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The First Post
26 October 2005

Death becomes them

Irish politicians don’t have a good word for one another - says Ruth Dudley Edwards, until they’re on the way to the grave

The Irish are a fair people," Doctor Johnson famously said; "they never speak well of each other." Death, however, brings to the fore another important Irish characteristic: a deeply superstitious fear of speaking ill of - or even the truth about - the deceased.

At their annual conference last weekend, the Fianna Fail party, majority partners in the Republic of Ireland's ruling coalition, were in superstitious and sentimental mode. First there was the matter of their ex-leader, the former Taoiseach (prime minister), Charles Haughey. On a modest salary, he contrived to acquire, inter alia, a grand estate, an island, a stud farm, a yacht and fine antiques, pictures, and wine - all of which he flaunted.

He was disgraced a few years back when a tribunal of enquiry discovered he'd been bankrolled by businessmen. Still, he has terminal cancer, so when it was proposed he be sent the conference's best wishes on the grounds that "our party is a family and blood is thicker than water," there was a standing ovation and just one brave vote against.
Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern
like most Irish people has a deeply superstitious fear of speaking ill of - or even the truth about - the dead

Then news broke that Liam Lawlor, another Fianna Fail scoundrel, had been killed in a car crash in Moscow in mysterious circumstances. Nicknamed "the Don", he had made millions through bribes and fraud, and was also shameless when exposed. Jailing him for contempt three years ago, the judge described his behaviour as a scandal; calling for his resignation from parliament, party leader Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he had repeatedly let politics down. On Saturday, though, Ahern lamented this "huge tragedy" and spoke of the popularity of this "engaging, witty and larger-than-life character."

The third Fianna Fail mega-crook, Ray Burke, not seen since he left jail a broken man, must be listening with interest.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards