In the news: Charles Haughey - Irish autocrat haunted by smell of skele tons in the cupboard

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The Independent Online
AUTOCRATIC to the end, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey was yesterday bluntly defending his claim that whatever he and his family accumulated during his years in power is nobody's business but his own, writes Alan Murdoch in Dublin.

He was in the High Court in Dublin flanked by wife Maureen, daughter Eimear, and sons Conor and Sean, to stop in its tracks a Dail-backed tribunal investigating his finances. By extension that inquiry would also delve into the background to a range of government decisions during a cabinet career spanning over 30 years.

Though propped up by a crutch after a riding accident in which he broke a hip, Mr Haughey was in full command of his battling faculties. The man once famous for his terrifying baleful stare denounced the latest investigation into his affair by Judge Michael Moriarty's tribunal.

The aftermath of Haughey's rule has been an avalanche of investigations into a smell from a dusty cupboard marked "Skeletons, property of The Boss." He kept a straight face some months ago when telling a judicial tribunal "I just want to say that I did not have a very lavish lifestyle. My work was my lifestyle." For the record, this is the owner of Abbeville, a sumptuously furnished north Dublin Georgian mansion on a 280-acre estate, a yacht and a private island off Kerry.

Other features of a diligent life of public representation include a family-owned helicopter firm run by son Ciaran, loans to which greatly interested tribunal investigations, and a stud farm. Haughey senior also likes fine wines, opulent hotels and debonair female company. The problem is that such indulgence exceeded his ability to pay for it as a salaried politician. Like the third secret of Fatima, most Dubliners expected to go to their graves without hearing the real source of his wealth. But for the disclosure during a family row by Haughey fan and former stores magnate Ben Dunne that he had bailed out the cash-strapped politician to the tune of pounds 1.3m between 1987 and 1992, they would be none the wiser. Haughey at first denied then confirmed the payment.

Suspicion grew that there might be other Ben Dunnes. Questions were raised in the Dail about who they might be and what they may have got in return. There was much interest in disclosures that Dublin financier Dermot Desmond had loaned cash to refurbish Haughey's yacht and paid in advance for executive helicopter service.

In January Desmond confirmed he provided Haughey with further funds from 1994, two years after he left office. Desmond's stock-brokerage grew rapidly in the late Eighties, aided by a stream of contracts from Haughey's government.

After an initial appraisal of evidence, a full tribunal last summer established that cash gifts to Haughey had been channelled through offshore accounts held by Irish multi-millionaires known as the Ansbacher deposits, at times holding up to pounds 38m. Haughey's personal expenditure in the Eighties was put at pounds 300,000 a year, several times his salary.

Yesterday Haughey seized on that first tribunal's conclusion that it had made no finding of "political impropriety" against him. This being so, he argued, the setting up of the second tribunal under Judge Moriarty was "constitutionally doubtful, and grossly unfair."

Haughey signalled he was not going to give an inch. He was, he promised, ready to defend every decision he had made as Taoiseach or as a minister right back to 1961. His lawyers claimed the latest tribunal is no more than "a trawl" through his finances, and argue it may be unconstitutional, since it effectively seeks to use recent ethics legislation retrospectively.

FOUR-TIMES Taoiseach Charles Haughey is fighting a reported back- tax and penalties bill from Ireland's Revenue Commissioners of pounds 1.7m.

WHEN BOWING out in 1992 from his impressive offices (known as the "Chas Mahal") he dusted down his Shakespeare and observed to the Dail "I have done the state some service and they know't. No more of that."

IN 1970 he was acquitted in the Arms Trial amid accusations that funds he controlled as finance minister for the relief of Catholics in Northern Ireland had found its way into the hands of the embryonic Provisional IRA.

ASKED BY a tribunal last year if his earlier false statement accounts were "pretty economic," he replied :"I hate that phrase. It has been flogged to death."