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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 11 Feb 1992

Vol. 415 No. 6

Resignation of Taoiseach.

A Cheann Comhairle, tá orm a chur in iúl duit gur éirigh mé as oifig mar Thaoiseach inné trína chur sin in iúl don Uachtarán de bhun an Bhunreachta.

Yesterday, I resigned from the office of Taoiseach by placing my resignation in the hands of the President, pursuant to the Constitution. I would like on this occasion to thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for your unfailing courtesy and assistance to all of us and for the dignity you have given to our proceedings.

Over 35 years in Dáil Éireann I have developed a deep affection for this House and its traditions. I recall the great figures who have passed through its portals in my time and who are no longer with us. I remember vividly the many important parliamentary occasions this House has witnessed through the years. Dáil Éireann is the democratic forum of this nation, to establish which our forefathers made many sacrifices, and of which they would be proud. I would urge all Deputies to continue to stand up for and enhance the standing of the Dáil and the status of its Members and to foster a sense of pride in all our democratic institutions. When we look around this troubled world I think we can consider ourselves fortunate that we have these democratic institutions.

We have introduced many important reforms in recent years to make Dáil Éireann more responsive and to bring it closer to the people under modern conditions, and I have no doubt this process will continue. For my part I have done a fair amount to improve the conditions of Deputies, to enable them to carry out their duty of representing the people more effectively and to facilitate their work as legislators.

I wish to thank all those colleagues who have served with me in Government, and I would also like to thank Deputies both from my own party, from the Government side and from the Opposition who have contributed to our work in the public interest over the years. I want to thank the large number of dedicated public servants for whom, as they know, I have always had the highest regard, and who have served the Government and the country with diligence and dedication. I would also like to pay a very special tribute to the social partners for their enlightened approach to our economic and social affairs, which has been of such enormous benefit to our country over the past five years.

Above all, I thank the people of Ireland for the support they have given me over such a long period of years and indeed for the great deal of affection they have shown me from time to time. As I leave office, I bid them a fond farewell and wish them every success and happiness.

The work of Government and of the Dáil must always be directed to the progress of the nation, and I hope I have been able to provide some leadership to that end in my time. I have always sought to act solely and exclusively in the best interests of the Irish people. Let me quote Othello:

I have done the state some service; they know't

No more of that.

As to all those who have frequently and vehemently disagreed with me in this House, I have always accepted that they did so in pursuance of their own interpretation of the public interest and in accordance with the constitutional duty of an Opposition party in a democracy to put the alternative view.

The past 35 years have seen a total transformation of Irish society. Even if not all our high hopes have been realised, there is much to be proud of in the economic and social progress that has been made, and in recent years I believe we have laid good foundations for durable advance.

We should always keep in our minds, too, that Government has much wider dimensions than merely managing an economy. There must be concern and commitment that all shall participate in the fruits of progress, a caring attitude towards the least advantaged, a love of our heritage and culture, a desire to protect our environment, a deep attachment to the values that are precious to us. There is also the need to respond constructively to the great universal yearning for peace in Northern Ireland.

Apart from that tragic situation, I am sure we are proceeding broadly in the right direction, and that Ireland can look forward to a great future in a united Europe, exceeding anything in our past, if we take the right decisions and stay on course. The Irish people have the means and the character to lift themselves out of present difficulties, and in my estimation they will certainly succeed in doing so. I believe, too, that there is in Ireland today a great flowering of creativity in all aspects of our national life which enhances the quality of our lives and uplifts out morale.

I would like to wish my successor and the Government he will nominate well in tackling the many problems they will face. I say farewell, as Taoiseach, to the Members of this House and salute them as the freely elected, democratic representatives of the people of Ireland whom we are honoured to serve.

This is not the time to outline any special list of claims or achievements. Let the record speak for itself. If I were to seek any accolade as I leave office it would simply be: he served the people, all the people, to the best of his ability.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I wish the outgoing Taoiseach well. As a Minister and as Taoiseach, he showed himself to be an effective and imaginative manager of public business. He has, as he has said, shown commitment to this House in his willingness to answer to this House, frequently in times of difficulty. I wish him well in whatever role he now chooses for himself, as I wish well his family and his many friends. May I say also that I doubt very much that he will confine himself to the cultivation of chrysanthemums.

The outgoing Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, quoted last week from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to telling effect in this House when he referred to the “Heavens blazing forth the death of princes”. I am sure that he did not intend to encourage us to look at our dog-eared copies of Julius Caesar and to especially remember Mark Anthony saying “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”.

The Ides of March are not yet upon us so I will resist the temptation to follow Mark Anthony's precedent. Instead I admit to having difficulty in finding the appropriate words to pay tribute to a retiring political legend. My mind was drawn — not to Shakespeare — but closer to home to Flann O'Brien whose tribute to another folk hero, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, ran like this: "I am an Ulster man, a Connacht man and a Greek, I am my own father and my son, I am every hero from the crack of time", which is appropriate.

Much has been said about the abrupt ending of Deputy Haughey's time frame, I do not propose to dwell at length on the circumstances in which he has come to relinquish office other than to say that the manner of his departure, once the die was cast, was dignified and graceful, as one would expect. This occasion represents the end of a long and turbulent era in Irish politics. Charles Haughey was elected as Leader of Fianna Fáil — and Taoiseach — in an atmosphere of high expectation. He brought to the job a prestigious range of talents and skills, perhaps unparalleled in the modern era. Throughout his tenure of office those skills were always in evidence; alongside the ambition and hunger for high office, with which his name will always be associated, the years during which Deputy Haughey was a central figure on the Irish political stage were marked by a series of controversial anomalies and questions, the kind of questions that can only be answered in the cooler light of history.

It would not be appropriate now to list all the questions and controversies which helped to make the last 13 years so turbulent. In keeping with the complex nature of the central figure the period can be accurately described as years of achievement and failure, promise and betrayal, hope and despair, idealism and cynicism, style and mediocrity, triumph and disaster. It will be up to the historians to say what are the correct measures to be applied for each of these descriptions. For my part, I have to say that if the next 13 years will enable politics to be restored to a more honourable and consistent ground, our country will be the richer. If we can bring an end to the style and substance of politics that enables a few to benefit at the expense of many we will be better off.

Throughout my career I have been an opponent of Deputy Haughey and, if he had remained in office, I would probably still oppose him for another two or ten years. However, I will always wonder what might have been, particularly if he had the confidence to give free rein to his skills, which have always been palable, in pursuit of a vision of an Ireland that belongs to all its people. On a personal level, despite many trenchant political disagreements, Deputy Haughey has always treated me in a courteous and fair manner. In future, now that he is free from the never ending ambition for office, I hope his talents will find true expression, perhaps in the further development of the cultural life of our country to which he has made a genuine and long standing commitment.

On my own behalf — and on behalf of the Labour Party — I wish Deputy Haughey and Mrs. Haughey many long, contented and fruitful years of retirement.

Deputy Haughey knows well that I have disagreed with him fundamentally on virtually every major political issue of the past ten years and that I have been very critical of his style of Government. Being the political realist he is he will, therefore, not expect praise from me nor would he, I suspect, take me seriously if I were to go down that road. Notwithstanding that, I wish to join other party Leaders — indeed everybody in the House — in wishing him well in his retirement and I acknowledge the exceptional impact he has had on Irish political life over some 30 years. Phrases like "the end of an era" are thrown about far too freely by politicians but this is one occasion on which it is entirely appropriate; it is indeed the end of an era, not just for Fianna Fáil, but for Irish politics.

For several decades Deputy Haughey dominated political life and had a major influence on virtually every political development since the sixties. As I said last week, when he announced his decision to the Fianna Fáil Party, like him or loathe him, he has always seemed to provoke the strongest possible feelings, it was impossible to ignore him. Irish politics will certainly be different — and duller — without him as Taoiseach. While any examination of his political career will naturally focus on his years as Taoiseach we must not forget that he also has a distinguished record of achievement as a Government Minister in several different Departments. He was a genuinely reforming Minister for Justice and, as Minister for Social Welfare, he introduced many reforms which helped to make life more bearable for those dependent on social welfare. Even his strongest critics — I count myself among them — have to admit that Deputy Haughey has been an exceptionally skilled parliamentarian. In Government and in Opposition he was the dominant presence in this House; always adept in the use of the procedures of the Dáil he has proved to be a formidable opponent for the rest of us.

Most politicians would admire the tenacity which Charles Haughey has shown in his political career, he has probably endured more crises and setbacks — some of them, let it be said, of his own making — than all his predecessors as Leader of Fianna Fáil, combined. He has climbed out of them, and out of the political grave, on more than one occasion. If there is any lesson we all learned about Charles Haughey it was never to doubt his capacity to confound or his ability to survive. In any private dealings I have had with him as leaders of our respective parties I have always found him to be courteous and helpful, quite different from the aggressive and sometimes boorish attitude he often adopted to his political opponents under public gaze in this House.

Deputy Haughey clearly has always liked to be at the centre of things and he is a person to whom retirement may not come easily. He is still a very active man and I hope he will find an appropriate outlet for his talents and abilities. I genuinely wish him well.

On my own behalf — and on behalf of the Progressive Democrats — I join in the good wishes to Deputy Haughey on his retirement. He has had a long and extremely distinguished career as Taoiseach, as Minister and as a Member of the House. I have, over the years, had disagreements with him on policy matters but I have come to recognise his outstanding abilities and capabilities. I am happiest of all to acknowledge how positively and how usefully those great abilities were used in this Government which comes to an end today.

I acknowledge, in particular, the way in which something new and different was facilitated by him and how the task of each member of the Government was made easier by his courtesy and concern for every member. There are few people in our time who will have made the kind of impact which Deputy Haughey made on the country. That marks him as a man of very considerable distinction and ability; he deserves what we hope he will now have — many long and happy years of retirement. I wish him and Mrs. Haughey well in that time.