I dined with Haughey, but who would want to be a politician?

Politics is a time-consuming, thankless, stressful occupation with no job security, very little downtime and no privacy - so says Trevor Laffan
I dined with Haughey, but who would want to be a politician?

KIND GESTURE: Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey while on a walkabout in Cork city in June, 1985

IT won’t come as a great surprise to many that the Green Party Leader, Eamon Ryan is not my favourite politician.

I do have some sympathy for him though, because everyone who deals with him seems to agree that he is a nice, courteous man. A decent skin with good intentions apparently, and I don’t doubt that, but God help us, he sure knows how to put his foot in it.

He made a complete hash of the turf saga. What started out as a plan to ban the use of turf to improve the quality of our air, ended up becoming an issue that threatened the stability of the Government.

Add that to the car-pooling idea, the ‘grow your own salads in window boxes’ plan, and his recent reference to Russia as the USSR, which was disbanded 30 years ago, and you can see that it’s not all plain sailing in Eamon’s world.

Politicians get a lot of stick and I have often wondered why they bother.

What it is that drives people to get involved in politics in the first place? Is it a genuine desire to improve society, a crusade for social justice, or is it something more basic like a hunger for power or money? Or even a craving for attention and the love of being in the spotlight?

Whatever the reason, as far as I can see, it’s a time-consuming, thankless, stressful occupation with no job security, very little downtime and no privacy.

But there are many who disagree and find political life totally absorbing and rewarding and they’re happy to make a career for themselves in that business.

That’s great, because we need people like them. We might constantly complain about our TDs, but we should give them some credit for putting themselves forward, because if the country was full of people like me, Dail Eireann would be empty, and the country would be rudderless.

OK, you might well ask how that would be any different to what’s happening now, but you know what I mean.

I never had much interest in politics when I was growing up. We weren’t a political family, so when I was introduced to Gerry Collins in Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick, by a friend of mine in the 1970s, I had no idea who he was. I was a teenager, so his name meant nothing to me.

It became much more significant a few years later when I joined An Garda Siochana in 1979 and that same man became my new boss as Minister for Justice.

That was the moment I regretted not being more switched on in Abbeyfeale.

Thankfully, I had learned my lesson by the 980s, so I was able to recognise the then Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, when I met him.

I was stationed in Blarney at the time, and he had come to Cork and was staying overnight in Christy’s Hotel. On Sunday morning, I was instructed to go to the hotel at 6am to relieve the guy who had been on duty there all night. The purpose of the duty was to provide low level security in the area while Mr Haughey was in the building.

It was before 8am when Mr Haughey came downstairs accompanied by his driver. At that time, the accommodation section of the hotel was in a separate part of the building to the bar and restaurant, so we had to exit the hotel and walk along the front of the building and go through the main door to gain access to the dining area.

When we got there, the driver opened the door to the dining room and, as Mr Haughey was about to enter, he turned to me and asked me if I had had any breakfast. I thanked him and told him I was fine, but he insisted I join them.

In the dining room, the hotel staff had a large table reserved for him with all the Sunday papers placed beside him. He got stuck into the papers and, at 8am, the RTÉ news came on the radio. It was all about Charlie Haughey this and Charlie Haughey that, but he never lifted his head out of the paper.

He must have heard his name being mentioned, but he didn’t seem to have the slightest interest. Maybe he had heard it all before.

I was impressed that a man like that, who was obviously leading such a busy life, took the time to ask a young garda if he was hungry.

History doesn’t remember Mr Haughey too fondly for many reasons, but I remember him for the consideration he showed me.

I worked with other politicians too during my time in community policing and I witnessed the endless demands on their time. Most of them made a genuine effort but they also knew there were no guarantees. They could be out of a job on the whim of the electorate, so it’s not the place to be if you like the idea of job security. Politics is an unpredictable business, as William Henry Harrison found out.

He was the 9th US President and at his inauguration in 1841, he made a very long, speech. He delivered it outdoors on a freezing afternoon without a coat.

Harrison was used to bad weather, having worked as a farmer and a soldier, but it turned out he wasn’t immune to the cold.

The 68-year-old developed pneumonia. Doctors tried the usual remedies of the day including bleeding the President with leeches and trying to draw out the disease with heated cups, but Harrison died.

He was just one month in office, making him the shortest-serving president in U.S. history and the first one to die in office.

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