Haughey didn’t ‘flaunt affair’ with Keane says O’Dea

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

One for all and all for one: Pictured at the Fianna Fail convention at the Stella Ballroom in 1986 are Charlie Haughey and Willie O'Dea, centre, with Michael Parks and Dr Richard O'Flaherty. Below, social columnist Terry Keane, who revealed all on the Late Late Show
LIMERICK TD Willie O’Dea says he very much doubts that Charles Haughey’s mistress Terry Keane was advising the then Taoiseach on policy in the bedroom, as was depicted on the first episode of Charlie which aired on RTE on Sunday night.

LIMERICK TD Willie O’Dea says he very much doubts that Charles Haughey’s mistress Terry Keane was advising the then Taoiseach on policy in the bedroom, as was depicted on the first episode of Charlie which aired on RTE on Sunday night.

Deputy O’Dea, who was elected to the Dail in 1982 and was opposed to Charles Haughey’s leadership throughout the 1980s, said he also doesn’t think the Fianna Fail leader “was displaying her as overtly as was suggested in the series.

“I mean to say, taking her off on summits to meet Maggie Thatcher etc – I don’t think that was the case. I don’t recall it as having been the case anyway,” Deputy O’Dea told the Leader this week, adding that he never saw the Sunday Independent’s long-running gossip columnist around Leinster House and never met her in Haughey’s company.

“I only met the woman once and it was in a completely different context altogether,” he noted.

While the political establishment and the media in Dublin seemed to be “absolutely certain” about her 27-year affair with the then Taoiseach, many people throughout the country were left gobsmacked by the revelation when Ms Keane appeared on the Late Late Show in 1999.

“The only thing that shocked me was that she was so brazen to come out and say it so openly,” said Deputy O’Dea.

“It didn’t surprise me at all that it was actually happening, because so many people told me.”

The former Minister for Defence, who was a member of the so-called Gang of 22 – a group of Fianna Fáil TDs who were opposed to the leadership of Charles Haughey in the early 1980s – was generous in his praise of actor Aidan Gillen, who he feels “did an excellent job” from the point of view of portraying Haughey’s characteristics, mannerisms and accent.

Mr O’Dea, who was working for PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants in Dublin for several years before he was elected to the Dail, says it was well-known in financial circles about Mr Haughey’s financial dealings, and some of the stories “left me distinctly underwhelmed”.

“The other thing of course is I was very close to Jack Lynch and George Colley. I was in that wing of the party - they were the guys who brought me in so immediately I was identified with that wing of the party. Charlie regarded me with suspicion, at best.”

There were three motions of no confidence in Charlie Haughey, within the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, and on each occasion, 22 people exactly voted against him.

Mr O’Dea is the only surviving member of the Dail that was in all three “22 clubs”.

“I knew that my prospects of promotion under Charlie Haughey were nil because I was opposed to him and that was it.”

While Willie may not have been part of Haughey’s “inner circle” he had a number of “close encounters” with him.

“He could be very, very intimidating and very aggressive.

“He could talk down to you and let you know that you certainly weren’t his equal or could never aspire to be his equal, and he would do things his way and that was that.”

While the Kilteely man says Haughey never reached an extreme level of anger with him, “it is my understanding was that he wasn’t averse to banging tables and throwing files around the place and stuff like that in moments of extreme agitation.

“There is a paradox here because I was regarded as one of the opposition to him and he tended to be somewhat nicer to us than the people who were totally dependent on him – who he could do what he liked with. He was perfectly rude to his own people – I know that.”

On the other hand, Haughey, he noted, could turn on the charm and charisma very easily when he needed to, and the ladies “seemed to like him, yes.

“I remember on one election campaign he was down in Limerick and O’Malley had left the party at that stage, I think it was the 1987 election, and I was going around with him in the car, in the Taoiseach’s car, and I could see he was quite grumpy in the car but the minute we stepped out into the crowds the man was transformed completely.

“He was electioneering. He switched. We were no good to him in the car but these were the people who needed to be won over and he absolutely went out and played the part.”

Describing Haughey as “a very clever guy and a very hard worker,” Mr O’Dea said there is no doubt but he was also “conniving”.

“He was very focused on getting power and holding onto power but I don’t think he was absolutely certain what he wanted to do with it when he had it.”

Referring to the Charlie series itself Mr O’Dea said that “in any production like that there is a certain amount of poetic licence for dramatic effect”, but noted that factually, the first instalment of the three-part series “was broadly correct”.

However, he said he would have sympathy for the Haughey family watching the programme. “Sean Haughey [Haughey’s son] is a very decent fella - a very good friend of mine. It is quite tough on the family – there is no doubt about that.”

Haughey’s former political nemesis, Des O’Malley, also spoke out this week about the series describing it as “not quite accurate” and was particularly disappointed that Sunday night’s episode failed to tell the story of the Arms Trial.

In relation to the portrayal of himself, the Fianna Fail renegade who went on to form the Progressive Democrats after being mercilessly ditched by Haughey, confessed he was ‘not particularly looking forward to what comes next’.