longtime adversary and political maverick. Cause of the downfall, ostensibly, was a retelling of an old scandal, the wiretapping of journalists in 1982 in search of a cabinet leak. But the real reason was an accumulation that includes scandals of alleged favoritism in state deals with the private sector and other matters. The wider context is 20 percent unemployment and a soaring national debt.

Mr. Haughey's Fianna Fail Party colleagues had enough, especially after their coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, demanded his ouster. His successor is former finance minister Albert Reynolds, who was fired after leading a cabinet revolt last year but won a party leadership election yesterday. Mr. Reynolds should have no trouble finding support. The Progressive Democrats are Fianna Fail defectors who despise Mr. Haughey.

Charlie Haughey is legendary to the Irish for his financial and political sagacity in tight corners. He entered history as the justice minister who was sacked in 1970 for laundering government money to run guns to the reborn IRA in Northern Ireland, and was then acquitted of it in court.

But Mr. Haughey will endure in history for his acceptance, on returning to power after four years out in 1987, of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. This gives a consultative role to Ireland in the British government of Northern Ireland. Thanks to his making it work, that achievement of Ireland's Garret FitzGerald and Britain's Margaret Thatcher -- which he first opposed -- represents the Irish consensus. The agreement and its Anglo-Irish Conference remain the building foundation for any viable reform to come. Mr. Reynolds supports it.

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